I’m quite honestly surprised that we managed to come away from this one with a point. After a brilliant defensive display last week against Cambridge, we conceded another two soft goals and gave ourselves all the work to do.
I said on the podcast this week that we look good to score two goals a game at the moment but after that performance we’ve gone straight back to looking like a banker to concede two goals a game. We never really looked like scoring after going 2-1 down and it’s only down to a moment of brilliance from Alex Fisher that we’ve got anything to show from the game at all.
2. Dugout Dilemmas
It was a mixed afternoon for Matt Taylor in the dug out. With the link up play between Joel Randall and Matt Jay looking like our most threatening combination in the second half, the City boss left plenty of fans scratching their heads when MJ’s number was held aloft by the fourth official. Not only did the Grecians lose Jay’s flair in attack but moving Randall into a more central position stifled his ability r o attack the full back which he had done successfully to that point.
Whilst some might say that strange substitutions are straight from his predecessors playbook, Taylor did redeem himself with the addition of eventual goal scorer Alex Fisher, coming on for the increasingly marmite figure of Ryan Bowman. Fisher’s looping effort in the 95th minute bailed City out of a loss against the Shrimpers but I think that Taylor will have learned a lot from what was a tough day in the dugout.
3. Jekyll and Hyde
In a podcast earlier in the summer, I likened City’s then top scorer Ryan Bowman as a Jekyll and Hyde figure for the Grecians and he’s seemingly living up to the title once again.
In the past two weeks, we’ve seen some of the best and the worst of Ryan Bowman. I thought his performance against Cambridge in the 2-0 victory was one of the worst I had seen in a City shirt. He simply didn’t look at the races, his movement was not at the standard he’s shown that it can be and he failed to even get off the ground for headers he would have been hitting on target last season. This of course culminated in the almost calamitous chance five yards out from goal where he trapped the ball beneath his feet rather than simply striking home the cross put on a plate for him by Joel Randall.
The performance that Bowman turned in against Southend however was vastly improved. Remarkably, the assist that he provided for Joel Randall was his first since arriving in Exeter in January 2019. His movement and touch looked much better and he was causing an issue for the opposition defenders in the first half.
It’s no secret that Bowman should already be in the scoresheet this season; he has spurned chances that you’d expect a striker playing for a side pushing for promotion to put away. Does this mean that he’s not good enough to play at this level? No, he’s already proved that he can do a job for a League Two side. That doesn’t mean however that he’s facing stiff competition from strikers behind him in the depth chart. Alex Fisher made a pretty clear statement of intent in the brief cameo that he made in Essex at the weekend. It’s now up to Matt Taylor to decide whether to stick with Bowman and hope that he can play through his goal drought to establish a run of form or whether to switch to the “hot hand” and give one of the other strikers in his arsenal the opportunity to nail down a claim in the starting line up.
There are only three things certain in life; death, taxes and Exeter City failing to defend high balls into the area. The defensive vulnerabilities displayed throughout preseason and at the start of this campaign were on display once again at Mansfield as the Stags took the lead through a well worked corner. It’s said that only 1 in every 18 corners leads to a goal in football. This could not have been further from the truth yesterday as all three strikes in the game came from corners.
However, it wasn’t all bad news… as shaky as the Grecians’ defence looked in the opening half an hour, it turns out that Mansfield were just as bad at defending crosses, with Exeter managing to score two soft goals past the Stags to take all three points.
2. Josh is the Key
A new right sided defender was at the top of the list of priorities heading into the new season for Exeter City. Matt went with proven experience with the signing of Jake Caprice but few could have predicted that Caprice would be kept out of the side by academy graduate Josh Key.
Traditionally thought of as more of an attacking player, Key has slotted in well at right back in a back four and has looked undroppable in early season form. He has offered defensive stability as well as posing an attacking threat, culminating in a well taken headed goal to clinch all three points against Mansfield. In such as short space of time, Key has made himself a fan favourite at SJP and looks to have a very bright future ahead of him.
