Following the announcement of the retained list - which can be viewed in full here - Lewis Ward, Jonny Maxted, Tom Parkes, Alex Fisher and Nicky Ajose have all been released by the club at the end of their current contracts. The four young players released are Noah Smerdon, Will Dean, Lewis Wilson and Louis Morison. Robbie Willmott and Jokull Andresson have returned to their parent clubs.
Season Preview 2020/21
A personal view courtesy of David Gribble.
It has been a nostalgic summer. The budget cuts, trimming of coaching staff, more players leaving than arriving and the faint scent of “transitional season” hanging in the air. Matt Taylor has, from the first day he was appointed, struck me as more mindful than his predecessor on voicing what the majority of the Club’s support do, and do not, wish to hear. I am in no doubt, under Tisdale’s tenure, that it would be around this moment, after such a turbulent summer, that he would be looking wistfully into a camera and muttering the words “we are what we are.” Words that always had a mixed response at best.
Adjusting to the ebbs and flows of an uncertain financial future is something that many Clubs are currently having to process and adapt to, for Exeter City, although this is undoubtedly an unprecedented situation, we have seen such reassessment before. Perhaps it is because of that experience that the mapping out of our future, alongside the contingency plan for it, has been so swift and unequivocal. Exeter City, in the era of the Trust, is fundamentally built on it’s Academy. In times of trouble, we resort to the very process that rebuilt the club from the mess that it was in some 20 years ago, the growth and development of young footballers. Far from turning to the benevolence of a wealthy owner, at Exeter we will always look to the next crop of Academy talent to produce for the club in the present and, hopefully, provide finance for the club in the future.
Our Summer policy has been simple. Out with the old, in with the young. Garry Warren, Craig Woodman, Lee Holmes, Dean Moxey and Lee Martin certainly gave last year’s squad experience, yet this Season’s squad now has only two players over the age of 31. Of the twenty four currently contracted, eleven of those are under the age of 23 years old. To publicly reinforce the direction this year will take, key squad numbers, vacated by departing experienced players, have been awarded to our best young talent. No bigger acknowledgment of that can be given than the reintroduction of the Number Nine shirt being awarded to Ben Seymour. He is presented with the biggest of boots to fill, but I anticipate Ben will give everything he has to make that shirt his own.
So, who are the players on which so much of this season relies upon? Jordan Dyer was awarded both the Young Player of the Year and Manager’s Player of the Year award whilst on loan at Tiverton Town last season. Jordan started in all three of our Leasing.Com Trophy games against League One opposition and, it would be fair to state, showed the ability to compete against such a standard. As a Coach, and subsequently as a manager, Matt Taylor has been a significant mentor in the development of both Jordan Storey and Dara O’Shea, so there is plenty to feel optimistic about when it comes to Jordan Dyer.
Alex Hartridge, Will Dean and Harry Kite all had consistent seasons whilst out on loan with their respective clubs last year. Central Midfield may prove to be the toughest area of the field to break in to for the younger players, however, with the fixture congestion over the course of the season, there will undoubtedly be opportunities. Alex Hartridge has the versatility to play in the centre of defence and at left back. He has already shown in his outings at first team level that he has the strength and composure that will prove valuable as he seeks to make this his breakthrough year.
Joel Randall and Josh Key may be the players who evoke the most interest from supporters. Talented, pacy, ball players with an ability to beat defenders in a one on one situation and also provide goals. I would imagine that both may well begin the season in the role of “impact substitution” but, as the season progresses, both will be hoping to seek a more regular role in a team that appears to have more pace, energy and creativity to it than Exeter City squad’s of recent years.
