New boys missing in slow start

DAVID CUFFLEY Exeter City 2, Norwich City 1: Injuries and absenteeism were a recurring theme of Norwich City's last torturous season, so for the 200 or so fans who made their way to glorious Devon, it must have all come flooding back at St James' Park.


Exeter City 2, Norwich City 1

Injuries and absenteeism were a recurring theme of Norwich City's last torturous season, so for the 200 or so fans who made their way to glorious Devon, it must have all come flooding back at St James' Park.

For those who felt the best way to spend a mid-July afternoon was to make a 600-mile round trip to watch a thinly disguised training session, the conversation was as much about who had been left behind as it was about the 20 men on duty for the Canaries.

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Four of manager Peter Grant's new signings, plus player of the season Darren Huckerby and midfield trio Dickson Etuhu, Simon Lappin and Mark Fotheringham, missed the curtain-raiser against last season's beaten Conference play-off finalists.

After a quarter of an hour, the rest may have wished they had missed it, too.

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By then, goalkeeper Joe Lewis had been left horribly exposed by his defensive colleagues as the Grecians chalked up a two-goal lead, one that did not flatter them as they gave director of football Steve Perryman something to shout about from his seat at the back of the stand.

Lewis, given first-half duty in the absence of City's two new 'keepers, David Marshall and Matthew Gilks, had already made one fine save before he was beaten twice in as many minutes.

His defence was first caught napping when he had to divert Jamie Mackie's shot over the top after eight minutes, but the Canaries did not heed that warning.

Three minutes later, Exeter goalkeeper Paul Jones' long clearance was headed on by Wayne Carlisle - as Jason Shackell, captain for the day, jumped to meet it but collided with stand-in left-back Robert Eagle - and Mackie sidestepped Dion Dublin to beat Lewis with a well-struck right-foot shot.

It was 2-0 after 12 minutes when the left side of the visitors' defence failed to cut out Carlisle's cross from the right and Adam Stansfield swept the ball home.

The Canaries could have been three down two minutes later when Lewis produced another save from Mackie's header.

Czech forward David Strihavka had to leave the field for attention to a cut head, but he returned to the fray and after fellow new striker Jamie Cureton fired over the bar, Strihavka twice attempted long-range efforts, the first saved low by Jones and the second well over the top.

City reduced the arrears on the half-hour when Luke Chadwick fired in Eagle's cross, and Cureton almost levelled five minutes later when he rounded the 'keeper but saw his goalbound shot hacked away.

Grant made six changes at the interval and nine in all, using all 20 players, with Youssef Safri - still the subject of stories linking him with West Bromwich Albion and possibly making a farewell appearance - arguably the pick of the substitutes. But two men who played the full 90 minutes went as close as any to providing an equaliser.

Andy Hughes' centre hit the bar 10 minutes into the half and, after Chris Brown's shot from a Hughes cross was blocked by Matt Taylor in the closing minutes, Gary Doherty headed over the top from Safri's cross in virtually the last action of the match.

t Exeter City (4-4-2) - Jones; Andy Taylor, Matt Taylor, Edwards (Friend, 58 min), Moxey; Carlisle (Saunders, 58 min), Gill (Bye, 72 min), Sercombe, Elam (Stamp, 77 min); Stansfield (Logan, 64 min), Mackie. Subs (not used) Marriot, Martin, Richardson.

t Norwich City (4-4-2) - Lewis (Gallacher, 45 min); Hughes, Dublin (Rossi Jarvis, 45 min), Shackell (Halliday, 83 min), Eagle (Drury, 45 min); Croft (Smart, 79 min), Doherty, Spillane (Safri, 45 min), Chadwick (Martin, 45 min); Cureton (Brown, 45 min), Strihavka (Ryan Jarvis, 62 min).

t Referee: Ollie Langford.

t Attendance: 1,558

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