Bristol Rovers 2-1 Exeter City: 3 Things we Learned

1. 4-4-2 it is then

We’re 90mins into pre-season and it’s obviously way too early to make any assertions about the rest of the season however we are in the opinion business so here comes one…442 is the base formation this season.

Last seasons defensive security blanket of 3 CBs has been slung to one side and Parkes with McArdle were asked to repel threats with Sparkes and Caprice either side. This at least frees Williams to be more dedicated to his attacking duties rather than tracking back and forth at RWB. However there’ll be extra strain centrally on the two CMs unless pressure can be exerted further up the field. If the front two don’t press/track/chase and cut out passing lanes we might see ourselves exposed. There’s pros and cons with all formations and the season will tell whether this change will enable us to impose ourselves better on oppositions.

2. New Faces show promise

New faces in Jake Caprice and Rory McArdle impressed. Caprice looks like he’s an upgrade at RB while McArdle looks steady at CB. It’s too early to say for sure how they’ll fare in the side but the early signs were promising with Caprice in particular linking up really well with Jake Taylor at RM to cause Rovers some problems as the first half wore on.

Tyler Denton came on at LB and impressed as a trialist. Positionally he looked good and will, if he signs, will push Sparkes for a starting berth. His pace and ability to push on and overlap LM were something which will no doubt interest Matt Taylor but with his involvement limited to around half an hour, only time will tell if he is able to perform on a consistent basis.

3. Young players perform yet again

Grecians fans will be well used to the sight of an academy graduate taking to the field for the first team by now. They’ll be even more used to young players producing the goods when called upon. To my memory, I struggle to think of too many players who have really disappointed when called upon and the trend looks set to continue with the current crop of players coming through.

These lads are the same ones who formed the backbone of the side which took Exeter to the semi-finals of the Leasing.com cup last season and then turned on the style against a full strength Pompey side under the lights and in front of the cameras. They were unlucky not to go through to the final that evening although considering that the final itself was settled by an online game of FIFA, I think its best for everyone associated with the club that we didn’t participate in that facade.

The brightest performers against Rovers were Josh Key, Joel Randall and Jordan Dyer although the graduates on the pitch barely put a foot wrong all second half. Admittedly the game lacked the same intensity in the second half from the first 45 minutes, but if these lads continue on their current trajectory, it won’t be long before they are pushing much more senior players for minutes on the pitch.

A Changing of the Guard

cambridge

“We are going to attack this game of football.”

Managers say a lot of things. Sometimes they are trying to communicate a message to the fans, sometimes to their dressing room, and sometimes they even try and convey a message to the opposition dressing room. But when Matt Taylor talked about his desire for his side to take Northampton head-on in the play-off final, you’ve got to believe he meant it. Exeter had just overturned a 1-0 deficit against Colchester in the semi-final and confidence around the club was high, Grecians fans really believed that this was their time to win at Wembley and reach the promised land of the third tier of English football.

Of course, though, not every story can have a fairytale ending.

Not only did Exeter lose on the biggest stage of them all, but they were dominated from start to finish. Northampton looked stronger, faster, and sharper against the Greicans and the scoreline reflected that. The cruel irony is that City’s highlight of the season, a 4-0 hammering of local rivals Plymouth was a mirror image of the 4-0 drubbing they received at the hands of Keith Curle’s side. Curle of course was heavily linked with Exeter following Paul Tisdale’s departure from Devon after City’s second play-off final defeat in two years. He set his Northampton side up perfectly to achieve the first promotion of his own managerial career.

More than the result of the final though, Matt Taylor was disappointed by the performance of his side. In stark contrast to the performance which fought back against a technically gifted Colchester team, Taylor’s selection of his ‘physically strongest’ and most experienced players failed to pay off when it really mattered and the players who he would have trusted to rely on, let him down. It would be easy to scapegoat individual members of the team that evening but the reality was that not one player stood out and provided the sort of leadership that Taylor would expect.

In the days that followed, 9 senior players left the club at the end of their contract. Of course, the current financial situation played a big role in the decision to release these players, but you can’t help but think that this decision was reinforced by Taylor’s desire to see changes in the options at his disposal.

