Exeter 1-2 Palace
And we're off! And what better way to start than our first away win of 2012. When the draw was made, everyone saw this as a potential banana skin that would see us slip out of the competition that we excelled in last season, however, a very professional performance saw us through. We did not lose our heads after falling behind in the second minute and the only criticism that can be offered at the end of the game is that we didn't put the game to bed as great chances were spurned, most notably by Easter.
As for 1st round slips up’s, special mentions to Brighton, Millwall, Charlton, Bristol City and Cardiff. Winning these types of games is not a given and all of the above are immediate examples, all of which had me laughing deep into the night.
This was an important win for Freedman. With all of the madness that has taken place on social network sites and forums alike in the last two weeks, a loss would have sent the doom merchants into overdrive and would have most likely ended with Parrish deleting his twitter account due to receiving 4,324,978 tweets about how he is a tight wad.
This win only keeps the doom merchants at bay until the next game but the confidence gained from passing such a big test in the first game of the season should bode well for the first month of the season, in which we have some very winnable games.
One could be forgiven for believing that there would not be any Palace debuts in this game as it is often suggested that we haven't made any signings, despite making several. So, how did they get on?
Joel Ward: Looked dangerous going forward and won the penalty as a cross of his was handled. Handled the long balls in behind very well and blocked several cross attempts. Comparing him to Clyne is a pointless exercise. However, there are plenty of worse replacements we could have got. Looks to be a very promising signing.
Peter Ramage: A debut of sorts. Dr Damage, or Rambo if you prefer, looked as solid and reliable as ever. Very pleased with this signing as he offers good cover at right/centre back and has a wealth of experience. Took around 15 minutes to gel with Martin, but got there in the end.
Aaron Martin: I am loving the look of this kid. His heading on football manager if 20 out of 20 and this is true to life. Countless times he headed clear as we were bombarded with long balls and a truly fantastic near post header saved a certain equaliser in the closing stages. On top if that, he almost scored from a corner!!!! Only a clearance of the line prevented him opening his account. He has some big Anthony Gardner sized boots to fill, but I think that he is up to the task.
Aaron Wilbraham: introduced as a late sub, Wilbrahamovic did not have too much of the ball, however, the one time he was required to lay the ball off, he produced a superb flick with the outside of his boot that set Zaha through on goal. Hopefully he will be able to produce this kind of creativity week in week out and create the goals we so sorely need. Another promising start.
Ross McCormack: .... I'm just playing.
Man of the Match
What a performance from the big man! Playing almost as a central winger, if there is such a position, KG consistently broke clear of the Grecians defence and, on another day, could have easily had a hat trick.
Out of all the players on show he looked the fittest, a far cry from the backend of last season when he looked like Vanessa Feltz' backend.
With fitness appearing the only thing blocking KG from being a stand out Championship midfielder, perhaps this could be his season to shine. Fingers crossed.
Stuart O'Keefe came a close second. Several key blocks and a good range of passing saw him excell. The only joy Exeter could get was bypassing him with a long ball. He is coming on leaps and bounds.
The Match: 1st Half
As the teams march out, sporting our grower of an away kit, it is immediately apparent that Glenn Murray is captain for the day. Unsurprisingly, Freedman showed little sentiment and did not make Moxey captain on his return to the club where he started out.
With the Adam Stansfield banner working its way across The Atass stand and the Palace left back receiving a huge reception when his name was announced, it must have been very emotional for Deano.
The action gets underway to the back drop of "Dougie Freedman's Red n Blue Army" backed by the drum of a decent sized HF turnout. More on those guys later. On the field, Kg spreads the ball wide to Zaha and the man that has to shine this season is already giving the full back a torrid time, something that will continue for the ninety minutes. His cross is cleared and then disaster strikes.
Moxey tries a little too much, which can probably be blamed on the adrenaline, and is dispossessed on the half way line. The ball is played in behind and Martin does well to get across and concede a corner kick. This comes deep and is nodded back across goal, Easter ball watches allowing a free shot on goal that is deflected in, deliberately (a bit like in Hockey.... Olympic reference!!!!), by the head of O'Floyd. Queue delirious celebrations followed by a chorus of "Who the fucking hell are you?" The drum in the away section does not falter and "Dougie Freedman's Red n Blue Army" just gets louder. Out comes my phone and on goes £10 on Palace to win 2-1 at 7/1.
