Everton stuck looking for Exeter bypass

Andrew Longmore at St James' Park
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The Independent Online

Two goalkeepers, one summoned from redecorating his house to play for one final season, the other imported from the Screwfix Direct League on a free transfer, kept Exeter's Cup hopes alive for another lucrative fortnight. Who said the magic of the FA Cup died with United's defection?

Two goalkeepers, one summoned from redecorating his house to play for one final season, the other imported from the Screwfix Direct League on a free transfer, kept Exeter's Cup hopes alive for another lucrative fortnight. Who said the magic of the FA Cup died with United's defection?

On the balance of play, Everton should be looking forward to a fourth-round tie in the new year, and though a replay at Goodison Park on 21 Dec-ember should hold no fears for them, manager Walter Smith was not best pleased with his strikers, who should have buried at least one of the eight golden chances on offer. That Exeter can anticipate a handy pre-Christmas windfall was due partly to the profligacy of Kevin Campbell and Francis Jeffers, but, let romance roll, mostly to the brilliance of Stuart Naylor in the first half and, when the veteran goalkeeper was forced to retire at half-time with a head injury, to Jason Matthews, playing only his third senior game after his transfer from Taunton Town.

Though the gulf in class was readily apparent from first kick to last, though Everton's commitment was a tribute to the motivational powers of Smith, Exeter thoroughly deserved their standing ovation at the final whistle. Urged on by the regulars in the Cowshed, surely the only stand in the League to be serviced by a tea trolley, they harried Everton all over St James Park, and just for the odd second or two, particularly downwind in the first half, had the Everton defence in some disarray.

"We're pretty upset at getting a 0-0 draw," said Gary Alexander, the club's leading scorer. The hyperbole was understandable. Exeter's recent League form, five defeats in six matches, had not suggested a classic Cup upset, but then neither had Everton's ­ no win in eight games ­ inspired much confidence.

But the Cup would not be complete without its unlikely heroes. Just before the start of what he anticipated would be his first season in retirement, Naylor had applied to the Post Office for a job interview. Halfway up a ladder in the summer sunshine, quietly decorating the outside of his house, his thoughts of a quiet winter were rudely interrupted by the familiar voice of Peter Fox, the Exeter manager, on the other end of the telephone. Moments later, the former England B international and West Bromwich Albion goalkeeper heard himself accept another contract. "I did two days of pre-season training, which, at my age, was about right," he said.

More than once in the first half Fox must have given thanks for his foresight as Exeter's ragged offside trap and the neat movement of the Everton forwards forced the 37-year-old Naylor to make a number of fine saves. Campbell and Nick Barmby had already put the ball in the net only for the linesman to flag for offside both times, but twice just before the interval Naylor's lanky frame came to Exeter's rescue. First, Jeffers ran on to David Unsworth's through-ball, but clipped his shot into Naylor's advancing body; moments later, Campbell galloped through only for Naylor to pull off another smothering save, catching Campbell's boot in his head in the process.

As the Exeter goalkeeper lay prostrate in the penalty box, play was unforgiveably allowed to carry on around him by referee Steve Bennett. Naylor survived to half-time, but was then counted out by the club doctor and replaced by Matthews, an electrician until his arrival at St James Park in August. "He was on decent money as an electrician," Fox said. "Now he's not." But no price can be put on Cup glory, not even by the Football Association.

Having blocked the hapless Campbell's close-range shot within minutes of coming on, the 24-year-old foiled Barmby before thrusting out a left hand to parry Campbell's point- blank header just before the hour mark.

Exeter had long since resorted to pumping long balls into a swirling wind in the hope that Alexander or Lee Boylan, their nimble forwards, might profit from a mistake. Everton, to their credit, kept the tempo high and the passing slick, but once Matthews had saved that header and blocked another from Jeffers, Exeter sensed their luck was in. "I thought when I made the save this might be our day," Matthews said. "It's a dream for me to play in the Cup. You couldn't tell the story better."

Everton pressed to the end, bringing on the American Joe Max Moore from the New England Revolution for his debut as Barmby switched wings, without threatening to deprive Exeter of their place in the fourth-round draw for only the third time in 20 years.

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