As the weeks passed following the defeat at Wembley, clubs around League Two started to flex their financial muscles. The likes of Mansfield, Bolton, and Salford all making impressive signings for fourth division clubs. Most notably, the likes of Jordan Moore-Taylor, an Exeter academy graduate, and former City loanee Kane Wilson, both joined Dale Vince backed Forest Green despite having both been heavily linked with the Grecians. The departure of the released players has left big gaps to be filled in Matt Taylor’s side with just two natural defenders on the club’s books.

News that the football league was to resume on 12th September was welcome for teams across the football pyramid. Most sides in Leagues One and Two had not made a single signing before the start of the new season was confirmed, with Macclesfield and Stevenage not even knowing in which League they would be playing. Speculation grew about a right-sided defender coming through the doors at St James Park until the news eventually broke that Matt Taylor had added right-back Jake Caprice and centre-back Rory McArdle to his ranks.

These two defensive acquisitions represent the direction that Taylor wants to take his side this coming season. It was obvious to anyone watching him talk after the play-off final defeat that he was disappointed at the way his side had been dominated and bullied by a smarter and stronger Northampton side. The signing of Rory McArdle is the perfect example of this. An experienced ‘no-nonsense’ defender who Matt Taylor will know well from his time at Bradford and a player very much in the style of Taylor himself. McArdle is the sort of player that Matt Taylor will have felt he could have used against Northampton at Wembley,  and one who could go toe-to-toe with the physical threat that Curle’s side posed.

You can’t help but think however that McArdle’s introduction to Exeter’s side comes at the expense of more technically gifted central defenders. Through the departure of Dean Moxey and Aaron Martin respectively, the Grecians are losing two players who would trump both Tom Parkes and Rory McArdle in ball progression. However, the clues are there that Taylor plans to counter this with the athleticism of Jake Caprice at right-back. 

Caprice is well known for his ability to bomb down the right-hand side of the pitch and support attacking moves from out wide, best seen with his assist in the play-off final in 2019 for the goal to take Tranmere to League One. Dubbed the ‘stepover king’, Caprice is clearly comfortable in possession of the ball and will look to overlap the runs of Randell Williams to offer another dimension to Matt Taylor’s attacking options.

League Two sides grew wise to the threat of Williams over the course of last season and fans of Northampton were treated to an exceptional display in how to shut the winger out of a game at Wembley. Williams’ best performances in a City shirt have come when he receives support on the right flank. This is something which was on full show in the second leg of the play-off semi-final against Colchester. The inclusion of Alex Fisher running the channels often left U’s left-back Cohen Bramall with a two-on-one to defend, and two of the goals on the evening ultimately came from attacks down the right-hand side of the pitch.

Matt Taylor himself has told fans to expect this coming season to be one of transition for his Exeter side. With more minutes expected for younger players and a changing of the guard in defence, Taylor will likely face the biggest test of his managerial career so far. Lots of the players that were released this summer were his own acquisitions, he has molded this Exeter side in his image and will now be judged on the merits of his own recruitment and tactical nous. In a time of great upheaval both in and outside the world of football, Matt Taylor will be hoping that he can bring stability to Exeter and ensure his side are competing at the right end of the table once again.

 

 

New Season, New Formation?

After a strange summer for Exeter City (and football in general), attention once again turns to a new campaign. Competitive football will start for Exeter City on September 5th with a Carabao Cup tie to kick off the 2020/21 campaign. After a number of high profile departures from St James Park this summer, Matt Taylor has made it clear that City fans shouldn’t expect to see too many more fresh faces through the doors unless players already on the books leave.

So with Matt Taylor’s side more or less complete for the season ahead, how are the Grecians likely to line up at the start of the season?

Something New

lineup

Well, if the season started tomorrow, this is how I see the Grecian’s lining up. The most obvious change to what we saw last season is a change from five at the back to a 4-4-2 formation, one for the football traditionalists.

The reason for this? Most of the departees this off-season have been defenders. As of the 1st of July, Exeter had just two natural defenders at the club in Tom Parkes and Pierce Sweeney. Despite an expectation of younger players to step up to the plate this season, both of Matt Taylor’s signings this summer have been defensive players, with both Rory McArdle and Jake Caprice boasting extensive football league experience.

Having made the conversion to LWB last season, Jack Sparkes is now the most senior player at the club able to play on the left side of defence and I would fully expect to see him fill in at LB when the season kicks off. The Grecians now look much better resourced at the back than they did 6 weeks ago but everything to me points to a change in formation this season to a back four.