3. A Randell and Randall partnership
With Randell Williams as good as sold last week, Grecians fans were looking at Joel Randall to step up as Exeter’s main attacking threat out wide… and step up he did. A goal against Salford on the opening day sent out a statement that Randall was ready for first team action this season.
Then everything changed. The announcement last week that Williams had turned down a move away from SJP was welcome news for Exeter fans. The game against Mansfield was the first opportunity to really see Randall and Randell on the same pitch and there was plenty to be excited about. Barring the opening half an hour of the game, City dominated possession and always looked threatening going forward. The introduction for Joel Randall to the side this season has brought some much needed balance to the side in attack and if Williams can reproduce the sort of output we saw from him last campaign, Matt Taylor could well have a great pair of wingers on his hands.
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.
Despite a whole pre-season of conceding soft goals soon after kick-off, you’d think that Matt Taylor’s side would have enough warning to address their defensive issues heading into the new campaign. Think again.
Ian Henderson’s strike in the opening moments of the game was a poor effort to concede and exposed the defensive fragilities in the side. Despite looking threatening going forward, if the Grecians are to compete this season, they will need to shore up the defence and especially deal with aerial balls in more effectively. I can’t help thinking that if Aaron Martin had been playing today, we wouldn’t have conceded that goal and we would likely have won the game.
2. Jay is here to stay?
While other academy products have either managed to establish themselves in the first team before moving on to bigger things, or been released before they had the chance to make a start, Matt Jay has been in Exeter City selection purgatory for some years now. Despite announcing “it’s now or never” almost every season for the past half a decade, Jay has struggled to get a consistent run in the first team and find his feet for the Grecians.
But maybe all that looks like changing. Jay was the stand out performer in the team this afternoon and looked dangerous every time the Grecians attacked. His goal was vindication for his selection in the starting line up and after impressing last weekend against Bristol City, maybe now is his chance to finally have a sustained run in Matt Taylor’s side.
3. Balancing act
When news of Randell Williams’ likely departure broke on Thursday afternoon, many Exeter fans were understandably concerned about where the goals were coming from in the season ahead. Indeed, even before the news broke, Dom even asked on our season preview podcast where the creativity would be found in the side if Williams’ wasn’t able to match his production last season. A side so heavily reliant on the pacy winger last campaign, you’d be forgiven for expecting a flatter performance in attack for the Grecians without Williams this weekend.
The reality against Salford this afternoon couldn’t have been any more different. With Jake Taylor slotting in on the right hand side of midfield, and Joel Randall adding flair on the left hand side, the exclusion of Williams actually made Exeter more balanced in attack. By removing the obvious out ball to the right wing, the game opened up for Matt Taylor’s side and allowed the likes of Randall and Jay to link well going forward, giving an aging Salford more problems to consider than just the pony tailed Williams.
If Randell Williams is to leave Devon this summer, no doubt a replacement will be sought after. Squad depth is arguably at its weakest on the wings despite young players coming through and a new face will be required in a squad which will likely be heavily rotated. What today proved, if anything, however is that life without Williams can certainly go on.
Harry Kite looks ready. Playing in a midfield two with Jake Taylor, Kite made shuttling run after run recycling possession and making the team over. Providing defensive coverage while moving forward when needed he was a good foil for Taylor who was dropping deeper to receive the ball and attempt to dictate play. Kite looked like a young Taylor and seems ready to play minutes this season.
2. Defensive Depth
Hartridge, Dyer, Dean and Key will give defensive depth. All of them looked competent and able to fill in when needed this season. Cover at left back still looks a need though A & B Trialists have impressed so far. Dyer looked more comfortable centrally rather than at RB but Key looked dangerous there throughout the first half.