As a group, our Under 23’s qualified for the second round of the Premier League Cup last season, finishing unbeaten in their qualifying fixtures. City were the only League Two side to progress and one of only two clubs to do so outside the Championship. They destroyed Aston Villa’s Under 23 age group by seven goals to nil over the two fixtures played and, when many featured in the Leasing.Com Trophy tie against West Ham’s Development group, were also victorious on the night. There is every indication that this group is not being given a chance because finances dictate, they are being given a chance because they deserve it and have worked hard for it. Young players in this region gravitate towards Exeter City because the club develops well, but also, importantly, gives young players a chance to make an impact at first team level. If we want to continue with that reputation it is vital that this group are now given that opportunity. I strongly believe that should be the case, regardless of any potential income from the sale of Ollie Watkins
Outside of the promotion of youth, we have recruited Rory McArdle and Jake Caprice from Scunthorpe United and Tranmere Rovers respectively. Whilst Aaron Martin’s departure was a disappointment to me, his inability to deal with the physicality of Vadaine Oliver at Wembley underlined why Matt had made the decision to change up that area of the pitch. McArdle arrives having built a career out of being a more traditional lower league defender and has predominantly played at a higher level than the one he finds himself at now. Sharing the same forehead genetics as our Vodka, Jager drinking Centre Forward, McArdle should offer a resilient centre to a defence that, it is hoped, will not be as easily intimated as it was on occasions last season.
The arrival of Caprice suggests a change in tactic. Traditionally, a full back pairing of Woodman and Sweeney has offered stability, but not a great deal of a threat in the attacking third. Caprice and Sparkes are a different combination and how they offer pace, mobility and width to the team should move us away from last season’s total dependency on Randell Williams.
With a starting eleven that will stray little from the one that positioned themselves in the top three for the majority of last season, I see no reason to suggest it will not be another strong showing from us. I am sure the pundits will look at a lack of transfer activity and mark us down because of it, but a consistency in the squad from last season, coupled with more pacy, unknown talent from our squad depth, may actually prove a good combination and one that could surprise an “expert” or two.
With a large portion of the squad making their way in the first team environment, not all days will be good days. With development comes learning and learning often comes from mistakes. However, these players are our players. Their successes, of which I am confident there will be many, will offer more reward than that of any perspective signing that may have arrived at SJP had the financial landscape been different.
So, a familiar theme of rebuilding at SJP, with a familiar format to achieve the rebuild already begun. Seeing not just one of our own, but many of our own, represent the club will be the focal point for the season and one we should embrace and look forward to. This is, after all, what Exeter City is all about and a large part of how the club went from a Circus to being respected within the football community. Yet, perhaps the greatest moment of this season will not come from a goal or result, but from the opportunity to finally take up our spot, or seat, back at SJP after a long and difficult 2020. Here’s to another year of highs and lows, I would not expect it any other way.
The following article was on the club website on the 27th of August 2020.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding youth football in the recent months, and the 2019/20 season being cut short because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Exeter City’s under-18s have been back in training and undergone an extremely productive pre-season for the 2020/21 campaign.
Four friendly matches have been played to date, with at least another two exhibitions lined up, all designed to ensure Chad Gribble and his squad are fully up to fitness when their first match of the new Youth Alliance season gets under way.
The under-18s have actually been back into training since July 21, and Gribble explained how the Academy has had to alter their training methods in line with government protocols.
It has been a funny pre-season," he said. "During the first few weeks, we trained in small groups to begin with, and our exercises were all non-contact. We mostly tried to get the boys back into the rhythm of things after a long break, before we started full training again in August.”
After a week of full-contact football sessions, City’s Under-18s played their first friendly on August 8. Tiverton Town under-18s provided a good run out for the young Grecians, but it was evident that the Grecians had been in training for longer after demonstrating superior fitness and sharpness levels. For Gribble and his coaching staff, it meant that they had a chance to put what they had worked on with the team in training into match practice.
Seven days later, Exeter’s youngsters faced Torquay United under-18s, who provided a much tougher test for the players across the pitch. City played reasonably well and saw a lot of the ball, however, they were unable to take the chances that opened up. The Gulls punished their opponents for being so wasteful and ended up taking home the victory. However, Gribble admitted how pleased he was his players were able to get a good number of minutes in under their belts.
The intensity started to rise for the young Grecians, and their third friendly quickly came around. On August 18, City travelled to Speeds Meadow to play men’s side Cullompton Rangers. City competed well against their much-older counterparts for an hour, and at one stage held a two-goal lead. However, with the intention of giving several players more time out on the pitch, the Exeter boys ran out of steam and conceded late strikes to a team full of know-how and physicality. Gribble though explained how happy he was with his squad’s first 60 minutes, despite some of those members playing men for the first time in their careers.