Moving to the midfield and this is where Matt Taylor has the most options available to him in the squad. Randell Williams is one of the first names on the team sheet and is Exeter’s most threatening player down the right-hand side. Grecians’ fans will be hoping that the introduction of attacking full-back Jake Caprice can bring the best out of the former Watford winger.

This is where Taylor’s dilemma begins however… last term, Exeter were heavily reliant on Randell Williams’ attacking threat down the right-hand side. As David Gribble notes below, just 32% of all Exeter attacks came from the left of the pitch, a small amount for a side who cross the ball as much as the Grecians. With Jack Sparkes likely filling in at LB for the upcoming season, City fans can expect to see more of Nicky Law deployed down the left-hand side, a position that he was familiar with during his time at Bradford despite the veteran finding more success centrally at SJP.

With Law at LM, there are two spots to be filled at Centre Midfield for Matt Taylor. The first of these is Nigel Atangana. With Jack Sparkes at LB and the addition of Jake Caprice at RB, Taylor has two extremely attacking full-backs providing an additional threat going forward and overlapping the wide midfielders. With such attack-minded full-backs in the side, the addition of Atangana is crucial to break up opposition counters and will drop back between the centre-halves when the Grecians are under intense pressure from opposition forwards. Nigel was unlucky with injury at the start of last season but will be crucial to Matt Taylor’s side for this campaign.

The second CM spot was the hardest position on the pitch to fill between club captain Jake Taylor and Archie Collins. Exeter fans were treated to the best of Collins’ last season with his assist for Randell Williams in the Devon Derby and his assist for Ryan Bowman in extra time against Colchester to take the Grecians to a third play-off final in four seasons. Collins will undoubtedly feature heavily for the Grecians in the coming season but Taylor’s experience just edges him into this line-up.

Ryan Bowman’s inclusion in the starting eleven should be no surprise to Exeter fans. His 16 goals last term in League Two and the play-offs was the best return of any City player and with Matt Taylor setting up his side to focus on crossing the ball, Bowman is the obvious choice as a target man.

Alongside Bowman, is Exeter’s new number 9, Ben Seymour. While most City fans were expecting to see more minutes for academy players this coming season, giving Seymour the number 9 shirt was a statement of intent from Matt Taylor. Having been retired for a decade following the sad passing of club legend Adam Stansfield, there is no better tribute to Adam’s memory than his number being passed on to a homegrown player of the club. With Nicky Ajose seemingly falling out of favour in the Exeter side, this is Seymour’s moment to step up and make an impression on the pitch.

With a condensed fixture list and a smaller squad at Matt Taylor’s disposal than last season, fans can expect a high level of player rotation this coming campaign. While Maxted will once again push Lewis Ward for the starting spot between the sticks, Alex Hartridge and Jordan Dyer will be hoping to take advantage of more first-team opportunities while the experience of Pierce Sweeney is available to provide cover for Jake Caprice.

In the wider areas, Joel Randall has impressed when called upon in the first team and will be expecting more chances to show his ability with Josh Key being the natural right-sided alternative to Randell Williams. In the of the park, Harry Kite is very well regarded as another academy product and after raising eyebrows at Fratton Park in the Leasing.com cup semi-final, has showed glimpses of what to expect as he attempts to force his way into contention.

Taylor’s striking options are arguably the strongest of any position on the pitch. Nicky Ajose is arguably the most technically gifted striker at the manager’s disposal. Speculation has been rife that he has been told he is free to leave the club this summer but after an injury-hampered campaign last season and with the current financial realities of the football league, suitors for the striker may be limited this transfer window and Ajose undoubtedly has the ability to provide a goal threat whenever called upon. With Matt Jay and Alex Fisher also still in the ranks, Taylor has plenty of options at his disposal to be tactically flexible and breakdown a variety of opposition defences.

With just three players remaining at SJP from Paul Tisdale’s tenure as manager, this Exeter side is truly one shaped in Matt Taylor’s image. After a disappointing capitulation against Northampton at Wembley in June, Taylor will be hoping that a change in formation and some fresh faces can provide the physicality and the character he clearly feels the Grecians were lacking last term.

Excellent business marks exciting times at SJP

As an Exeter City fan you’d be forgiven for perhaps not having transfer deadline day circled in your diary. As a general rule for the Grecians, the close of a transfer window tends to be a quiet affair, granted both Luke Croll and Jack Stacey joined on loan on deadline day last season but this season City’s team looked pretty complete perhaps with the exception for cover at right-back.