3. Firing Blanks
Going Forward we are stuttering. Seymour struggled to get into the game in the first half and Ajose, making a rare appearance, sputtered through lack of service when he came on. The formation of 4231 gave a lot of freedom and space to Matt Jay, in the hole behind the striker, but he rarely took advantage. He took his goal well but didn’t create much. Williams had an evening to forget but he’ll come good it’s just it can’t just be him again this season again.
We might only be two games into pre-season but it looks like the Grecians have picked up where they left off… conceding goals.
Okay, that’s a really cynical take, but for all the talk of pre-season being about fitness and performance, Matt Taylor will undoubtedly be disappointed at both the timing and the manner of the goals his side have conceded. In 180 minutes, Exeter are yet to lead a game this pre-season and the new centre-back partnership of Rory McArdle and Tom Parkes have looked nervous at times, especially early on in games. It may be a case of familiarity (or lack thereof) but Taylor will be keen to iron out the mistakes before the season starts on 12th September.
2. Firing Blanks
Matt Taylor has a number of options available to him upfront this season… so why oh why is he persisting with a Bowman/Fisher partnership?
Don’t get me wrong, I believe that both strikers have something to offer the side and on their day can provide a stern test for opposition defences and Fisher looked dominant in the final half hour against Taunton. I cant help but think that the two target-man approach just doesn’t seem to work however, with either one of the pairing going missing from the game for large spells. Meanwhile, the likes of Matt Jay and Nicky Ajose sit on the bench, with Ben Seymour knocking on the door. Taylor has plenty of options at his disposal and I hope that by the time the season starts, we see a more dynamic striking partnership.
3. The Key to Success?
After raising eyebrows with his performance against Bristol Rovers in Exeter’s first pre-season friendly, Josh Key was given the opportunity to start against Taunton and didn’t fail to impress again.
Key looked lively in the opening exchanges and despite struggling to beat his man on a couple of occasions, took up threatening positions and combined pace with a crisp touch to cause Taunton issues on the wing. With the majority of the Grecian’s attacks coming down the right hand side in the first half, Key started to impose himself on the Peacock’s defence and gave more reasons for City fans to be excited about his development in the first team this season.
As the start of the new football league season barrels toward us, so does the resumption of the NFL, the most financially lucrative league in all of sport. American Football is determined to push on and start the new season no matter how many coronavirus hurdles they have to sweep to one side in order to get there. So it got me thinking, if League Two sides were in the NFL, which sides would they be?
If you’ve ever wondered the same thing, wonder no more as all your questions have ben answered in the following mashups…
Barrow/Washington Football Team
Barrow AFC are a new face to League Two this season, having last been a league football side back in the 70s but kicked out in controversial circumstances. Controversy is something not unfamiliar to Washington too. Like Barrow, they are a new team of sorts in the NFL this season, having changed their name this summer to retire the formerly offensive team branding.
The Bolton Chiefs
Despite Bolton’s success on the field varying somewhat to the experience enjoyed by the Kansas City Chiefs, like the Chiefs, Ian Evatt’s side are favourites to finish top o the pile this season. Bolton have mirrored the Superbowl winners in other ways too, giving Eoin Doyle a big money, long term contract this summer just like the Chiefs have done to star man Patrick Mahomes. Time will tell if Doyle can get Bolton firing with the same level of success as Mahomes has in Kansas City.
The Bradford Cowboys
Both Bradford and the Dallas Cowboys have a large following of loyal fans. Both however have found success slightly more difficult to come by in recent seasons than their respective fan bases would have hoped. While Bradford narrowly missed out on the play-offs last season, just like the Cowboys but with Bardford investing in their side this season, and with an extra play-off spot available in the NFL, both sides will be hoping for a change in fortunes for this campaign.
The Cambridge Bears
Both of these sides had mid-table campaigns last season and ones which likely won’t live long in the memory of their fans. Cambridge in this off-season have gone and added the aging but evergreen Wes Hoolahan while the Chicago Bears have added veteran Nick Foles to their roster. Interestingly, both of these sides had the chance to sign these players respectively last season but passed up on the opportunity. It remains to be seen if their deals work out this time round.
