It’s Easter Monday lunchtime, and the tension at the top of League Two is close to bursting point. Results over the weekend have ensured that, with four matches of the season left to play and energy levels running close to zero, there are still six clubs in with a chance of making the three automatic promotion places. Given the nature of football supporters, there are going to be a lot of very disappointed supporters of League Two clubs by the end of today. The television cameras are at St James Park today, but there is no match being played at Newcastle United today. The cameras are at the other end of the country, at St James Park in Exeter for the match between Exeter City and Wycombe Wanderers.
Exeter are back in the Football League after a short break. They beat Cambridge United in the BSP play-off final at Wembley last May to end a six year long holiday in non-league football, and they started this season comparatively slowly which has seen them shoot up the table and into the automatic promotion places. On Saturday, only a last minute equalizer prevented them from taking all three points from an away match against the divisional leaders, Brentford. Wycombe Wanderers, conversely, were an archetypal non-league club before they suddenly shot into the Football League in the early 1990s. They remain the example that all non-league supporters consider to be the design template for how to get into the League and consolidate, although they have never risen above League One.
Within a minute, Wycombe almost have the lead, as John Akinde’s shot is blocked by Paul Jones. The large crowd and the television cameras seem to be having an effect on both teams, and some of the players display the delicate sensibility of a Ginsters Buffet Bar. There is much blood and thunder with neither team seriously threatening the opposition goal and, whilst Wycombe are shading the possession, Exeter seem more than capable of breaking down the visiting defence. Half-time comes with the scores tied at 0-0, and Exeter manager Paul Tisdale makes changes, switching to a slightly more attacking formation, dropping a midfielder to the full back position in order to free up a little more space in an overcrowded midfield.
The second half kicks off at 120mph, and the two o’clock kick-off means that the other matches in the division are starting as they get under way. Richard Logan has a header blocked and Stuart Fleetwood hits the crossbar from a tight angle, and the groundswell of feeling is starting to build that an Exeter goal is coming, and nineteen minutes into the second half, it does. Ryan Harley’s cross is flicked on by Logan, and Matthew Gill turns the ball in at the far post. St James Park erupts, and Exeter have the lead. Dean Moxey thumps a header against the Wycombe post and forces an excellent save from the Wycombe goalkeeper with a long range shot. As time starts to run out, the nerves show their face again, but the Exeter defence stands firm to hold out for a crucial three points.
Fifty minutes or so after full time at St James Park, the other results start to filter through. Luton have been relegated from the Football League, and Chester’s win at Accrington has been cancelled out by Grimsby Town winning at Notts County. At the top of the table, the league leaders Brentford have scraped a 1-0 win at Bournemouth, but Bury and Rochdale have each only drawn and Exeter, with the two most difficult matches of their run-in now played, are in second place in the table. They have three more matches this season, away to Rotherham United and Lincoln City, and at home against Morecambe. They’re up into second place in the table, and it’s now all in their hands. They’ve showed that they can cope with the pressure over this exceptionally tough weekend. Can they now keep it going until the end of the season?