Giving Gareth Gates something to sing about

After brushing aside Colchester United in the League Cup, we turn our attentions back to the League and head up North. Although all our away games see us heading North…

Date: Saturday 2nd September 2017
Opponent: Leeds United (18th)
Venue: Elland Road
Odds: Leeds United=Evens, Draw=11/5, Exeter City=11/5
Weather: Breezy, drizzle, 13C
Referee: Mr. Mike Jones

Those who impressed in the League Cup drop to the bench (if selected) for another match described as a relegation six-pointer. Chamberlain looks to put the hosts into the lead in the 4th minute, but he can’t keep his shot from 20 yards down.

Bertin Matip takes an inswinging corner in the 10th minute. The head of Lubomir Zapotoka, six yards out at the near post, flicks on and Lewis pushes the ball wide for another corner. Matip jogs across to take the corner from the other side. Both hands go up and he swings the ball out towards the near post. Federico Cenci runs onto it and meets it with a header six yards out. Lewis isn’t going to get near to Cenci’s header, but the post denies him the opener and Leeds put the rebound behind for another corner. Matip takes another outswinger to the near post, but Leeds prevent Zapotoka or Cenci meeting it with their head. They intercept and counter. Movsisyvan runs down the left and squares the ball into the area. Wilfried is on hand to sweep the ball into the net from 8 yards and open the scoring. An absolute sucker punch.

We respond well and Bradley Johnson shoots from 30 yards in the 18th minute, forcing Lewis to push the ball away. Ben Amos is called into action six minutes later, making a good diving save when Gosling shoots from 18 yards. Cenci shoots from 25 yards in the 27th minute, but Lewis makes a comfortable catch. Wilfried looks to grab his second in the 31st minute with an absolute rocket of a shot, but Amos is able to put it behind at the expense of a corner. As half time approaches, Hamill shoots from 18 yards and Amos saves. He can’t hold on and Hamill shoots again from 18 yards; Amos saves again for a good double save.

I get the troops into the dressing room at half time and look to fire them up. An early goal would certainly help. And there is an early goal. Unfortunately, it’s for Leeds; Addy curls in a beautiful cross from the left seconds into the half and Lester at the far post makes no mistake from 6 yards out with his header. It’s an outstanding cross and it was all but impossible for Lester to miss.

Nathan Ake brings down Movsisyvan in the 52nd minute and Mr. Jones produces the first card of the game. Bradley Johnson shoots from distance again in the 59th minute. He’s only 20 yards out this time, but it sails wide. Before Lewis takes the goal kick, I make my first substitution as Jonny Hayes replaces the anonymous David Bentley on the right. I make a double substitution 10 minutes later as Rainer Breu replaces Regis Olivier and Oliver Norwood comes on for Johnson. Olivier was playing as a defensive midfielder and Breu, making his 100th career league appearance, drops in behind Cenci, whilst Norwood is a straight swap for Johnson in the middle of the park.

Norwood take a free kick from 25 yards out in the 74th minute, but it goes just wide as we look to pull one back. Four minutes later, Breu feeds Cenci and Lewis needs to be sharp to push away his effort from 16 yards. In stoppage time, Gosling shoots from 20 yards and hits the post. Movsisyvan reacts quickest, he squares the ball from the left and Vokes is on hand to tap home from 6 yards.

Result: Leeds United 3-0 Exeter City
Man of the Match: Addy
Ratings: GK-Amos (6.4), DR-Zapotoka (6.9), DCR-Ake (6.0, booked), DCL-Vukovic (5.9), DL-Riccardi (6.1), DMC-Olivier (6.7, sub 69), MCR-Matip (6.7), MCL-Johnson (6.6, sub 69), AMR-Bentley (5.7, sub 59), AML-Besse (6.0), ST-Cenci (6.8). Subs-Hayes (6.8, on 59), Norwood (6.8, on 69), Breu (6.7, on 69).
Attendance: 27,604
League Position: 15th
Match Stats:

Leeds #FM12

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Another bad result at Leeds, this one a goal worse than our loss when in poor form at the start of the season. I felt as though we had the better of the game, but Leeds were ruthless in front of goal and ran out comfortable winners. It looks as though it could be a long season ahead of us. On the plus side, Federico Cenci has gone a game without picking up a yellow card!

