Swansea 0 Exeter 1

Tuesday, 22 April 2003, 0:00
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Match Report from IC Wales

THIS was not supposed to happen. The Easter weekend was meant to be the time Swansea City banished the spectre of Conference football once and for all. Instead, the club’s 83-year Football League history once again hangs by a thread after their second defeat in two days made it a disastrous holiday period. With just two games to go, the Swans remain two points above the drop zone and close to the point where their fate is taken out of their own hands.

Exeter’s priceless 1-0 victory at the Vetch yesterday brings them firmly back into the relegation shake-up with Brian Flynn admitting it is now a contest between four teams. It could be just as well the game in hand the other two strugglers have – Shrewsbury and Carlisle – is against each other. As it stands, only a miracle will prevent the Swans going into the final game of the season against Hull needing at least a point to avoid relegation. And, on the basis of their two Easter performances, don’t bet on them to get that point. Shapeless and disorientated against Orient, Swansea created more chances against the Devon club, but still they were vulnerable in defence and wasteful in attack.

In front of the biggest – and most tense – Vetch Field crowd for three years, a whopping 9,115 supporters, the Swans were busy enough but simply lacked the cutting edge they are going to need to avoid dropping into the Conference on May 3. It was staggering that Sean Devine’s 69th-minute winner was the only goal of the game, such was the number of chances Exeter carved out. But what else were they going to do? Four points adrift of safety going into the game, Exeter – with celebrity board member Uri Geller in the stands – knew defeat at the Vetch plus wins for Carlisle and Bristol Rovers would send them down. How agonising it must have been for Chris Todd, the Swansea-born defender lining up against his old team-mates for the first time since being cast out by former play-er-coach Nick Cusack last summer.

His options severely reduced through a series of injuries, Flynn made three changes to the team humbled in a one-sided contest at Orient. Kris O’Leary and John Williams came in for Jason Smith and Kieron Durkan while Kevin Nugent returned for James Thomas, whose persistent ankle problem had ruled him out again.

Like a couple of nervous strangers, the two sides spent the opening 15 minutes working each other out. The closest anyone got was when Exeter’s Steve Flack sent a 20-yard effort over the crossbar. After 24 minutes Swansea at last created a worthwhile chance. Williams found the in-rushing Lenny Johnrose with an overhead kick, but the midfielder sent his left-foot volley wide. The Exeter bench then leapt to its collective feet when Scott Hiley’s tantalising right-sided cross appeared to strike O’Leary’s hand. But referee Alan Kaye waved away the numerous appeals. There was trouble in the 39th minute when Coppinger went scampering down the left. The winger’s angled drive deflected awkwardly off Lee Jenkins, forcing Cutler to scramble the ball round the post.

After the re-start Swansea survived a scare when Hiley darted down the right flank and delivered a cross that Flack glanced inches wide of the woodwork. Enjoying more possession as the half wore on, Swansea carved out their best chance on 67 minutes when Johnrose raced down the left and found Richards lingering at the near post. But the Swans striker wasted the good work by scooping his first-time effort high into the stand. How wasteful that was became clear two minutes later when Hiley – who had threatened all afternoon – floated in a deep cross and Flack sent it back into the danger zone for Devine to head in at the far post. Cue more Devine intervention and this time the Grecians striker, who raced clear after rounding Cutler, saw another effort hacked off the line by O’Leary. The Swans’ final chance to salvage something came a minute into stoppage time with Johnrose close to reaching a Richards cross.

At the final whistle Geller raced onto the pitch to hug the Exeter players. Only a psychic could accurately predict Swansea’s fate now.

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