Making the step up

Our pre-season has been good, but it counts for nothing. The real test starts now.

Opening day. Arguably the best day of the season. Fans turn up on sunny days to welcome back their heroes and get their first glimpse of new heroes. Relegation? It doesn’t even cross the mind. There’s no danger of that in August. August is the time to dream about May, the title, Cup finals and writing an unforgettable chapter in the club’s history.

Date: Saturday 19th August 2017
Opponent: Fulham
Venue: Craven Cottage
Odds: Fulham=Evens, Draw=11/5, Exeter City=11/5
Weather: Dry, 26C
Referee: Mr. Paul Hutton

The starting XI sees four players making their debut for us. Ben Amos starts in goal, Nathan Ake in defence, Ilica Perak as a defensive midfielder and David Bentley on the right. How will they settle in and what impact will it have on our performance?

Fulham get the game and season underway in what is being described as a relegation six-pointer, which isn’t great reading on opening day. It is understandable though as we’re favourites to finish bottom and Fulham are likely to struggle.

It takes the team a bit of time to settle to the higher level. Four minutes to be precise. Bradley Johnson passes to Federico Cenci, who is 30 yards out and has his back to goal. He turns to face goal and heads for the area. He beats a defender and gets into the area. Cenci shoots from 12 yards and the net is rippling. GOAL! The perfect start. If Cenci can keep up the rate of scoring every 4 minutes, he’ll finish the season with 855 goals (which would be a season-best for him!!) and guide us to the title.

Eleven minutes in, Bertin Matip takes an inswinging corner and finds Cenci 6 yards out at the near post. Cenci gets too much on the header and it goes over. Three minutes later, Johnson gets the ball on the halfway line and beats Chassagne. That leaves him with only the keeper to bear. 40 yards out and closing. 35 yards and clo… oof! Chassagne brings him down and Mr. Hutton’s whistle blows. He calls Chassagne over. He reaches for a card. It’s red! Chassagne is sent off and we have a man advantage for the remaining 76 minutes. The perfect opportunity to seal a win on the opening day.

Cenci shoots from 12 yards out in the 23rd minute, but he can’t get it on target and Steer watches it wide. Two minutes later, Fulham show that they’re still in the game with their first chance of note. Rodrigues shoots from 8 yards and Amos makes a smart save to deny him, although Fulham win a corner. A minute later, Johnson threads the ball through Fulham defence and Cenci runs onto it, blasting his second of the game into the roof of the net from 12 yards. If Cenci can keep up the rate of scoring every 13 minutes, he’ll finish the season on 263 goals and we’ll be lifting the Premier League title.

Alain Besse is denied by a good save from Steer in the 33rd minute. One minute before half time, Seymour fires over from 10 yards as what has been a close to perfect half for us comes to an end.

The troops head back out for the second half and show no sign of playing for time. Less than a minute into the half, Steer is forced to beat away a shot from 16 yards by Besse. Two minutes later, Lubomir Zapotoka’s head meets an inswinging Matip corner. He’s 6 yards out at the near post and his header hits the top of the bar and goes over. Three minutes after the hour, Bentley shoots from 25 yards as he looks for a spectacular start to his career. Unfortunately, that shot has no chance of marking his debut as it’s a tame shot that poses no threat to Steer and the Fulham goal.

There’s 19 minutes to go and Fulham fans start to head to the exits as the writing is on the wall for them. Cenci picks up a yellow card in the 75th minute for a foul. He’s a great player for us, but I do wish he wouldn’t pick up quite so many cards.

Steer is called back into action in the 78th minute when Besse shoots from 3 yards from a tight angle. Although Steer’s unable to hold onto the ball, Fulham keep the score at 2-0 with a clearance to safety. Steer is able to hold on to Matip’s shot from 30 yards in the 82nd minute.

With eight minutes to go, Michele Marconi replaces Besse (Marconi goes up top, with Cenci moving to the left wing) and Marcel Hrubesch makes his debut, replacing Johnson in the midfield. With four minutes to go, Mick Byrne makes his debut as a replacement for Perak (Byrne goes to centre back and Ake moves up to defensive midfield).

The closing minutes sees both sides hit the side netting. Fulham find it first, with a shot from Basham from 20 yards. Bentley achieves the same for us from the same distance one minute later.

Result: Fulham 0-2 Exeter City
Man of the Match: Federico Cenci
Ratings: GK-Amos (6.7), DR-Zapotoka (7.3), DCR-Ake (7.0), DCL-Vukovic (6.9), DL-Riccardi (7.2), DMC-Perak (6.9, sub 86), MCR-Matip (7.0), MCL-Johnson (7.9, 2A, sub 82), AMR-Bentley (6.9), AML-Besse (6.8, sub 82), ST-Cenci (8.8, 2G, booked). Subs-Hrubesch (on 82), Marconi (on 82), Byrne (on 86). Unused-Bond, Jenkins, Norwood, Michel.
Attendance: 25,694
League Position: 1st
Match Stats:

Fulham #FM12

A post shared by Matt (@matt.oswin) on

WE ARE TOP OF THE LEAGUE, SAY WE ARE TOP OF THE LEAGUE!!!!!!!!!!!! A perfect start as we get our first win on the board in comfortable fashion. I never imagined that come quarter to five we’d be top of the league, so the surprise makes it even more welcome. It’s short lived as Liverpool win the Merseyside derby 3-0 in the teatime kickoff, but not even that can dampen my joy. Cenci’s current scoring rate will see him finish the season with an incredibly healthy 76 goals. His performance sees him make Team of the Week, very much picking up where he left off last season.

Although the result is pleasing, the performance is the best aspect as we controlled the game and it’s difficult to imagine Amos having an easier game all season. The sending off had an impact on the game, but we’d been the better team before the red card, even though it was an early sending off.

Burnley offer £170,000 to loan Daniel Berger for the season. I negotiate the offer, removing the fee so that I can recall Berger if required. Burnley agree to the negotiation. Busao could also be making a switch as Hereford United offer to loan him for 5 months and I accept.

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