ROB McNichol takes an alternative look at Saturday's devon Expressway derby defeat...IS it a myth that derby games are all blood and thunder, lusty tackles, and snarling all round?
Sometimes, from what I can see, the overriding emotion is not passion, but fear. That is not to say that all parties do not care; far from it. In fact, the fear of losing a game like this sometimes outweighs the desire to win it.
To that end, killing the game and turning it into a slower paced contest probably suits a visiting team if they can get hold of the ball, and Argyle managed to do this better than their hosts for much of the first half.
It may sound a cliché to talk about quietening a home crowd, but there is some truth in it. Mind you, the Green Army were not exactly at their lively best either. Tension was ruling the day.
It was an interesting day to be called Andre, or a similar variant. Andre Blackman and Andres Gurrieri both travelled with the Pilgrims squad to Home Park, but were left out of the match-day 18. Meanwhile, Premier League referee Andre Marriner was assigned this most of tense of derby games. A couple of weeks ago he took charge of Chelsea v Fulham. Small fry, that. Earlier in the season he did Liverpool v Manchester United. Kids’ stuff. THIS is a derby, Andre.
Or so we thought.
It became apparent rather fast that it was an important day for Conor Hourihane. Not only the Argyle captain on a derby day, but marshalling the middle of the park through which everything was going. He and Hamza Bencherif did an admirable job, dictating play more than their red and white counterparts. However, the story was unfolding into a familiar narrative of late. When it mattered – i.e. near the opposition penalty area – things seem to stagnate a little.
Exeter earned themselves a free -kick, and a familiar face took control. Alan Gow, former Pilgrim, stood over a dead-ball in a position from which we once saw him score from at Home Park. Danger, and we knew it.
The Scotsman, as we recall, can blow hot and cold. In fact, his two settings are Saharan Journey and Arctic Discovery. Very hot, or very cold. This was a chilly moment: a playful flick into Luke McCormick’s hands, like a knockabout with his son in the park of a Sunday morning. Nothing to see here.
Argyle had a free-kick of their own in the final seconds of the half, with our own known free-kick maestro Paul Wotton stepping forward. However, he smashed the ball into the Big Bank. A shame, too, because to see a Janner scoring a direct free-kick at Exeter would have been sweet.
In between those two free-kicks, it has to be said, City should have had a penalty. It is hard to work out exactly why Marriner did not award a penalty for a handball as Bencherif leaned into the ball, but he did not. The sighs from the open away end drifted into the East Devon sky, while derision reverberated around the enclosed remainder of the ground.
In the second half, City emerged first, both from the tunnel and in their minds, getting a grip of the game and looking threatening.
Matt Oakley provided one of the more interesting cameos that you will seen. A half-time sub, his first touch was to spear a ball through to Gow, who failed to carve anything out of a good opportunity. Oakley then picked up a knock, and spent a couple of minutes receiving treatment. He came back on, hovered near the benches, then was substituted. This took about six minutes in total. Thanks for coming.
He would have been happy enough to see his side go in front, though. Gow, his settings heating up, dizzied Jamie Reckord and set off. A couple of defenders drawn, he slipped in Arron Davies, who finished well.
Argyle’s response was to bring on Reuben Reid and Luke Young, and you will rarely see a pair of subs have such an impact. Reid dominated City’s backline, and Marvin Morgan seemed positively delighted to see him.
Between them, they clawed Argyle back into dominance, and, with Young looking dynamic in behind them, the Greens (Blues) looked threatening. Morgan darted past Coles, getting tripped along the way. Yellow card for the City defender, free-kick to Argyle.
Wottsy might have had a wonky radar earlier, but suddenly he was not the only Janner on the park who likes a free-kick. No-one would have been more delighted than Wottsy when Youngy stepped up and curled a delicious ball off of the inside of the post and into the net in front of the 1,300 travelling supporters.
This was phase three of the game, if you like. Phase one was a turgid first half, whilst stage two was Exeter starting well after the break. Phase number was punctuated by Young’s goal, and saw a spell of Argyle dominance which seemingly promised a winner.
City’s twin centre-backs of Baldwin and Coles could not handle Reid. Those with red and white allegiance not a million miles from me in the main stand muttered how glad they were that he had not played the whole game.
One particular moment, crafted by Young, saw Reuben receive the ball with back to goal, manipulate his close-up marker and spin to clip a left-footed shot goalwards. It looked like the moment Argyle would go in front, but for Artur Krysiak, having a fine game, who reached low and right to somehow conjure the ball around the post.
From the corner, he not only saved, but held, Guy Branston’s bullet header.
Within 60 seconds, Exeter were in front. And someone turned the heating up.
It perhaps was not the best Argyle have ever dealt with a clearance, but Alan Gow’s finish, after being played the ball by Jimmy Keohane, was sublime. He might only play in flashes, but what flashes they can be.
Scot Bennett added another in injury-time but, in many ways, it was irrelevant. All the puff had disappeared from Argyle’s prevailing gusts, he wind truly gone from the spinnakers. It was like telling a driver who has broken down that he has a flat tyre. He is not going anywhere anyway, is he?
It honestly was not a disaster. It was always going to be special moments that made the difference, and City simply had a couple more than we did.
Perhaps next time we got to St James’, we ought to scupper the thermostats...