The game against Leeds takes us into the international break. I arrange a friendly to keep players match sharp and we host Manchester United. It’s televised and we run out 3-0 winners. It’s an expensive friendly as Melvin Dubois is forced off injured with a dead leg that will keep him out for 3-4 days and Alain Besse sprains his ankle and will be out for 5-6 weeks. More positive news on the injury front sees Loic Fournier resume full training.

Rochdale offer to loan Jon Rune Svendson for a month, I agree and he moves. I also accept month-long loan offers for Adolfo Mannino and Dariusz Lenartowski from Chestefield and Brentford respectively as two more players leave the club temporarily.

Although the transfer window has closed, free agents can still be signed. And the biggest free agent? Zlatan Ibrahimovic. We’re one of many interested clubs. I know I normally sign young player, but how can I turn down the chance to sign Zlatan. Whilst we’re interested in signing him, he’s not interested in moving to Exeter. He also rejects Everton in favour of signing for newly-promoted Birmingham City.

Inspired for the League Cup

After our defeat against Liverpool, we turn our attention to the League Cup.

Date: Tuesday 29th August 2017
Opponent: Colchester United (15th in League 1)
Venue: St. James Park
Odds: Exeter City-2/5, Colchester United=13/2
Weather: Dry, 13C
Referee: Mr. Howard Webb

It’s a sign of how we’re developing as a club that we enter the competition at the Second Round for the first time ever. We’re definitely starting to be seen as a big scalp now. Which is a concern for this game, as Colchester have won 4 of our 8 games and we only have one victory. Showing that I’m adapting to the Premier League, I make eleven changes, resulting in debut appearances for Carmine Mello, Matthew Jenkins and Harry Maguire. Federico Cenci is given express orders to not even enter the ground as I fear that he’ll managed to get booked even watching the game.

The changed XI settle well and in the 2nd minute, Oliver Norwood takes a free kick from the right. The head of Maguire meets the ball 8 yards out. The ball hits the bar and bounces over for a goal kick. Two minutes later, a Rainer Breu shot from 25 yards goes just over the crossbar.

We’re piling the pressure on and make the breakthrough in the 7th minute. Michel passes to Breu, who is 18 yards out. He shoots with the outside of his left boot and scores his first ever goal for the club. It’s a pretty decent effort for a first goal and endears him to the fans immediately.

Kutka runs through our defence in the 12th minute and shoots over from 12 yards. It’s a reminder that Colchester are still in the game and we need to not assume the job is done just because we have scored.

The warning is heeded. Marcel Hrubesch passes to Michel, who beats a defender. He shoots from 12 yards and fires his shot into the roof of the net for his first goal of the season. A really important second goal and puts us in complete control of the tie.

Kutka looks to pull a goal back for the visitors in the 17th minute when he shoots from 18 yards. Mello is able to parry the ball and we clear. A minute later, Breu shoots from the same distance and Townsend makes a diving save at full length before Colchester clear the ball for a throw.

Jonny Hayes crosses the ball from the left in the 23rd minute. It’s an accurate cross and met by Breu. He’s 8 yards out. He heads the ball. And watches it wide of the target. A third goal could have really opened the floodgates, but it was not to be.

Fabio Mora enters Mr. Webb’s book in the 26th minute for a foul on the ever-dangerous Kutka. Adriano Gazzoli picks the ball up on the halfway line in the 29th minute and runs down the right. He crosses the ball and the cross finds Michel running in at the far post. He’s 6 yards out at the far post, but can’t get on top of his header and it goes over. If I could have picked a player attacking the ball to head it in, it would not have been Michel; Breu would have been my player of choice.

Spicic crosses from the left in the 31st minute. Mello is just off his line, but spills the ball. We recover quickly from the surprise spill and clear from the danger zone. With five minutes of the half remaining, Norwood passes to Michel. He turns a man and fires into the roof of the net for his second goal of the season with a carbon copy of his first strike.