Yet as the final days of the window approached, City fans have been pleasantly surprised with rumours of incoming players. Initially it looked as though the club may have been trying to bring in some young players from Tottenham on loan, then before you knew it more and more players were linked with the likes of Hiram Boateng, Kane Wilson and Sean Goss (a former Exeter academy product himself,) being touted. Then came the big one, news that Aberdeen were prepared to let Jayden Stockley leave the club having brought in two new strikers themselves this summer. City fans will remember Stockley well from his time on loan at SJP from Bournemouth.

Of course, football is a money game and for any new arrivals, the books would have t be balanced with a departure. In this case it was David Wheeler who was to leave us, City’s top scorer from last season going to QPR in a deal thought to be worth around £500,000. As difficult as it is to lose your best players, even more so when they’re your top scorer, I believe that this deal signals another piece of good business for the club. Realistically, Wheeler was in the last year of his contract and had he gone for nothing in the summer, we wouldn’t have the opportunity to replace him with a player of the quality of Stockley let alone be able to tie him down to a long term deal.

Despite having lost three of our best players this summer in Wheeler, Watkins and Ampadu, there still seems to be a real positive auora around Exeter this summer and the quality arrivals such as Moxey, Stockley, Brunt, Croll and Boateng as well as promising loan players such as Wilson and Edwards mark an improvement in squad depth something that will be crucial to any success of the side this season. What’s perhaps even more impressive about these deals is the fact that City have been able to get these players in on permanent deals, fighting off bigger clubs with bigger budgets in the process. Rewind 12 months and I doubt the Grecians would have been able to sign these players on much more than short term loan deals.

Overall, I believe that this transfer window has been a very successful one for Exeter City, by bringing in a player of Stockley’s quality for a record transfer fee is a signal of intent by the club. At a time where the stadium is having redevelopment work done to it to modernise the facilities for the fans, bringing in young and exciting football players on permanent deals who could sign for sides in the leagues above shows ambition at SJP and proves that exciting times lie ahead in the South West.

Of course, it’s still early days, in losing Watkins and Wheeler this summer, that’s over 35 goals that need to be replaced if the side are going to challenge at the top of the league. However, the initial signs are encouraging, we sit at the top of the table after 4 games and remain unbeaten and this is before we bring in our deadline day signings and the likes of Moxey and Harley back from injury. My assessment of the team at the close of the window (well, with 5 and a half hours to go) is that Exeter City are a force to be reckoned with this season.

 

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Overreacting to 270 minutes of football

We are three games into the new season and we have a full set of results, W-L-D.

A nervous but ultimately successful afternoon against Cambridge on opening day was quickly followed by Charlton pushing us off the Carabao Cup train; Swindon posed us plenty of problems, aided and abetted by the linesman but we might look back and value that away point.

It’s early, it’s really early but we’re already off to a better start than last season and I don’t want to tempt fate but I think everything is going to be ok forever.

I had worries that while other teams have been extensively reengineering their teams adding quality and numbers to their beleaguered squads; we’ve, in the main, have decided to run out the same team (except for two of most talented players).

Again it’s early, extremely early, but we’ve looked particularly good. Although we still love to punt the ball into the right hand channel for the constantly bobbling head of David Wheeler, last season this was mixed in with attempts at intricate passing triangles just outside the opposition box. These would sometimes lead to a player breaking free and cutting back to a waiting striker, rushing midfielder. From what little we’ve seen, a new directness has entered our gameplay. Reid and McAlinden look ready to run the ball and beat their defender rather than rondo our way into attacking areas.

This leads to a more frantic style of play and might test the nerves of supporters over the season but without our attacking pivot Watkins we needed to adjust and maybe can’t control the game as much as we would’ve previously aimed for.

Our depth chart still looks thin at certain positions, especially Right Back where the indomitable Sweeney can’t be expected to carry the load all season. Tillson, though an admirable runner and destroyer in midfield, looks lost with the ball. Though when the combination of Tillson, James and Taylor clicks we look both defensively solid and threatening moving forward.

Lincoln will pose problems on Saturday. They have money which they have used to strengthen their team over the summer but they have two points from two games. But we have Sparkes so that’s an easy three points for us then and a long trip home for Lincoln.

Again it’s early, extremely early but we seem to have continued our form from the end of last season, apart from that crushing loss. The squad looks dialled in and no one can dispute that Tisdale has the experience to guide us to the upper half of the table. So everything’s looking great and will continue to look that way for the foreseeable future.

