1. Vale the benchmark
Make no mistake about it, Port Vale mean business this season. With players still at their club accounting for 87.1% of their minutes last season (data courtesy of Ben Mayhew @experimental361 on Twitter) they have kept the vast majority of a competitive squad from last season and have designs on promotion this campaign.
Whilst their star studded line up in attack might draw the headlines, their man of the match this afternoon was arguably veteran defender Leon Legge. The centre half was an exceptional organiser of his back line and kept the side disciplined in their play whilst going forward was crisp and purposeful shown best by their fast and clinical counter attacking move to clinch the win at 2-0.
I’d be surprised if the Valliants don’t make the top 7 this season. Their performance today represents somewhat of a benchmark for teams hoping to compete in League Two this season.
2. Take a chance on me
Last season on the podcast we remarked that the Grecians were an efficient side last season. While Matt Taylor’s team didn’t create an abundance of chances, Exeter were able to convert a high percentage of their goal scoring opportunities.
The early signs from this campaign suggest that the opposite is true this season and the Port Vale defeat is a case in point. While the Grecians were able to create good chances over the course of 90 minutes, an ability to convert them into goals was lacking. Ryan Bowman should have levelled the game towards the latter stages of the first half when he broke free from the Vale defence while Ben Seymour had two excellent opportunities at point blank range after his introduction.
A player with more experience than the young Seymour may have been able to find the net on those occasions and indeed maybe this was the be expected with Matt Taylor’s talk of a “transitional season” this year. But the fact remains that if Exeter want to be competing at the level they should rightly expect to this season, chances like these will need to be converted as the season progresses.
3. Taylor’s Tactics
After kicking off the season with some expectation management, Matt Taylor has repeated his claim that this is a transitional season for the Grecians on a couple of occasions since.
I believe that Exeter fans are largely happy to accept this. With no fans cute toy permitted into SJP and under exceptional circumstances this season, City fans are happy to give Taylor some some lee-way with results this season.
But results are only half of the story, and regardless of the challenges that the club is facing, the manager is still accountable for the decisions that he makes regarding the team tactics. Earlier in the summer, after the retained list was announced, Taylor said that one or two players had been told they are free to leave this summer. No one has since left the club but there are a number of players on high wages who are seemingly not anywhere near the starting line up at the start of this season.
To be clear, I think Will Dean has done an exceptional job so far this season and have no desire to see him dropped but why is Tom Parkes sat on the bench as presumably one of our highest earners? The same with Ajose… who I can’t remember starting more than two games consecutively since his arrival last summer.
This season will require heavy rotation and it may be the case that there players will get a good run in the side later in the season but something doesn’t seem quite right with the likes of Parkes and Ajose sat on the bench while the side is in desperate need to stop conceding soft goals and a proven finisher.