Forest Green Rovers vs Exeter City FA Cup 2nd round, 02/12/17 Attendance: 2,250 Referee: Gavin Ward
I’ve always had a soft spot for the romance of the FA Cup. It brings back childhood memories spending hours of Cup Final day gathered round the TV, as well as more recently being sent into delirium alongside 2,000 fellow Forest fans as we put three goals past Manchester City, the richest club in the world, to knock them out. I find the lack of respect that the big clubs have for the Cup deeply distasteful, and as my love for the mighty Exeter City has developed this season, I am delighted that the Cup still means something special to us.
To get into Round 3 is a huge deal for us – it means welcoming West Brom, of the Premier League – a winnable fixture which could translate into a fourth-round tie against one of the ‘big boys’. So it was with a sense of childish enthusiasm that we Grecian Soc members boarded the bus to begin the journey to Forest Green. We had no expectations that it would be easy, but as we are near the top of League Two, and Forest Green nearer to the bottom, we had to be in with a chance!
“THIS WAS NOT YOUR AVERAGE CLUB”
Upon arrival, it became apparent that Forest Green was not your average football club. Professional football clubs don’t tend to be found in tiny, picturesque villages in the Cotswolds, nor serve exclusively vegan refreshments, even down to the milk. However, the novelty soon wore off once we entered the terrace, and soon realised both that there was no roof, and that it was pouring with rain. Then the football started, and it got even worse. Forest Green’s prolific striker, Christian Doidge, gave them the lead. We struggled to get our football going, and the referee failed to send off a Forest Green player who struck Dean Moxey in the face, despite having seen enough of the incident to confer with his linesman for an age.
The defence looked a far weaker unit shorn of the injured Troy Brown. It didn’t look like our day. However, whatever words Paul Tisdale deployed at half-time clearly had the desired effect. Skipper Jordan Moore-Taylor headed us level from a gorgeous Lloyd James cross, then James’ through ball picked out the advancing Hiram Boateng, who crossed for Jayden Stockley to finish off City’s move of the match.
“REID’S MISS WOULD COME BACK TO HAUNT US”
2-1, and the introduction of Ryan Harley from the bench had noticeably improved our composure in midfield. Yet a one-goal lead didn’t feel like enough against a Forest Green side who were remarkably composed on the ball for a side near the bottom of League Two, and who had a genuine cutting edge up front in Doidge. When substitute Reuben Reid had a shot cleared off the line, it felt like it could return to haunt us, and sure enough, with 5 minutes to go, Scott Laird leveled the match. 2-2.
Thus followed one of the craziest endings to a football match I have ever seen. Naively keen to regain the lead, we piled too many men forward for a corner, and Forest Green countered. Doidge scored. 3-2, and in the 92nd minute, it looked all over.
In the space of 5 minutes, the match had been turned on its head. Yet Forest Green then proceeded to show the frailties that are rooting them to near the bottom of the league. City won a corner, and inexplicably Stockley was left unmarked. James’ delivery found his head, and the City fans erupted.
“INCREDIBLY, WE WERE STILL IN THE CUP!”
Somehow, incredibly, we were still in the Cup! Things could immediately have got even worse for the shellshocked Forest Green; they lost the ball straight from the kick-off, and Jake Taylor was through on goal, but his shot was cleared off the line, and ultimately a loss would have been exceedingly hard on Forest Green, who made a real contribution to the match.
A draw was a fair result. Psychology is a strange thing; had the match finished after Laird made it 2-2, we would have traipsed home disgruntled. Yet even though we still left with a draw, the mood was completely transformed. The Exeter fans certainly deserved their moment; we completely filled our stand, and must have made up almost half of the 2,250 attendance. And I think it’s right to end on a positive note – even though it’s wasn’t our most fluent performance, and the defence was shaky, it was certainly a riveting ride on the emotional rollercoaster, and we get to do it all over again next Tuesday! Bring it on.
Exeter Man of the Match: Christy Pym. I think the oft-maligned James deserves an honourable mention, given his involvement in all 3 goals, as does Stockley, who scored 2 of them. However, I personally opted for goalkeeper Pym, who made a string of outstanding saves to keep us in the tie – just one of the numerous homegrown Exeter players who look destined for bigger things.