The second half gets off to a slow start and eleven minutes in, I take off the carded Mora for Abraham Leggett to make his debut; three minutes later, Norwood is replaced by Renzo Francioni, who also makes his debut for the club.

A minute after the hour mark, Michel picks out Breu and he attempts a lob. He lifts the ball over Townsend, but it falls wide. Moments later, Breu shoots just over from 20 yards. Spicic is brought down in the 65th minute and Mick Byrne enters Mr. Webb’s book.

I make my final substitution in the 67th minute. Philipp Langer replaces Michel. Langer plays as the striker, with Breu dropping back into the attacking midfield role. Four minutes after my final substitution, Baxter shoots from 16 yards. It beats Mello, but not the post and we watch it bounce to safety. It’s unlikely that it would have altered the result, but a clean sheet would be nice.

Breu hits a curling effort from 30 yards in the 77th minute. Townsend is diving at full stretch and is able to just get his fingertips to it to tip it over for a corner. With seven minutes remaining, Hrubesch plays a delightful through ball. Langer gets to it first, but his shot from 10 yards is smothered by the onrushing Townsend. The loose ball falls to Breu and he rolls the ball into an empty net from 16 yards for his second of the game and season. There’s just time in stoppage time for Okuonghae to enter Mr. Webb’s book for a foul on Hayes.

Result: Exeter City 4-0 Colchester United
Man of the Match: Michel
Ratings: GK-Mello (7.4), DR-Mora (7.2, booked, sub 56), DCR-Byrne (7.5, booked), DCL-Maguire (7.5), DL-Jenkins (7.6), MCR-Norwood (7.1, A, sub 59), MCL-Hrubesch (8.4, 2A), AMR-Gazzoli (7.3), AMC-Michel (9.4, 2G, A, sub 67), AML-Hayes (7.2), ST-Breu (9.3, 2G). Subs-Leggett (6.8, on 56), Francioni (6.7, on 59), Langer (6.8, on 67). Unused-Bond, Vukovic, Dubois, Makris.
Attendance: 6,797
Match Stats:

Colchester #FM12

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An excellent performance and result. Everyone who came in played well, although it was against a team two leagues below us so I was expecting a strong performance. It’s a good indicator of how far we’ve come as we were in League 1 when I took over. The draw for the 3rd Round will see us at home again. It’s likely to be a bigger test, with Tottenham Hotspur the visitors.

Greppi rejects the loan move to Nocerina, whilst Miltos Makris joins Portsmouth on a season-long loan. Hopefully it will aid his development. Daniel Berger is also looking to move and hands in a transfer request. It will be a shame if he goes, but I accept the request.

The end of the month sees the first awards made. Gylfi Sigurdsson (Liverpool) is Player of the Month (well-deserved following his performance against us!), Angleo Winters (Tottenham Hotspur) is Young Player of the Month and Filip Djuricic (Manchester City) wins Goal of the Month. Manager of the Month heads to Merseyside, with Liverpool’s Rafael Benitez scooping the award.

We may have kept Jim White and company busy throughout the summer with our ins and outs, but there’s no late drama or deals and the reporters leave with no story on transfer deadline day. It was a busy window though…

Summer 17 window

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Premier League at the Park

The day we’ve been working towards for six seasons and one we’ve been looking forward to since the fixtures were announced. St. James Park will host it’s first ever Premier League game.

Date: Saturday 26th August 2017
Opponent: Liverpool (2nd)
Venue: St. James Park
Odds: Exeter City=11/5, Draw=11/5, Liverpool=Evens
Weather: Breezy, showers, 15C
Referee: Mr. Billy Siddall

The first ever Premier League game at St. James Park sees us welcome the five-time European champions. I’m expecting it to be a tougher examination than we received at Fulham as an unchanged starting XI exit the tunnel to roars of support from the Big Bank. There are extra loud cheers for Bradley Johnson (400th career league appearance) and Federico Cenci (100th league appearance for the club). Although it’s 4th hosting 2nd, it’s not being described as a title decider.

Even the best plans don’t survive first contact with the enemy. Our plan lasts 20 seconds. Ilica Perak goes down. The physio runs on and is soon signalling (no fancy mike systems for us!) to me that Perak won’t be able to continue. I look along the bench and tell Regis Olivier to quickly warm up before going on to make his debut.

