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Accrington Stanley 1 Exeter 2

RORY Prendergast was convinced his right foot should have provided at least an equaliser for Stanley against Exeter.

RORY Prendergast was convinced his right foot should have provided at least an equaliser for Stanley against Exeter.

The left winger mesmorised the Grecians with some testing crosses and one fierce shot near the end forced the best out of 17-year-old keeper Martin Rice. And when he did beat Rice the crossbar denied him shooting success.

The 24-year-old couldn't believe he hadn't got on the scoresheet - and that the Reds suffered their first loss in 11 games.

"I could have scored in the first half and second half. My right foot just came to life!" said Prendergast.

"I thought when I hit the crossbar, the ball was going in. And then the goalkeeper tipped a chance round near the end - that was definitely on its way into the net. I think we deserved to win. Even when we were down to ten men, I think we were the better side. But that's football."

And the Exeter reporters could not believe the tricky Prendergast hadn't got passed Rice."I wish he played for us!" said one.

But while Prendergast deserved the praise, Stanley were forced to play catch-up against a side they wouldn't have believed they would be playing two seasons ago.

While Exeter were competing in the Third Division, Stanley were trying to get out of the UniBond Premier League. But the two met on a level footing on Saturday and the ten-men deserved something as they peppered Exeter's goal looking for a last gasp equaliser.

However, it was Grecians' star Sean Devine who caused the early problems for the Reds. The striker was all over the pitch as in-form Exeter strove to make it four wins out of four - and former Wycombe man Devine was on the hunt for his ninth goal in nine games.

And he got just that in controversial circumstances on 19 minutes. Jon Kennedy had pushed away his initial shot for a corner. That was played in, Kennedy punched it out and it fell to Devine whose overhead kick was cleared out of the goal by Peter Cavanagh - but the referee, Steve Brand, ruled it had crossed the line.

"It wasn't a goal," said boss John Coleman. "All the lads are adamant it hadn't crossed the line. Cav would have had to be standing in the net and he didn't take a step back, he took a step forward. The linesman gave it and he was around 40 yards away with a rook of players in front of him. But we got a similar one at Altrincham last year so, in the cool light of day, you have to accept it and take it on the chin."

Exeter's boss Eamonn Dolan thought it was a definite goal.

"I can understand what their manager is saying but I thought it crossed the line, even though I was on the half-way line. The assistant referee flagged straight away."

Paul Cook was booked for protesting and Exeter did seem to take heart from that goal. Barry McConnell had a chance to make it two minutes later when Dwane Lee's cross found him unmarked in the area. But Kennedy did well to force the winger wide - and he shot into the side netting.

However Stanley came back into it towards the end of the first half. Cook played in a great ball from the right which just evaded the head of the diving Lutel James on 36 minutes. Then Prendergast rattled the crossbar with a 20-year effort on 38 minutes before Rice pulled off a two-handed save to deny Cook on the stroke of half-time.

After the break, Exeter had an early chance when Devine got ahead of three defenders but his chip over Kennedy was also off-target.

And then the Grecians made it two on the hour. Scott Hiley played in a ball from the right wing which the unmarked Gareth Sheldon, recalled to the Exeter line-up because of injuries, headed home at the far post.

Things looked even worse for Stanley when they suffered their fifth dismissal of the season. Skipper Cavanagh was booked for a tackle on 63 minutes and two minutes later, he saw red when he challenged Alex Jeannin in the centre of the park.

"I felt the first one wasn't a booking," said Coleman. "The second one was and Cav is obviously disappointed as he had been playing well."

However, the Reds are used to battling with a man down and they enjoyed the majority of the play from that point onwards.

A move from the back got the Reds back into it. Cook and James were involved and they found Prendergast who played the ball into the area and Paul Mullin slid the ball into the back of the net on 71 minutes.

Exeter's defence then had to stand firm against waves of Stanley attacks. James fired wide from eight yards out, Mullin had an effort near the end and Prendergast again stung the keeper's hands with a fierce drive which he pushed out.

At the other end, Exeter did break away eight minutes from time and Flack received the ball unmarked in the area ten yards out. However he headed straight into the arms of the waiting Kennedy.

And there was one last chance for Stanley when Prendergast played in a ball to the far post which Steve Halford couldn't steer on target - and the ten-man Reds ran out of time.

"I thought we deserved more than a draw - I thought we deserved a win," said Coleman. "They haven't really troubled us and they have only got into our half twice in the second half. They did score a good goal but it was sporadic attacks.

"Rory played really well, he was a constant threat and on another day he could have had a couple of goals.

"Sean Devine was lively but without really hurting us. When he got the ball in front of goal he wanted to check back and I never really thought we would concede.

"When we went down to ten men we didn't really have a problem as it doesn't alter the way we play. They were hanging on at the end and I am disappointed that we lost the game in this way - especially as I felt the first goal wasn't a goal."

New signing Justin Jackson came on for the final 24 minutes but Coleman admitted he didn't have a chance to show his best.

"It was hard for him as we were down to ten men and the game was stretched. He showed one or two touches but he is still a yard off the pace in regards to holding the ball up and trying to get his body in. But that will come."


Stuart Pike
Deputy editor specialising in politics
Alex Bell
Bethany English
District reporter
Beth Abbit
Court reporter
Jon Macpherson
Kate Watkins
Reporter specialising in communities
Garth Dawson
Photographer and columnist