Last Saturday provided Gribble’s players with their most-recent pre-season test, as they took on the newly formed Helston Athletic Under-21s side. Gribble himself selected more of a matchday squad, which led to the team’s most complete performance to date. Despite dominating the ball and creating plenty of chances, the Grecians fell behind, but they did reply with a goal of their own from a set-piece. A late City penalty handed them the win, rewarding the players for how sharp and fit they had looked throughout the 90 minutes.
That performance leaves the Exeter youngsters in a good place going into their next friendly fixture, a tough match with Buckland Athletic on August 28. Gribble’s squad then face a tricky away trip to Luton Town eight days later in what is currently their final exhibition game before the Youth Alliance league begins.
Gribble though has said that overall he feels his players are shaping up well for the new season.
“Pre-season is about getting the players to the required fitness levels to play our style of football. They have worked hard and had it tough, and in some instances, they have probably gone into games a little tired, but it means that when we get to the point of our first match, we will be ready. If they can get through the pain then that will be good for them.
“We are now trying to piece everything together. It doesn’t surprise me that the final product is lacking, but I am delighted with where we are now. It is now all about continuing to develop these players, day by day, game by game. I’ve liked that we have played youth teams, sides made up of different age groups, as well as men. It means we have played a variety of styles, which will provide the boys with good experiences as they continue their footballing journeys.
“I think we are at a stage where all young players at clubs across the country have a great opportunity. With limitations such as salary caps in place, it means clubs may rely on their younger players much more. That will provide a great incentive for the younger players to try and catch the eye of the coaching staff and get opportunities.
“Our aim has always been to try and produce players for the first team, but also to try and get our boys to play football in the Exeter City way. It is an identity we are proud of. Our practices are aligned with the first team and we want to make sure our players are exposed to that.
“We want to go out and challenge the boys every game. We want the players to try and win every single day, in training asking them to work harder and improve. We want to say to them, ‘what individual wins can you achieve today?’ If the boys can achieve those little wins on a daily basis, then that will result in the wins on a Saturday. Our aim is to finish as high as we can in the Youth Alliance league table, but I don’t want to put any unnecessary pressure on the players. The pressure that I want them to be under is to make sure that they are the best player they can be.”
Lease agreement secures club’s future for a further 25 years.
St James Park lease signed with Exeter City Council
Exeter City Football Club has signed a new lease securing its future at St James Park for a further 25 years. The land on which the stadium is sited is owned by Exeter City Council and rented by the football club. The new lease secures it for the club until 2046.
First Team Results
|05/09/2020||Bristol City||LC 1||Away||L||0-2||0||:|
|08/09/2020||Forest Green Rovers||FLT Group E||Home||W||3-2||0||Ajose||Jay||Key|
|26/09/2020||Mansfield Town||League||Away||W||2-1||15th||0||Rawson (og)||Key|
|03/10/2020||Cambridge United||League||Home||W||2-0||6th||0||Jay (pen)||Randall|
|06/10/2020||Swindon Town||FLT Group E||Away||W||4-3||6th||0||Kite||Seymour (pen)||Attangana||Hartridge|
|07/11/2020||AFC Fylde||FA Cup 1||Home||W||2-1||4th||0||Jay||Hartridge|
|17/11/2020||West Bromwich Albion||FLT Group E||Home||W||4-0||4th||0||Kite||Seymour||Sparkes||Law|
|24/11/2020||Colchester||League||Home||W||6-1||5th||0||Jay 2||Randall||Bowman 3|
|28/11/2020||Gillingham||FA Cup 2||Away||W||3-2||5th||0||Law||Randall 2|
|08/12/2020||Northampton Town||FLT 2nd Rnd||Home||L||1-2||5th||718||Attangana|
|12/12/2020||Tranmere||League||Home||W||5-0||5th||1630||Bowman 3||Jay (pen)||Taylor|
|19/12/2020||Stevenage||League||Away||P-P||P-P||6th||P-P||:||Covid at Stevenage|
|26/12/2020||Forest Green Rovers||League||Home||D||1-1||7th||1767||Collins|
|09/01/2021||Sheffield Wednesday||FA Cup 3||Home||L||0-2||10th||0||:|
|12/01/2021||Bolton Wanderers||League||Home||D||1-1||10th||0||Santos (og)|
|06/02/2021||Bradford City||League||Home||W||3-2||5th||0||Sweeney||Bowman||Jay (Pen)|
|06/03/2021||Leyton Orient||League||Home||W||4-0||8th||0||Randall||Jay 3 (1 pen)|
|20/04/2021||Forest Green Rovers||League||Away||D||0-0||8th||0||:|
1st round proper
|7/11/ 2020||Exeter City||2-1||AFC Fylde||At Home|
|1st Round||Jay 26'
|Hulme 11'||Attendance: 0|
|28/11/ 2020||Gillingham||2-3||Exeter City||Away|
|9/1/2021||Exeter City||0–2||Sheffield Wednesday||Home|
All matches were behind closed doors
Football League Trophy
There was no competition in 2020/21 due to the world pandemic
|5/9/2020||Bristol City.||2-0||Exeter City||Away|
The Premier League Cup was curtailed due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019/20 and did take place in 2020/21.