Epilogue: A note on Ryan Harley

I know there’s not a lot of love for Harley but what he brings is an experience and composure on the ball that we sometimes lack. I wouldn’t be surprised that given his injury record and the creeping, ticking clock of the ageing process, Harley becomes a impact sub after 60mins, when we want to calm things down as opposition teams press.

 

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Exeter look towards the league as Charlton progress in the Carabao Cup

Exeter’s story in this year’s Carabao Cup was short lived as League One side Charlton knocked the Grecian’s out in a lively first round fixture on Tuesday night. As expected, Charlton made eleven changes to the starting line up from the team that faced Bristol Rovers on Saturday, manager Karl Robinson choosing to prioritise Charlton’s game away at Plymouth this weekend over the Cup. Charlton will most likely receive a fine from the EFL for doing so although seemingly the gamble paid off, the Addicks reaching the second round after coming back from a one goal deficit against Exeter.

Team Selection

Much had been made about the starting line ups before the game and Tis decided to make just three changes for the match with Troy Archibald-Henville, Luke Croll and Lee Holmes coming into the side for Jordan Moore-Taylor, Craig Woodman and David Wheeler respectively. Personally, I had expected more changes to the side. With an important game against Swindon coming this Saturday, I thought that Tis may have used the match against Charlton as an opportunity to improve match fitness in the squad and to give some of the younger players in the team a chance to prove themselves, as we saw when Ethan Ampadu made his debut in the EFL Cup last season. One notable omission from the squad was Ryan Harley. After coming on from the bench on Saturday against Cambridge, it might have been expected that he would make an appearance against the Addicks but he didn’t even make the bench this time out, perhaps suggesting that he is struggling to get up to match fitness.

First Half

The game itself started with speed. Charlton looked comfortable on the ball and preferred to play it on the ground rather than use aerial balls, something that is not common amongst Exeter’s usual opponents in League Two. The Grecian’s adapted well however and moved quickly to close down Charlton’s playmakers in the midfield in an attempt to contain the Addick’s and slow the game down. Whilst successful for a period of time, this tactic did allow Charlton to utilise the space out on the wings, Charlton’s left winger Ahearne-Grant in particular giving Pierce Sweeney a tough time out wide. This allowed Charlton to have a spell of dominance for most of the first half, working the ball into some good positons and going close on more than one occasion. City’s defender’s seemed up to the task though, with particular praise coming in for both Sweeney and Archibald-Henville who looked as though he’d never been out with injury in the first place.

For the first half at least, Exeter were reduced to hitting the League One side on the break or from set-pieces but found some joy in being able to do so, Troy Brown twice going close at the back post from corners and Jake Taylor forcing an expert save from Charton’s man between the sticks. Despite lining up in a 4-4-2 as opposed to the 4-3-3 we saw against Cambridge on Saturday, it seemed as though Reid and McAlinden seemed entirely comfortable with one another and linked up well to create space on the counter attack and cause Chalrton’s defence one or two problems.

Going in at the end of the first half at 0-0, it would only have been fair to suggest that it was Charlton who had played the better football over 45 minutes although City arguably had the better chances to take the lead, it was all to play for heading into the second half and what a half it was.

 
Second Half

The second half began just as lively, if not more, than the first. The pace of the game carried through half time and caused our backline problems, especially on the counter attack and especially on the left wing, though Pierce Sweeney proved equal to most of what was being thrown at him, this match potentially being valuable in his progression as a player.

Finally the breakthrough came through in the game, Lee Holmes striking home for City in the 56th minute from a long range free-kick out wide, managing to sail over the on rushing crowd of players and nestling into the right hand corner of the goal with the Charlton keeper struggling to get down in time to stop it. Holmes’ goal being super finish and hopefully the first of many this season for a tricky winger who promises to play a big role in Exeter’s challenge for promotion this year.

The goal proved a bit of a turning point in the game as Exeter managed to seize control of the match and looked far more comfortable on the ball than that had in any point up to Holmes’ strike. Both McAlinden and Reid looked more purposeful in their attacks now and supported by Taylor, James and Holmes, looked threatening going forward. This culminated in a disallowed goal not long after the first, a superbly hit cross by Jake Taylor on the right flank finding Reid and Holmes who managed to bundle it into the net in front of the Big Bank, the goal ultimately being ruled out by the linesman for a suspected handball but the crowd made their opinion known to the ref for whom this game was marred in controversy. The disallowed goal shouldn’t have mattered though as not long after, Taylor once again played a fantastic lofted through ball over the defence and found McAlinden who had timed his run perfectly. One on one with the goalkeeper, all Macca had to do was find the net but the keeper made a great save from the shot, City would go on to regret not taking the chance to double their lead.