Five minutes in, the situation gets worse. Sigurdsson crosses from the left and Stepanenko volleys in from 16 yards to give the visitors an early lead. Six minutes later, Sigurdsson takes an inswinging corner. Samba rises highest at the far post, but heads over from 4 yards out.

It’s not been a great start, but we carve out a chance in the 14th minute. Well, more of a half chance. Bradley Johnson is 25 yards out and looks up. He evidently doesn’t like the options ahead of him and decides to chance his arm. He shoots and hits the bar. The ball goes high up into the air and Reina safely catches the rebound.

In the 25th minute, Haas takes a free kick from the right about 10 yards into our half. He gets a bit too much on it and it sails over the head of the crowd of players around the penalty area. It looks to be going wide, but Ben Amos decides to make sure and catch the ball. It’s a catch under no pressure, but he somehow spills the ball. Sigurdsson pounces and rolls the ball into an empty net from 2 yards out. He’s unlikely to score an easier goal all season.

Haas is involved again three minutes later when he brings down Lubomir Zapotoka. Mr. Siddall decides that it warrants both a free kick and a yellow card.

Ten minutes before half time, David Bentley crosses from the right and Cenci shoots from 8 yards. Reina smothers the shot and the ball goes along the face of the goal. Alain Besse gets to the loose ball a yard out, but at a tight angle. He’s able to send the ball goalwards, but Liverpool are able to block the effort and keep their two-goal lead.

Stepanenko brings down Bentley on the halfway line in the 39th minute. Mr. Siddall blows his whistle and rushes across. He’s brandishing a card for Stepanenko. It’s red! A straight red! Stepanenko has been sent off. I was expecting a yellow card, but Mr. Siddall clearly feels it warranted more. The second game in a row where we’ve had a man advantage. Is this our way back in to the game?

There’s a chance apiece before the half time whistle. A Cenci free kick from 25 yards goes over, whilst Suarez shoots narrowly wide from 25 yards in stoppage time.

I get the troops in and look to fire them up for the second half. My words have evidently fired up Cenci, who gets his name taken by Mr. Siddall within a minute of the half starting for a foul on Samba. It’s his second booking of the season and it’s already looking likely that he’ll soon be serving a suspension.

Besse shoots from 20 yards in the 51st minute, but Reina is alert and is diving towards the ball. He gets a good hand to the ball and is able to push it wide for a corner. Suarez has a chance in the 59th minute following a cross by Lennon on the right, but his header from 10 yards goes over. Glen Johnson is booked by Mr. Siddall on the hour for a foul on Besse.

In the 63rd minute, Sigurdsson gets the ball 25 yards out. He looks up, quickly assesses his options and threads a ball through our defence. It’s perfectly weighted and Lennon runs onto it and scores from 12 yards. I respond immediately by replacing Cenci with Rainer Breu, who comes on for his debut. There seems little point in risking Cenci picking up a red card in a game beyond our reach.

Breu is involved in the action within his first five minutes. Bertin Matip takes an inswinging corner and Breu meets it at the near post with a header from 6 yards. He does everything right, heading it down. The only part that he gets wrong is the placement and it’s straight at Reina. He gets down well and makes a comfortable save in the end. Breu does have a chance from 20 yards in the 75th minute, but it ends up being a tame effort that dribbles wide.

Besse is booked by Mr. Siddall in the 78th minute for fouling Tevez. In the 82nd minute, Bradley Johnson is 25 yards out again. He elects to shoot again. This time it’s over the bar instead of rattling it. Before the goal kick is taken, Mick Byrne replaces Nathan Ake and the game fizzles out.