There was no competition in 2020/21 due to the world pandemic
|15/08/2020||Bristol Rovers||Away||1-2||0||Parkes||Behind Closed Doors|
|21/08/2020||Taunton Town||Home||1-1||0||Fisher||Behind Closed Doors|
|25/08/2020||Tiverton Town||Away||2-1||400||Jay, Dean|
|28/08/2020||Truro City||Home||3-2||0||Jay,Bowman 2||Behind Closed Doors|
|15/09/2020||Weymouth||Away||1-1||0||Seymour||Behind Closed Doors|
|29/09/2020||Torquay United||C & F||2-3||0||Law 2 (1 pen)||Behind Closed Doors|
FA Youth Cup
|04/11/2020||Plymouth Argyle||Away||3-2||Sonny Cox, Toby Neville, Joe Wragg||0||R1||Behind Closed doors|
|11/11/2020||Cheltenham Town||Home||3-2||Sonny Cox 2, Ellis Johnson||0||R2||Behind Closed doors|
|02/12/2020||AFC Bournemouth||Home||3-1||Sonny Cox, Jack Veale 2||0||R3||Behind Closed doors|
|23/03/2021||Leicester City||Home||1-2||Lilley||0||R4||Behind Closed doors AET|
Football League Youth Alliance
Reserves and Youth Results
|Football League Youth Alliance 2020/21|
|26/09/2020||League||Plymouth Argyle||Away||2-1||Veale 2|
|21/10/2020||L Cup 1||Forest Green Rovers||Away||4-1||Ford||Veale||Cox||Iseguan|
|31/10/2020||League||Newport County||Away||4-2||Iseguan||Ford 2||Lovett|
|21/11/2020||League||Plymouth Argyle||Home||2-2||Collins (E)||Collins (Z)|
|05/12/2020||League||Forest Green Rovers||Away||3-3||Veale (pen)||Wragg||Lovett|
|12/12/2020||League||Yeovil Town||Away||4-1||Cox||Veale||Neville||Lovett||At C & F|
|13/01/2021||League||AFC Bournemouth||Home||3-2||Cox 2||Lilley|
|16/01/2021||League||Bristol Rovers||Home||4-1||Hanson 2||Neville||James|
|20/02/2021||League||Forest Green Rovers||Home||2-1||Hanson||Neville|
|03/03/2021||YA Cup QF||Yeovil Town||Home||6-3||Cox 2||Hanson 2||James||E.Collins|
|04/04/2021||YA Cup SF||Gillingham||Home||1-1||Veale||Lost on pens AET|
South West Division
Final Table 2020/21
|South West Division Final Table 2020/21|
|1||Oxford United U18||20||15||2||3||58||24||34||47|
|3||Exeter City U18||20||10||4||6||43||36||7||34|
|5||Forest Green R…||20||8||5||7||54||48||6||29|
|7||Swindon Town U18||20||6||4||10||33||43||-10||22|
|8||Bristol Rovers U18||20||6||4||10||32||45||-13||22|
|9||Newport County U18||20||5||5||10||35||44||-9||20|
|11||Yeovil Town U18||20||4||3||13||35||69||-34||15|
(was regionalised due to the Covid Pandemic)
|Merit 1 (Regional League) 2020/21|
|13/13/2021||Merit 1||Plymouth Argyle||Home||3-1||Cox||Hanson||Veale|
|20/03/2021||Merit 1||Yeovil Town||Away||2-2||Hanson||Neville|
|24/04/2021||Merit 1||Newport County||Home||4-1||Cox 3||Hanson|
|01/05/2021||Merit 1||Bristol Rovers||Home||1-0||Beardmore|
|08/05/2021||Merit 1||Forest Green Rovers||Away||2-3||Cox||Hanson|
Merit 1 Final Table
|3||Forest Green Rovers||6||3||1||1||11||13||2||10|
Youth Review of the 20/21 season
Following the conclusion of the 2020/21 season, Exeter City’s under-18s Head Coach, Chad Gribble, expressed a sense of pride and thanks towards everyone who was involved in yet another successful campaign for the Grecians’ youth team during his round-up of the past nine months or so.