Despite pegging Charlton back to counter attacks, the South London side made effective use of their pace and managed to come back into the game, breaching the Exeter defence and threatening the goal until they scored a quick double in the 73rd and the 79th minute to turn the game around and reach the second round despite a late onslaught from the Grecians and some speculative efforts from range by skipper for the night Lloyd James.

 

Changes

Tis left it until the last twenty minutes of the game to make any substitutions but they were relatively effective when they came on. The first change made was to bring young prospect Alex Byrne on for Lee Holmes. As Holmes is yet to reach full fitness, this was a wise move and Bynre looked sharp. In our preview podcasts, we discussed what prospects Byrne had for this season and I argued that it was perhaps too early for him to break into the first team just yet. Well it’s still early days but based on Tuesday night’s performance, he more than warrants a chance in the team this term. Byrne looked competent on the ball and mature beyond his age, finding the forwards with some decent, searching balls and looking to use his pace to find himself an extra yard of space.

Soon after, City fans were treated to the introduction of Matt Jay and Ryan Brunt who came on for Troy Archibald-Henville and Reuben Reid, both of whom had decent games. It would probably be unfair to talk about their performances in any great length given the fact that the time they had on the pitch was limited but neither looked out of place in the team nor against better opposition than you will routinely find in League Two, Brunt especially impressing with his physicality and ability to bring balls down from the air, even if he is lacking in match sharpness just yet.

 

Red Card

Perhaps the most controversial moment of the night came with the dismissal of Charlton’s number 8, Crofts, with ten minutes to go in the match after he made a two footed lunge on Matt Jay from behind the City striker. Karl Robinson and Assistant Charlton Manager Lee Bowyer have since branded the decision ‘disgusting’. From where I was stood, I thought the challenge fully justified the referee brandishing the red card in a decision which means Charlton have finished their last two competitive fixtures with ten men.

 

Summary

Overall, Exeter gave a good account of themselves against a better resourced, quicker and younger side on Tuesday night. Despite the Addicks playing the better football and seeing more of the ball over the course of 90 minutes, I believe that it was Exeter who had the best chances in the game and given the position they were in with half an hour left in the game, should have won the tie. Ultimately though, the Carabao Cup was never going to be very high in the priorities this season for Exeter who will now be fully focused on going to Swindon’s County Ground on Saturday and getting a result. That being said, it is not like any team that Tis sends out to give anything less than 100% and the fact that the Grecians couldn’t see the game out from a winning position will be disappointing for the club. Although unless Exeter could have won the game outright within 90 minutes on Tuesday, I question how much the team needed to play an extra half an hour against a physically demanding side given that we face a perhaps more important challenge at the weekend.

Stay tuned for our preview of this weekends match away at Swindon!

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Exeter v Charlton: Profiling the ‘Addicks’ ahead of the Carabao Cup

Club: Charlton Athletic

 

Manager: Karl Robinson

Karl Robinson as been the manager of Charlton since November 2016 and the club have had mixed results under his leadership. After a rocky end to the season last time out, Robinson managed to keep the Addicks in League One with a couple of games to spare and will be hoping for better results this season.

Robinson has form in the competition, beating Man Utd 4-0 as MK Dons manager in 2014, a side that included Dele Alli and Benik Afobe, now premier league players.

Exeter fans themselves will not be fond of facing members of the Robinson family in cup competitions, Karl’s brother Craig scoring against City for Warrington in the FA Cup also in 2014 as the non-league side knocked the Grecians out of the Cup.

 

Robinson results against Exeter:

Played: 4 (all as manager of MK Dons)

Win: 3

Loss: 0

Draw: 1

 

Last result: 1-0 win vs Bristol Rovers at home

In a game marred by controversy, it was Charlton who came out on top. After going down to 10 men within the first 6 minutes, Charlton went on to score a header from a free kick later in the first half although doubts remain as to whether or not the ball actually crossed the line.