The Carlisle Cardinals
Carlisle, like the Arizona Cardinals, had an underwhelming season last time around, comfortably avoiding being bottom of the pile but well off challenging at the top of the table. Some smart business in the summer however has seen Carlisle emerge as a dark horse for promotion this season while the Cardinals have raised eyebrows with the aquisition of DeAndre Hopkins from the Texans and Isiah Simmons in the draft, leaving some pundits wondering how far they could go this term.
The Cheltenham Bills
After a frustrating performance the season before, both Cheltenham Town and the Buffalo Bills exceeded expectations last season and made it to the play-offs for the first time in years. While Cheltenham blew a 2-0 lead against Northampton, the Bills were dumped out of the play-offs by the Texans and as soon as their respective play-off journeys started, they were over. Both teams seem to be on the up however and will be looking for a repeat performance this coming campaign.
The Colchester Patriots
So close and yet so far for both of these sides as their seasons each ended in play-off heartbreak. Since then, captain Luke Prosser has left the U’s for Stevenage just as Tom Brady is leaving New England to seek pastures new in Tampa. Both sides have what is left of a decent team and will be hoping that the same player who fired them to the play-offs last season will be able to go again.
The Crawley Chargers
Both Crawley Town and the LA Chargers experienced mid-table campaigns last year with flashes of brilliance throughout the season and moments of calamity at times. Key players have left their respective sides this summer in the shape of Ollie Palmer and Phillip Rivers and will be replaced by youth with Justin Herbert being drafted by the Chargers and Crawley seeing Tyler Frost come in from Reading’s U23s and Archie Davies arrive from Brighton’s U23s.
The Exeter Saints
Always the bridesmaid but never the bride. Both Exeter and the New Orleans Saints have had campaigns ending in the play-offs for what seems like an absolute eternity. Year after year, these sides are always in and around the conversation for the big prize but the one successful play-off campaign they each have enjoyed seems like a very distant memory. Despite some noticeable departures for each, both teams have kept the bulk of their squads and will give it one more go to try and get over the line next season.
The Forest Green Ravens
No, I didn’t choose this mashup becasue the name sounds so good. Am I glad it sounds this good? You’re damn right I am. Forest Green and the Baltimore Ravens are both relatively big spenders with some star players for either side. They’ve also both had a big off-season, tweaking their sides and recruiting in key areas where they were lacking last season in a hunt for glory in this campaign.
The Grimsby Jets
Grimsby Town and the New York Jets are both fairly overlooked sides, but ones who can hurt any team on their day. Just as the Jets have lost the talented Jamal Adams to the Seahawks this summer, Grimsby have seen some strong performers depart too. Mid-table campaigns last time out give these teams a solid base to build on for next season although most pundits don’t see either challenging at the top of the tree.
The Harrogate Raiders
A new team that neither league has seen before, Harrogate enter league football for the first time in their history after heroics in the play-off final at Wembley while the Las Vegas Raiders have moved from Oakland to start a new identity. Both teams will be playing in new surroundings too, with the Raiders getting the keys to a shiny new home in Nevada and Harrogate will be ground-sharing with League One Doncaster Rovers due to EFL restrictions on synthetic playing surfaces.
The Leyton Orient 49ers
Both teams who boast loyal fanbases, Leyton Orient and the San Francisco 49ers had a season back in the big time after a period of time in the wildness. For Orient, the said were back in the football league in an emotional campaign after the late Justin Edinburgh lead them to promotion from the National League. Meanwhile, the 49ers enjoyed a play-off camapign which saw them reach the Superbowl for the first time in eight years.
The Mansfield Buccaneers
Mansfield are one of this season’s big spenders in League Two as the Nottinghamshire club hope to finally enjoy a successful season. Their ‘win now’ mentality in the transfermarket this summer mirrors the attitude of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who despite also experiencing a disappointing season last term, have spent big money this summer. The arrivals of Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski will surely overload the Buccs in attack, with Mansfield also going gung ho following some big name arrivals.