After finishing third in the Youth Alliance South West division in the first half of the season, City’s youth side went on to record a runners-up spot in this season’s one-off regional EFL Merit League, as well as perform admirably in the two adjacent cup competitions, the Youth Alliance Cup and the FA Youth Cup.
But despite all of the success the club’s Academy have experienced on the pitch throughout the year, in the coach’s summary, Gribble admitted that the decision to hand scholarships to ten members of the Under-16s squad, and see second-year scholars Jack Arthur, Jack Veale, Nelson Iseguan, Ellis Johnson and Alfie Pond all sign professional contracts was the biggest result.
Ultimately, at the end of all this, after talking through the various games and moments throughout the season, we can’t move away from the fact that five of the Under-18s earned professional contracts with the club, and we handed 10 scholarships out to our Under-16s. That is the highest amount of deals the Academy has handed out for several years, and away from the games and results, that is the biggest result of the season.
"Congratulations must go to all of the players for a fantastic year, and a big thank you has to go to the staff as it isn’t just me who works with them as there are a whole lot of people involved with the players and their development. Seeing these contracts handed out is definitely the proudest moment for us, alongside seeing the likes of Nelson Iseguan make his full debut. The boys who graduated last year too given game time as well, and seeing Ben Chrisene scoring for Aston Villa in the FA Youth Cup final; it is those kinds of things that make the Academy proud, and are well-earned rewards for all of the hard work, and are the real bits of icing on top of the cake.”
With Chrisene grabbing the headlines in the Midlands, closer to home, Gribble and his young squad focused on their pathway to success back in September when they began their quest to top the Youth Alliance South West division. Some strong runs and performances saw them towards the top end of the standings, and, after the winter break, February saw Exeter’s youngsters finish the campaign strongly to secure third place behind strong outfits Oxford United under-18s and AFC Bournemouth under-18s.
A month later, after some uncertainty around how this season’s Merit League was going to work, the Grecians kicked off their fixtures in the second half of the season with a win against rivals Plymouth Argyle under-18s, and a draw with Yeovil Town under-18s. However, their hopes of topping the table took a bit of a hit when they lost 2-1 away at Cheltenham. Gribble revealed however, there were bigger agendas and goals that took priority during the spring months.
“We had to make decisions ultimately between two things. Winning trophies versus further exposure and development for some of the players. Choosing the latter has been beneficial, and we made decisions throughout the Merit League to play one or two of the new scholars, and then introduce more as we went on. I’m extremely pleased we did that as in the long run it will be a big benefit for them, and give those players the best shot at giving them a good start next season. We had a disappointing final day when we needed to find a way to win, but the hit we took on the pitch by playing the younger players will have a far greater impact for years to come.
“There were some missed opportunities on the way. Against Yeovil, we handed a few debuts out, but we had a penalty late on which we missed, but we didn’t play well at Cheltenham. That comes down to some of the inconsistencies that you can get at youth football. This part of the season has seen some of our older players take part in some Under-23s matches played behind closed doors, and, alongside the decision to prioritise development, to take the fight for the title down to the last day where one of four could still win it, and yet still finish second, I am extremely proud how the young players stepped up.”
Alongside the Merit League, the latter stages of the FA Youth Cup and Youth Alliance Cup were being played out, with Gribble’s side competing in both. While to some it may have been a distraction, plenty of people associated with the Academy were certainly proud to see their own young players stand alongside and compete with Leicester City under-18s and Gillingham under-18s. Gribble explained that all focus shifted onto those cup ties when they came around in late March and early April.