Palace responds well to going behind and Easter pops up on the right and feeds KG, who wins a corner. This clears all but we are promptly back on the attack as Zaha breezes past two and finds a cross only to see it cleared. The game plan appears to be to get the ball wide and it is working early on. "Glad All Over" has taken over on the terrace with HF song leader pausing in between each chant, amusing the singers.
O'keefe spreads wide to Zaha this time and the England U21 international wins a corner. This is just cleared for a Palace throw which Moxey launches into the box. The ball is flicked on and drops to Zaha at the back post, a poor touch pushes him wide and he then misplaces a pass to Ward and the chance is gone.
"Pride of South London" is coming from the away fans and is apt as Zaha skins two players and drills in a low cross that the keeper does well to parry clear. The pressure is only temporarily abated however as a KG cross finds Wilf. His shot is blocked and drops to O'keefe who also sees his shot blocked and squirm out wide to Moxey. Deano whips the ball across and Murray climbs highest only to head a good chance wide.
Murray doesn't have to wait long for another chance as he has a pop from 25 yards only to see his effort fly high and wide.
Exeter are getting a little bit of joy pumping the ball in behind an advanced Moxey and they win a corner on this endeavour. Again the corner is deep to the back stick and we just manage to deal with the danger this time. Encouraged by the effectiveness of the wide long ball Exeter continues with the tactic and another cross from wide drops to the edge and only a brilliant diving block from O'keefe prevents Price from having to make a save. The deflect effort loops out for a corner which Murray clears.
Ward's cross is blocked and he immediately turns to the linesman to appeal for handball.
"Red n Blue Army" is loud as the fans get behind the team in the best way that they can and the players respond. Zaha cuts in from the left and sees his shot deflected for a corner. This is half cleared before the ball is back wide with Ward and this is where our luck changes. His cross is blocked and he immediately turns to the linesman to appeal for handball. Play goes on however the linesman is flagging and as the flag comes across his chest to signal a penalty, only around 5% of the away fans appear to have noticed! Eventually the other 95% cotton on and Easter steps up and drills the penalty home, not without a scare though. His effort is down the middle and the keeper doesn't dive but he cannot stop the ball.
The home fans feel aggrieved and it only gets worse in their mind as a shot of theirs is charged down in the penalty areas to massive hand ball appeals. The ref simply laughs and the boos ring out. How long will it be before we want to lynch a ref I wonder?
Another Exeter corner hits the back stick and is nodded back across goal and again O'keefe is there to throw in a fantastic block. "1-1 to the referee" is sung by the home fans before a handball is given against Murray and is greeted with ironic cheers. "When I was a young boy" sees the away fans ignore all of the palaver.
The ref has no chance in this game now and after Easter is flattened from behind he has no option other than to produce a yellow card. More uproar ensues.
A new song starts away to my left where the HF are situated, not sure of the tune but the words are simple enough, "Boys from SE25"
A sub is forced upon the home side, however, this does not prevent then winning more corners. The latest sees a brilliant header from Coles fly just wide of the right upright. We are looking like a defence who haven't played together where corners are concerned. Another shortly follows and Murray is there to head clear after a little bit of head tennis.
Another new song takes off and this is a little more familiar, being new words to "fuck the EPPP" from last season.
Back on the pitch and Zaha walks around three players and lays the ball on a plate for Murray only for him to fire wide. I really hope he can find the net early this season and not look back.
The Murray miss doesn't prove too costly though as we shortly take the lead through Dikgacoi. Zaha capitalises on a goalkeeping error and lofts the ball over him. The ball is scrambled off the line and loops up for KG to climb high and bravely head home. "We Love You" kicks in and is accompanied by a smoke bomb (pictured). Fair play to the stewards who didn't lose their heads and had a little word and no more.
Half time arrives and the mood is good despite the drops of rain that are starting to fall on our open air terrace.