The Morecambe Bengals
Morecambe always seem to be at the bottom of the League Two table but have always been able to narrowly avoid the drop out of the football league and for that, I guess they have to be admired. Their fotrunes closely resemble those of the Cincinnati Bengals however, who have also found winning seasons a struggle to come by in recent years. Both sides will be hoping a change in fortunes is in the offing though with sought after manager Derek Adams taking the helm at Morecambe and Joe Burrow arriving at the Bengals as the hottest prospect in the NFL.
The Newport Rams
Having gotten used to finishing in the bottom half of the table, Newport’s play-off final appearance the season before last came as a welcome taste of success for fansof the South Wales club. Similarly to the Exiles, the LA Rams had mostly found winning hard to come by before their play-off loss to the Pats in 2019. Just as both sides lost on the big stage however, both saw a reversion to the mean last season with mid-table campaigns for both teams in what could be described as dissapointing campaigns.
The Oldham Bronchos
Oldham are a club in in the throes of a big transition at the moment. Off the feild issues have dominated the headlines and were matched by underwhelming performances on the pitch. In a similar vain, the Denver Bronchos are in the middle of their own rebuild. After struggling to replace Hall fo Fame QB Peyton Manning, the Bronchos struggled on the pitch and like Oldham aren’t expected to be challengers for this upcoming camapign.
The Port Vale Titans
Donning the label of underdogs last season, both Port Vale and the Tennessee Titans sprung a surprise on some of the bigger teams last season. Port Vale were able to beat all four of the promoted teams at various stages last term while the Titans knocked both the Patriots and the Ravens out of the play-offs before ultimately falling short of reaching the Superbowl just as Vale narrowly missed out on the play-off.
The Salford Colts
Borth Salford City and the Indianapolis Colts showed signs of making a play off push in their respective campaigns last season but ultimately fell short at the final hurdle. This time round however both sides have got their sights firmly set on success and will be relying on experience to get them there. Salford will be hoping that 35-year old Ian Henderson can fire them to promotion next term while the Colts have brought in veteran Phillip Rivers to turn their fortunes around.
The Scunthorpe Giants
Scunthorpe, a team that enjoyed the dizzy heights of the Championship as recently as 2011, have suffered from a sharp decline in recent years. 2011 was conincidentally the last year which the New York Giants tasted Superbowl glory with a win over the Patriots but like Scunthorpe have also struggled in their latest camapigns. After both sides experienced troubling form last season, stability will be the focus this time around.
The Southend Panthers
After managing to avoid releagation the previous season, Southend had a dismal campaign in 2019/20, picking up just four wins in 35 games. Dismal is a word which could just as easily be used to describe the Carolina Panthers last season who continued a steady decline from the past few years. Both teams have a new man at the helm this year and have receruited from smaller teams with Mark Molesley coming in at Southend after a double promotion with Weymouth and Matt Rhule taking the reigns with the Panthers following successful spells in college football.
The Stevenage Dolphins
Well Stevenage certainly doesn’t enjoy the same weather as they do in Miami but there are some similarities between Boro and the Dolphins on the pitch. Both struggled to find form last season an suffered their worst record in recent memory. This summer however has seen some shrewd business conducted by both teams and although they won’t be expected to challenge, should see them make a marked improvement on last time out.
The Tranmere Falcons
After gaining promotion through the play-offs in 2019, Tranmere struggled to find their feet in Leauge One and have found themselves back in the fourth division for the upcoming season. Last seaon was a disappointing one for the Atlanta Falcons too, but with the addition of James Vaughan for Tranmere and with Matt Ryan and Julio Jones at the Falcons, both of these teams are formidable in attack and will have no trouble in scoring against opposition sides this season.