“In the cups, we picked the best team we thought gave us the best chance in that given moment, and it was quite pleasing to see how far we got. For the FA Youth Cup, the Leicester match probably proved to be more of a distraction to the staff than to the players. A lot of thought went into how we were going to approach it. That distraction set in during the Yeovil game, and disrupted the flow of the game as a result after we went a goal down early. We worked our way back into a 2-1 lead, but changed five players with the Leicester game in mind. But thank goodness we did that, as we went toe-to-toe with them for 90+ minutes, which we probably wouldn’t have been able to do had they played for longer in the Yeovil match just a few days before.
“Again Gillingham in the Youth Alliance Cup we defended against their direct play well, but we lacked the composure on the ball that we had in other games this season. Our preparations were the same as a normal game, and we had an added incentive as we had just lost in the Merit League seven days before. Unfortunately, we just didn’t have enough on the day. I was gutted we couldn’t progress further in both the cup competitions, and I feel that was two missed opportunities for us. We just lacked that cutting edge, which, in a way has been the story of our entire season and can be the case with young players. But while they were missed opportunities, I am very proud of the players’ efforts and where we got to.”
But while the cup runs ended for Exeter by the first week of April, they ended that month in fine form with one of their most complete performances of the season against Newport County under-18s. Long gone was the disappointment of the extra-time defeat to Leicester, the penalty shoot-out knock-out by Gillingham, as well as the Merit League loss to Cheltenham, as City’s youngsters unified and produced an emphatic 4-1 victory. Gribble reflected on his fond memories of a day full of positives at the Cliff Hill Training Ground.
“In our match against Newport, I think that was the first time our younger players really impacted proceedings. Even those coming off the bench added further opportunities and assists. Mitch Beardmore got two assists, Jamie Nicholson came back from a long term injury and added quality, and then some of those individuals took that into the next game against Bristol Rovers. That was a very different game but Mitch got on the scoresheet, Alfie Clark and Gabriel Billington played well, Ed James came on and made us more solid, and Harrison King was perhaps the best player on the day. I think that was the point where we saw the work that they had done in training start to pay off.”
However, a final day defeat to Forest Green Rovers handed Plymouth Argyle under-18s the Merit League crown, and, despite all the positives displayed during the second half of the season, showed that there were still things that the younger players needed to work on. Gribble acknowledged his inexperienced squad are far from the finished article.
“There is always going to be work to do, and I fear the day when we can turn to them and say they’ve cracked it all. If we won every game in the Merit League by three goals, there would still be something that we could improve on, and some of the recent Under-23s matches have shown up areas of their game that they need to work on.
“Against Forest Green, we just didn’t have quite enough. We played ok, and there have been other occasions where we have played worse than that but won. But, the players can come away with their heads held high because they have benefitted from that experience of playing under a bit of pressure. We made the decision to play the younger players and they stepped up and almost delivered us a title. However ‘almost’ isn't quite good enough.
“We have seen the Merit League this season as an opportunity to expose the Under-16s to Under-18s football, and a chance to drip-feed those younger players to allow them to develop. It has allowed Dan Green and myself the chance to organise more Under-23s matches and reserve games to further develop the senior players of the Under-18s setup.
“When we got the news that the Merit League would be organised differently this season and done regionally we were a little disappointed because we are very fond of the traditional method. We like the overnight stays we organise, and, although it sounds strange and is a bit more difficult to organise, we enjoy the longer journeys. We like facing different types of opponent, and that is what we discovered when we played Gillingham. We hadn’t come up against that type of football this season so it was a good test for our players. They finished mid-table in their league this year and that is why it would’ve been brilliant to play the likes of Peterborough this year. Quite often teams from that part of the country have higher physical attributes and it demands more athleticism from you. But we have managed to work our way around that with strategic thinking in our Merit League games this year, and, despite everything that has gone on, we have managed to make things work in our own way.”
It is that Exeter way that has given Grecian supporters, once again, the cause for optimism towards the ECFC Academy ahead of the 2021/22 season. The players and coaches have now entered their summer breaks, where rest and recovery will be the number one goal, however, their holiday periods won’t be lasting too long as Gribble and his squad will reconvene on June 28th to start the cycle once again for another year.
The retained list was announced in May
Exeter City boss Matt Taylor has thanked the five senior players and four young professionals who will be leaving the club following the expiry of their contracts this week and wishes them all the best for the future.