The entertainment provides a few laughs as some kids are trying to score in the goal in front of us, past a rather large teenager. The keeper is nutmegged countless times only to become a hero to the Palace fans. One flash little shit sees his shot saved and he turns to us and gives us two middle fingers!!!
On is next attempt the keeper saves again and the kid gets a huge "AHHHHHHHHH!" from the travelling fans before the flash kid misses his third and final attempt, leading to loud applause for the keeper on their lap of around the pitch. As for the flash kid, "you couldn't score in a brothel!"
The Match: 2nd Half
Zaha and Easter combine early, but the ball just doesn't drop for Easter, before Price punches a cross clear as the second half is off to a fast start. Price is action again shortly, holding the cross this time before Easter has a chance to kill the game off.
Zaha runs riot down the right and beats two before cutting the ball back for Easter. Jermaine sips a cup of tea and eats a slice of toast before making it 1-3.... Or not. With the goal at his mercy he somehow misses the target, grazing the outside of the left upright. The only good thing about this finish is that my 2-1 bet is still on.
"We're the red n blue army" drones on to our left as an Exeter free kick on the edge is wasted before their strike, dubbed the "90's Italian" by Seb due to his curly mop of hair, fires over.
The crowd haven't forgotten about the ref as O'keefe is upended, a free kick is awarded and the boos resume. To be fair, I am not sure how the player got away without a booking.
Exeter have upped the pace a little and what turns out to be their best chance to grab an equalise comes and goes. The "90's Italian" Bauza is back in action and hits a fierce dipping volley from the edge of the area and Price has to be at his best to tip the ball aside at full stretch. Pressure builds from a flurry of corners but we hold firm and news starts to filter that Swindon are beating Brighton, which naturally brings a smile.
Exeter wastes another free kick on the edge and their fans start a chorus of "We Love You" and as if in response, a strobe flare goes off in the away end. With the drum beat going it feels a bit like a rave. Again the stewards convene but handle it well.
The home side make two subs and a 98 year old Jamie Cureton enters the fray but Palace creates the next meaningful chance as Murray drives forward, feeds Zaha who beats his man and drives over. "Na Na Na Na, hey hey hey, Wilfried Zaha!"
The game is starting to be a bit end to end as Exeter push forward for an equaliser and Palace look to break. A cross into our box causes a bit scramble which ends with a poor header straight at Price before KG in suddenly in one on one only for his first touch to be heavier than KG himself, allowing the keeper to get out and make a save.
The unthinkable then almost occurs as the corner is shipped in by Garvan, Martin meets the ball with his head and only a clearance off the line prevents us scoring from a corner for the first time in a long long time! Looking for the kill, another cross flies in and KG has yet another chance but heads wide of the target.
The home crowd are starting to get behind their team now as a crossed free kick just misses Price’s far post and we respond with the “Famous Red n Blue”. The home side are responding to the noise and another flurry of corners follow, ending with a comfortable save for Price.
With twelve minutes remaining we make a double change with Wilbraham coming on for his debut along with David Wright, replacing Glenn Murray and Stuart O’Keefe.
Another corner for the home team follows and this time we get the ball clear and break with pace through Zaha, however, Easter cannot control Wilf’s pass and the chance is gone. Back down the other end and Price is commanding his area well again, claiming a cross. Again we are off on a break culminating with Easter being failed by the corner flag. The resulting free kick is cleared and Exeter try to break only for Wright to break up the attack.
A series of South London related songs flow through the next five minutes as Wilbraham is booked on his debut for shooting after he had been blown up for a foul.
Swindon 3-0 Brighton is announced by Ben and we bask in Swindon’s glory.
Easter again loses the chance to break with a poor first touch, however, Exeter give us the ball straight back and Zaha is away only to see his shot blocked. Appiah replaces Easter.
Moving into the last minutes and a fantastic clearing header at the near post by Martin prevents a goal scoring opportunity for Cureton and this knocks the stuffing out of the home team.
Four minutes of stoppage time is announced and a great flick from Wilbraham releases Zaha, whose shot is blocked again, before Palace spend a majority of injury time camped by the corner flag, taking us through to full time and a creditable first round victory.
Watford on Saturday for a winning start to the league season! EAGLES!