 

Best Player: Ricky Holmes

The former Northampton man moved to South London last year and quickly became a hit at the Valley, scoring 13 goals in 36 appearances for the Addicks.

 

Last time they met:

Exeter haven’t played Charlton since the two sides met at SJP in 2012, the Addicks running out winners that day courtesy of a Danny Green goal. Interestingly that day, Troy Archibald-Henville started in the City line-up and former City player and now Grecians coach Matt Taylor lined up for Charlton.

 

What are City’s chances? 

Charlton are in League One and on paper should have enough to see Exeter off but this is a cup match on a Tuesday night in Devon and anything could happen. Last year, city managed to dispatch Championship Brentford at the same stage in this competition and gave a good account of themselves against Premier League Hull in the next round. It would be a tall order to beat a team in a higher division again this year but Karl Robinson has waved away an EFL threat of a fine if he does not comply with the rules of the competition and insists that he will not play a full strength side in the tie. I would also expect to see changes for City too, perhaps we will see some of the youngsters given the chance in the first team.

Charlton face Exeter’s rivals Plymouth in their next match on Saturday at Home Park in League One and I’m sure that the focus will be in that match, to capitalise on their opening win rather than on the cup with Exeter. The question remains, can Charlton do it on a cold Tuesday night in Devon?

Sparkes Will Fly

Speculation has been building recently as to who the next 1931 player will be at Exeter City. Transfer business at SJP has been relatively modest this summer and normally at this stage in the window the Grecians have signed a player to wear the 31 shirt.

The 1931 fund is a group created primarily for Grecians fans who cannot make home games as often as they would like to but still want to help the club. Members pay £19 a month into the fund which either fully or partly contributes to the wages of the player who wears the number 31 in the squad for the season.

With the notable departures of Joel Grant, a former 1931 player himself, and perhaps more significantly Ollie Watkins this summer, many have guessed that it will be an attacker who will don the number 31 this year. With former Plymouth striker Tyler Harvey seemingly still training with the club, you’d be forgiven for thinking that he might be lined up as the 1931 player this season but recent developments suggest a slight twist in the tale.

According to the club website, the player wearing the number 31 for the new season which started with a win over Cambridge on Saturday, is youngster Jack Sparkes. This would take the 1931 fund in a slightly different direction as it has previously been used to recruit players from outside the club rather than to promote youth players.

sparkes
Sparkes in action against Dorchester in preseason

 

However this could prove to be a very shrewd move for Exeter who will be keen to avoid a repeat situation to the one that took wonderkid Ethan Ampadu away from SJP and to Chelsea earlier this summer, with compensation to still be agreed between the two clubs. Giving Sparkes a contract would avoid this circumstance but also give the player the opportunity to prove himself with the first team squad, something he has no doubt earned with some eye-catching performances in preseason. Perhaps he will even make an appearance at SJP tomorrow night against Charlton in the Carabao cup?

It remains to be seen what this means for trialist Tyler Harvey but it would seem that Tisdale is more favourable to giving youth a chance this season rather than bringing more players in, as he has indicated in interviews ahead of the new season.

It is also a bold move for the club, Sparkes will have to shoulder great responsibility as the 1931 player, following in the footsteps of Pierce Sweeney and Joel Grant before him, both of whom played important roles in taking Exeter to Wembley last season. However it would seem that in placing their trust in Sparkes as the 1931 player for this season, Tisdale does indeed intend to use him as part of the first team squad.

All in all, this move should be welcomed, it signals significant investment in our youth system at City and shows the younger players that there are opportunities available at the club if they work hard to earn them. As the club of destination for young talent in the South West, it makes sense that we would promote players like Jack to the first team squad.

 

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Exeter 1-0 Cambridge: Five things we learned

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.

 

Flying formation

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.

 

Creative license

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.

 

Let us know what you think, comment below or tweet/follow us @lionmaskpod

Listen to our reaction from the Cambridge game below!

City open with a win

Exeter opened their League 2 account at home on Saturday with a deserved win against Cambridge.

The Grecians took the lead early on in the game with a Reuben Reid strike after his penalty rebounded from a David Forde save.

Whilst not being able to further capitalise on their first half dominance, Exeter managed to see out a nervy last half an hour to claim their first win of the season against a side who many have tipped to also be challenging for the play-offs this term.

Listen to our reaction from the game as well as a preview to Tuesday nights visit from Charlton in the Carabao Cup and the latest gossip on this seasons 1931 player.