JAMES O’CONNOR: Put in a real shift and hit two fine strikes that were well saved; Jermaine Johnson’s great goal was the highlight of the day, and Rob Jones played well.
GARY Megson and Wednesday supporters got the message on Saturday.
T-shirts worn by players before the game told the crowd: “Thanks 4 for your support.”
The team’s performance after that told the manager that he must make changes if the club are to be successful.
It was something he already knew, but maybe a compelling 90-minute display against one of the division’s leading pack would have given him extra food for thought.
It didn’t happen. An entertaining first half followed by an anti-climactic second half was typical of the Owls’ inconsistency in a season of ups and downs.
Megson remarked: “The performance was similar to quite a few since I’ve been here: some really good bits, but some shocking bits.
“I think it becomes apparent to everybody what needs to be done. We’ve had some good performances, won four home games on the trot, come back to play Exeter and been beaten, so I think it shows us what we are and what we’ve got to do.
“If we don’t change anything, nothing’s going to change.”
It was a viewpoint already understood by the the players, who have been playing for their futures but knew that some of them may well not be here next season, whether they are currently under contract or not.
One of the out-of-contract five, Jermaine Johnson, showed why the club had a contract offer planned for him. His goal was a stunner, and of the kind that he hits now and again, cutting inside to drive a shot into the far top corner.
If only he could do it more often. But if he did, and kept up a continually high level of form, then he probably wouldn’t be playing for Sheffield Wednesday.
Megson said: “I would imagine we are saying the exactly the same things about Jermaine that other people were saying 10 years ago. He does it, but he’s got to do it [play well] more often. His second half was nothing like his performance in the first half.”
“Whether it’s stamina, desire, whatever, it’s certainly not going to be what’s required to move us forward; his first-half performance certainly would be, but he’s got to do it right the way through, not just for a half.”
The same might have been said of the team as a whole,on Saturday.
They were also playing a decent side - Exeter have missed the play-offs by a point. They played constructive football, have a useful front two in Daniel Nardiello and Jamie Cureton, and showed a spirit that carried them back into the game in the second half as Wednesday faded.
“They didn’t look a good side in the first 20-25 minutes, though,” observed Megson. Fair point. The Owls put together some of the best stuff of his reign in this period.
Apart from Johnson’s solo run and his strike from 22 yards, and his creativity, Wednesday punched holes in the opposition. James O’Connor saw two crisp efforts well saved; Johnson shot just wide; Gary Teale could have scored himself or set up a chance for Gary Madine; Lewis Buxton was denied by the keeper, and Neil Mellor could scarcely believe it when goal No 21 was prevented as centre-half Richard Duffy dived to chest his shot for a corner.
Wednesday also probed in the second half and, without showing the same menace, made opportunites: a wild effort by Buxton as Mellor and Madine sought passes; a blocked shot by Teale; a tame effort by Johnson at the keeper.
But early in the half, Nardiello had two bites at a cross from Cureton and hit the post with the second attempt.
Exeter looked capable of getting back in the game, and were helped by disruption to Wednesday’s back four after Rob Jones departed with a tight hamstring in the 69th minute. Daniel Jones went on a left-back and Buxton switched to centre-half.
The equaliser, by Nardiello after the Owls’ left flank was carved open, brought controversy. Wednesday argued they should have had a free-kick in the build-up, because of dangerous play.
The big sickener came in the 89th minute when Wednesday were caught by a break and centre-half Troy Archibald-Henville rampaged through the middle to beat Danny Batth and finish like a centre-forward.
Deep in stoppage time Nicky Weaver went up for a corner and, in a clash of heads with sub Matt Taylor, received a cut behind his ear which required 10 stitches. He was carried off and Richard O’Donnell went on.
For Exeter’s 37-year-old manager, Paul Tisdale, it ended with him putting himself on as a late sub. “I just thought I’d give myself five minutes at the end. I think I deserved it,” he said.
“It wasn’t disrespectful. It was a proud moment for me. I made my Premier League debut here [for Southampton] 17 years ago.”
Tisdale said he was pleased to have equalled Exeter’s record finish of eighth: “We have done our very best. I can’t look back and think we have under-achieved.”
Wednesday cannot say the same, of course.
Fifteenth in League One is a sad end, considering that the campaign began with high hopes of promotion.
It was chalk and cheese. The first 20-25 minutes was probably as good as we have played since I’ve been manager here. We not only passed the ball well, but there was penetration and we were causing them a lot of problems.
At times we took the wrong option. We scored a terrific goal, Neil Mellor had a shot cleared off the line, and we
had probably three or four really good chances. The game should have been over by half-time.
It was just entirely different in the second half. We stopped supporting the ball, stopped passing it simply. It’s really disappointing, having lost the game..
From a professional view, if we’d have won that it would have papered over a lot of cracks that exist here.
Games like that you have to put to bed. Exeter look a decent side. In the second half they have done really well. But the goals they’ve got against us were pathetic.