The Walsall Browns
In Wes McDonald, Walsall have one of the best wingers in the league in my opinion, much like Odell Beckham Jr at the Browns. Both Walsall and the Browns had resepctable seasons last time around but their fans will be hoping that they can push on this upcoming campaign and find more success than they have enjoyed in a while.
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With Exeter City recently releasing their latest home kit for the 2020/21 season, there has never been a better time to look back at some of the classic ECFC shirts over the years and imagine how they might look in the modern era. In the first of a mini series, I’ll take a look back at 5 shirts Exeter wore between the club’s inception in 1904 up to the late 1920’s.
1904 – A Club is Born
As St. Sidwell’s United became the Exeter City we now all know and love, the Grecians adopted the Devonian colour of green for it’s kits. A colour which is all but banned from Exeter shirts these days due to connections with rivals Plymouth Argyle, City took the bold step of combining green with white in a half and half design.
Green and white are two colours seldom used on football kits these days and you can rather see why! The design from 1904 was obviously very basic and typical of its era. a simple design, it would look very simplistic in the modern day although with retro kits all the rage at the moment, it could be well received as a third shirt, if only it weren’t for that pesky Argyle green.
1906 – No Half Measures
After two years of donning half green and half white, the Grecians make a change, casting off the white and going with a solid green. I’ll forgive this basic effort given that it is the early 1900s that we’re talking about here but it’s pretty clear to see why green isn’t exactly in vogue for many football clubs.
When mocking this little number up, I couldn’t really leave it as a simple plain green so I’ve enlarged the club crest and used it as a watermark on the front of the shirt. Looking like a Norwich away shirt, I think that every City fan is glad that the club moved away from plain green. I do like a nice folded collar on retro football shirts but the move towards white shorts on this kit compared to the 1904 design represents a loss in character for me.
1910 – Green and Blacks
1910 rolls around and Exeter City wear a green shirt for the last time. This is more of an interesting design, with the inclusion of a white strap below the collar and the white sleeves with the green trim offering something different to the plain green effort previously.
I actually quite like this design. It combines simplicity with something slightly different and I could easily imagine a team using a design similar to this in the modern day. I would prefer black shorts with the green and white shirt but I am a big fan of the black socks with the white and green detailing at the top.
1913 – New Kit, Who Dis?
The 19teens begin and herald a new tradtion for Exeter City with the birth of red and white stripes. The Grecians ditch the colour of their Devonian rivals and adopt an Exonian red, with a style that has lasted right up to the present day.
This design is stripes at it’s simplest. Stripes on the body and stripes on the sleeve. The red collar brings the shirt together although the white shorts are a bit overwhelming given how much white is used on the shirt. Red socks off-set this slightly but all-in-all this kit looks more like it belongs with Stoke City at the Britannia rather than at St James Park.
1926 – Stripes, Stripes, Baby
With the Grecians having established red and white stripes as the new normal in Exeter, this kit brought a continental feel to south Devon with an effort resembling Spanish giants Atletico Madrid.
The shirt design is actually very similar in style to the design used in the 1910’s, with simple stripes on the body and sleeves. The obvious difference is in the change in colour of the socks and the shorts. I’m a massive fan of the use of the dark blue here as I think it compliments the red and white stripes really nicely. In this modernisation I have also given the shirt design a blue collar and trim on the sleeves to match the shorts instead of the original red, just to give another element to the kit and bring it together as a whole.
Thanks for reading this post! Do give us a like and a follow on Twitter @lionmaskpod and keep an eye out for the next parts in this mini-series!
Also, if you’re a fan of historical football shirts or want to see more classic Exeter City shirts through the years, check out Historical Football Kits, I’ve included some of their illustrations in this post and they’ve got a great catalogue of kits through the ages!
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.
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.
🎥💬 "We are going to go and attack this game of football."
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.
🎥💬 "That is 100 per cent the aim. Go one better and get this club into League One.”
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.