Ninth, but a reason to look up for Exeter City Fans?
It may have been yet another season of ‘close but no cigar’ in East Devon, but there is plenty for City fans to be positive about.
The Grecians will be content with Matt Taylor’s first season in the charge of the club; his matter-of-fact approach has really been welcomed by the club. Taylor has been unafraid to voice his opinion on the team, shown by his comments on James Hamon’s departure and several free agent situations. He certainly seeks to improve the club in his own mould - that’s what you get with a hardened former Centre-back at the helm! His transparency has also gone a long way with the fans and ensured a somewhat smooth transition season from former boss Paul Tisdale. It will be interesting to see what Taylor can achieve in his second full season, given the evident resources at his disposal.
In a season that has seen the loss of the club’s top scorer, Jayden Stockley, plus Troy Brown to injury, Hiram Boateng to MK Dons and servant Christy Pym to Peterborough, there is still a lot of promise remaining in the squad. Stockley’s move to Preston NE left a gap in the City frontline, but Matt Jay and January signing Ryan Bowman showed they could certainly compete with their goals in the last part of the season. Jay’s speed and link up play paired with Bowman’s tenacity and work-rate could well form the attacking building blocks for City’s 2019/20 campaign.
City’s fullbacks, with 85 league appearances between them, have also shown their worth this season. Dean Moxey’s performances have been as solid as ever at left-back, despite earning himself a couple of ‘passionate’ early baths in the first part of the campaign. Pierce Sweeney has improved on the opposite side of defence, even bagging himself 4 goals in the process including a peach against Cheltenham in September. The 24-year-old’s third season at the club seems to have cemented him as one of the leaders in the dressing room, with his ability to provide crosses and also stay solid on the right. Sweeney has shown his prowess in the tenacious, as well as modern, side of a full-back’s game.
Captain Jake Taylor has also showcased his ability in midfield, whilst Lee Holmes remains a big part of City at age 32. These players have brought stability to a changing team – something I’m sure the Gaffer will be more than pleased about.
But the young talent coming through the club is perhaps most exciting. Archie Collins has been the brightest spark, showing very evident glimpses of his talent in his 33 appearances this season. Although Archie only scored once this campaign, that strike away at Swindon will surely be one he will never forget. I’m sure all City fans are hoping he can add a bit of consistency to his game, which could make the 19-year-old a match-winner.
Randell Williams has also gone under the radar. Having seen some of his fine performances for the youth team myself, Williams finally edged his way into the squad in the latter part of the campaign. Randell failed to net for The Grecians, but his progress should not go unspoken of. Part of the Retained List at the end of the campaign, Williams is obviously thought of highly by those at the club.
All in all, the departure of key men at the end of this campaign should not cloud the progression of certain players in the squad. City have a balance of youth and experience: a fine mix for an EFL side.
Undoubtedly, the season did not finish how City fans and management would have liked. Yet, it was perhaps what should have been expected. Injuries to Boateng and Brown undoubtedly affected the spine of the team, with City occasionally playing a back 3 in the absence of two first-team centre backs. Although Dara O’Shea’s loan signing plugged the gap somewhat, Brown was surely missed. To finish just one point of the play-off places without these two key players, and minus Jayden Stockley for half of the campaign, is still an achievement. You have to think, with a hopefully fit Brown at the back, the Grecians will surely benefit.
The season certainly had its highs. An early 5-1 mauling of Harry Kewell’s Notts County comes to mind, which certainly entertained the St. James’ Park crowd. City also welcomed Blackpool in an entertaining match at SJP, despite crashing out of the cup. I’m sure a stronger cup run will be on Matt Taylor’s mind going into next season.
A proud moment for all at City came with Jonathan Forte’s goal against Cheltenham Town, marking the 1000th goal in the ECFC Trust Era. The club was brought from the brink of financial implosion with the help of the Supporter’s Trust, which has earnt The Grecians the title of the longest established Supporter’s club in English football - It is safe to say City have come a long way since then.
The Centenary Remembrance campaign was also a success on the archival side of things, with the Walter Tull Project showcasing the plight of the first Black British Army officer who lost his life in March 1918. This comes in the same campaign as the launch of the ECFC Museum; a point of pride for all of those involved
What Can we Expect in 2019/20?
With the first real break-up of the squad in the last three years, the 2019/20 season will perhaps be another campaign of relative transition, if not immediate success. The club will have to adapt to the loss of its first-choice keeper and 20-goal-a-season striker, as well as a key man in midfield. This will certainly not be easy.
Yet, signs of Matt Taylor’s direction are already evident. The early capture of steady-headed midfield runner Nigel Atangana seems to be reminiscent of Boateng, as the Frenchman is more than capable of getting up and down the pitch. No doubt his 6’2” stature will have fans thinking of legend Patrick Viera, but we will see what he can accomplish at City after an injury hit season last campaign. 113 games in the Football League however, shows his experience in England’s football climate.
City’s second signing has seen Centre-back Tom Parkes join the fold. At 6’3” and having played for a whole host of Football League clubs, Tom will be a key addition to the fold at Exeter City, and will probably slot into a starting position. He has already notched up 313 league appearances by 27, most of which have been for Bristol Rovers. A man-mountain in defence, he should be a welcome addition, (hopefully) alongside a fit and healthy Troy Brown.
Signings have come thick and fast since the two early additions. Rather predictably, City have brought in two goalkeepers to fill the void left by Pym and Hamon. But more strikingly, Matt Taylor has decided to go with youth, bringing in 22-year-old Lewis Ward from Reading and 26-year-old Jonny Maxted from Accrington Stanley. It seems they will battle it out for the No. 1 spot, but it is great to see Taylor replace the youth lost in Pym with some exciting prospects.
Alex Fisher’s arrival from Yeovil signals Taylor’s attacking intent. The 6-foot-3 marksman will help to replace Jayden Stockley’s goal-threat. City have also brought in Nicky Ajose from Charlton Athletic, signalling a big step in the right direction for the South-West club. It will certainly be a fierce contest for City’s attacking spots with Forte, Jay and Bowman already in the fold.
An older head in former Yeovil and Inverness CT man Gary Warren has also been brought in on a free to provide an experienced option at Centre-Back. It seems as though the Gaffer does not want a repeat of last-season’s defensive issues, with Robbie Cundy also acquired on loan from Bristol City.
As for the season ahead, the coaching staff should be aiming to go one better than the previous campaigns and could clinch an automatic promotion spot. City’s outgoings have freed up some wage space to bolster the squad for what is a long, and arduous League Two, and perhaps cup, campaign. The loss of key players can be overcome and may have already been addressed with the signings of Atangana, Asoje and Parkes in particular – but that remains to be seen.
Taylor’s target to replace the spine of the team has been evident, also incorporating the youth and older heads into a new setup. 2019/20 will be another season of transition without a doubt, but that does not mean it should be without promise. Up the City.
Sam Moakes (2019)