Record Last Season + Quick Summary:
League Two - 4th; W 24 / D 8 / L 14 / F 64 / A 54 / Pts 80 (Lost in the play-off final)
Oh so close. Paul Tisdale’s men just fell short in the play-off final, losing 3-1 to an imperious-looking Coventry City side. The Grecians started their campaign off in superb fashion, winning seven and drawing one of the opening eight games. That level of consistency was always going to be hard to sustain, with no real sequences of any sort occurring for the remainder of 2017, undoing some of their momentum. The subsequent calendar year was more fruitful, and they rallied back into a comfortable position in the top seven. In the semi-final, Danny Cowley and Lincoln City were tactically outwitted over two legs by the Devon side, which was exceedingly rare last term. Unfortunately, they couldn’t best the Sky Blues, and Tisdale, perhaps sensing that it was now or never to chance his arm elsewhere, sought pastures new at Milton Keynes Dons. Matt Taylor was promoted from the U23s in his place.
Top Goalscorer: Jayden Stockley (20 goals in 37 starts/3,472 minutes)
Top Creator: Hiram Boateng (6 assists in 31 starts/2,874 minutes)
Manager/Head Coach: Matt Taylor; the 36 year-old had to bide his time before making a breakthrough as a player, converting from a goalkeeper to a centre back in the early stages of his semi-professional career, turning out for the likes of Rossendale United (now defunct) and Matlock Town. Whilst studying part-time at university, he caught the eye of Team Bath’s scouts, spending a season there before progressing to St. James Park for the first time. He impressed almost immediately, earning a new contract in less than half a year, amassing over 150 appearances before moving to Chris Powell’s Charlton Athletic. His subsequent spell at Bradford City didn’t work out as planned, dropping down with Cheltenham Town and Newport County, rounding off his time in the Roman city once more, but with the National League South outfit. He now finds himself in his first senior managerial post after a successful spell working with the development and academy squads.
Ins: Nicky Law (Bradford City), Aaron Martin (Oxford United), Lee Martin (Gillingham), James Oates (Hereford), Jonathan Forte (Notts County) & Tristan Abrahams (Norwich City on loan).
Outs: Joel Randall (Tiverton Town on loan), Ryan Brunt (free agent), Alex Byrne (free agent), Jordan Moore-Taylor (Milton Keynes Dons), Josh Key (Tiverton Town on loan), Alex Hartridge (Truro City on loan), Robbie Simpson (Milton Keynes Dons), Danny Seaborne (Derry City), Ryan Harley (Milton Keynes Dons), Max Smallcombe (Truro City on loan), Troy Archibald-Henville (free agent), Liam McAlinden (free agent), Lewis Williams (free agent), Jordan Storey (Preston North End) & Lloyd James (Forest Green Rovers).
Predicted First XI & Shape:
Tactics: Christy Pym played every game for the Grecians in goal last season, and has no major weaknesses to his game, being particularly competent with his reflexes. The back four has a conservative complexion to it, with neither full-back instructed to get forward with any abandon. Troy Brown is excellent in the air, and a real threat in the opposition penalty area as a consequence, using every part of his body to out-muscle the nearest man. Aaron Martin’s best aspect is his ability to mark forwards out of the game, and that’s something that will be called upon frequently. Dean Moxey’s crossing is more accurate than almost anyone in his position in the fourth tier, but does have a tendency to pick up many yellow cards. Pierce Sweeney will hold fort in the defensive third, and is hesitant to leave the area he patrols.
Hiram Boateng is a dynamic figure in midfield, playing in between the lines and offering an outlet for his teammates in multiple phases of play. He also pops up with telling balls of his own on a fairly frequent basis, and alongside Nicky Law, the duo will cover plenty of ground. The latter possesses outstanding vision and the stamina to make a two-man partnership in the engine room work. Captain Jake Taylor can operate across the middle of the pitch, but is most at home wide right. His agility will keep things ticking over for his namesake, and he will be tasked with the majority of the set pieces they earn. Lee Holmes is a good technical dribbler, has no shortage of flair and a low centre of gravity – these three ingredients are crucial to retaining the ball in the channels.
Up top, Jonathan Forte has joined the squad, and he brings a strong left foot, a change of direction and blistering pace with him. He’ll weigh in with his share of goals, but the real threat is Jayden Stockley. A natural finisher as his 20 strikes last term are testament to, he’ll be well supplied by his compatriots, and should, all things being equal, come close to matching his haul in the months to come.
Predicted ‘Area’ of Finish: Mid-table mediocrity; I’ve seen several predictions that don’t make for happy reading for Grecians fans. The common narrative is that Paul Tisdale was working with at least one figurative hand tied behind his back, hitting the glass ceiling time and time again. Matt Taylor has seen Tisdale’s methods at close quarters, and I’m not anticipating a paradigm shift overnight. The tried and tested strategies that have worked for Exeter in the past will still be utilised, and whilst the dominating figure of Stockley leads the line, they will always be at the very least competitive, even if they now find themselves with a novice manager, and some of their better talents siphoned off to Buckinghamshire.