Exeter started off their season with a bang against Cambridge on Saturday, opening the season with a 1-0 win thanks to an early goal courtesy of Reuben Reid.
The win against Cambridge, a team tipped by many to be challenging for the play-offs this season, is a much better start to this season than the 2-0 loss City suffered away at the hands of Blackpool last term, starting a miserable run for Exeter, leaving the club without a win at home until mid December when Mansfield were the visitors.
So what does this result tell us about Exeter and what can we come to expect for the rest of the season from the Grecians? Here’s five things we learned from the season opener.
City seeing out the win
Scoring early in games is great, Reid’s strike in the fourth minute against Cambridge was the first in the league this season and, briefly, placed City at the top of the league.
However, on no less than eight occasions last season, after taking the lead, City failed to win the game (including three games against Carlisle). This proved a problem for us last term, had we been better at seeing the game out, Exeter would no doubt have been challenging for the automatic promotion places.
So when Reid scored inside the first five minutes at the weekend you’d be forgiven for not celebrating too much just yet. What came next however was indicative of a marked improvement for the Grecians as the team kept a clean sheet and were unlucky not to add to their one goal lead.
Such resilience against a Cambridge side who proved to be worthy challengers for Exeter, especially in the final half an hour, is encouraging and shows signs of a side who are ready to be competitive once again in League 2 this season.
No half measures
One of the biggest challenges that faces the Grecians this season is their ability to cope with the ongoing redevelopment of SJP. The improvement works to the stadium are necessary and will provide fantastic new facilities for both home and away fans but until then, the capacity of the ground is reduced to around 6,000 as only the Big Bank and the Main IP Office Stand remain functional.
This is a big change to the stadium for this season and many have worried that the change will impact the performance of the players on the pitch. It’s for this very reason that Tis’ had the first team training on the pitch at SJP before the start of the season.
This is a move that seemed to pay off as the fact that we only have half a stadium didn’t seem to impact on the performance of the players and nor did it the fans. The Big Bank was in good voice against Cambridge and the noise levels were fantastic, surely the atmosphere will only improve this season if the team manage to keep up their early good form.
Tis’ decided to name an unchanged line-up from the one that faced Dorchester in City’s last preseason friendly for the game against Cambridge. this consisted of a 4-3-3 as below
This is what we predicted would be the case in our preseason podcast and it worked with immediate effect, shutting Cambridge out at the back whilst showing off our attacking prowess further up the field.
Players who came in for particular praise were Man of the Match Pierce Sweeny who had an exceptional second half, as well as Jake Taylor in the middle and the front three who until the substitution of McAlinden in the 60th minute, ran the Cambridge defence ragged.
I would be surprised if we saw a change in formation for our first away game of the season against Swindon on Saturday but the changes that we made throughout the game against Cambridge on Saturday, particularly when Harley came on, show that the squad is versatile enough to cope with the challenges it faces this season.
Whilst the team’s finishing may have come under question following the early goal against Cambridge, the chances that Exeter created over the course of the 90 minutes on Saturday was really encouraging for games ahead.
The pace and the footwork of both Wheeler and McAlinden down the wings in the first half looked really exciting and created a number of excellent opportunities to extend the one goal lead that we had. Praise was also heaped on Reuben Reid for his chasing down of defenders in their own half and his ability to bring the midfield into play in attacking moves.
Whilst many were understandably concerned about a lack of creativity given the departure of Ollie Watkins, the team responded expertly against Cambridge, a team with the 5th best defence in the league last season. This bodes extremely well for the rest of the season.
Continuity is key
The starting line up that Tis’ picked for the opening game of the season was not only unchanged from the one that faced Dorchester a week before, it was also made up solely of players that were on the books from last season.
Whilst some quarters of the fan base have been frustrated at the club’s lack of activity in the transfer market this summer, the fact that we have had very little turnover of players this season is a major benefit to the team going forward. What it has meant is that the team does not have to acquaint itself with a load of new signings and can instead focus on fitness and match tactics.
The familiarity that the players have with one another already shone through over the course of the 90 minutes against Cambridge whereas other clubs around the division will still be finding their feet with new signings.
This also displays the strength of the side that we had last season and once Ryan Brunt and Dean Moxey return to full fitness, the Grecians promise to be a force to be reckoned with this time out.
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Listen to our reaction from the Cambridge game below!