Result: Exeter City 0-3 Liverpool
Man of the Match: Sigurdsson
Ratings: GK-Amos (5.7), DR-Zapotoka (6.7), DCR-Ake (5.7, sub 82), DCL-Vukovic (6.7), DL-Riccardi (5.7), DMC-Perak (sub 1), MCR-Matip (6.9), MCL-Johnson (6.9), AMR-Bentley (6.7), AML-Besse (6.9, booked), ST-Cenci (6.7, booked, sub 64). Subs-Olivier (6.8, on 1), Breu (6.9, on 64), Byrne (on 82). Unused-Mello, Mora, Norwood, Hayes
Attendance: 8,105
League Position: 9th
Match Stats:

Liverpool #FM12

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Not too much for the faithful to cheer about unfortunately as Liverpool were very good and clinical in front of goal. A disappointing day, especially for the defence. A mistake from Amos and poor performances from Ake and Riccardi helped Liverpool’s cause and we struggled to put on any sustained pressure, even when we had the man advantage. Anything against big clubs such as Liverpool will be a bonus, but I’m hoping for better performances in the future. I think we’ll put it down to the occasion.

The physio reports on Ilica Perak after the game. He’s suffering from a fractured wrist and will be out for 6-7 weeks.

Carmine Mello is named the third best goalkeeper at the U20 World Cup. An excellent pick up on a Bosman for me and if Amos puts in many more performances like the Liverpool one, Mello will soon be getting a chance in the Premier League.

Daniel Berger rejects a loan move to Burnley. Busao agrees to his loan spell at Hereford United. Portsmouth offer to loan Miltos Makris for the season and I accept the offer. I also accept a season-long loan from Nocerina for Riccardo Greppi.

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

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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.

2017/18 Pre-season fixtures

Following our promotion to the Premier League, I arrange some high-profile friendlies against strong teams to try and prepare the team for football at the highest level. We start off by travelling to… Tiverton Town. They’re our feeder club and I traditionally start my pre-season there, giving 22 players 45 minutes of football. We win 4-0 as I move players around into less familiar positions and try out tactics, including the W-M for the last 15 minutes. It’s not a massive victory, but I’m satisfied that the players get a gentle run-out.

The difficulty increases quickly, with our next game away at Paris Saint-Germain. It’s a game that we don’t play particularly well in and lose 3-1. We don’t help our cause by scoring an own goal for their opener.

We leave France and return to England for a game against Yeovil Town. It’s a thumping 7-0 victory for us, although we run away with the game in the last 15 minutes. I bring on Federico Cenci as a left winger with 15 minutes to go and he scores an 11 minute hat-trick and claims Man of the Match with a 9.5 rating. His first touch of the game isn’t bad either.

We leave England and travel to Germany to take on Dortmund. It’s an exciting game that’s 2-2 going into stoppage time. A well-worked free kick routine gives them the lead and they hold out for a victory courtesy of a double save.

We return to England for two home friendlies. The first is against Santos and the second is against Sturm Graz. We win both games 1-0 with solid performances. Gennaro Riccardi strains his thigh in the victory over Sturm Graz and will be out for 2 weeks, making him unlikely to be in the starting line-up on the opening day.

Saturday 5th August. In real life, Exeter City begin their League 2 campaign at home to Cambridge United. In Football Manger, we travel across the channel again, this time to play at the Amsterdam ArenA. We’re taking on former European champions Ajax. A poor first half sees us 1-0 down. I fire the troops up at half time and we win 2-1 with Bradley Johnson slicing their defence open time and time again with through balls. It’s his first pre-season game after being away on international duty.

Saturday 12th August. In real life, Exeter City travel to Swindon Town for a League 2 fixture. In Football Manager, our final pre-season game sees us return to St. James Park as we host Atletico Madrid. It’s a televised friendly and we put on a performance for the cameras, coming away with a good 2-0 victory.

It’s been a good pre-season for us and I’d arranged some tough fixtures to prepare us for the step up. Although we lost a couple of games, performances were encouraging. The only exception was the PSG game, where they were much the better side. Ultimately, pre-season counts for nothing and hopefully we can carry the good performances and results across to our Premier League campaign.

Building up to the 2017/18 season

The fixtures are released and our opening game of the season is… away. We’re travelling to… Fulham. Our first home game will see us welcome… Liverpool! Manchester City are the favourites to win the title at 7/4; we’re 2,000/1 and predicted to finish 20th. There have been title winners with longer odds than 2,0000/1 though…

BBC Sport profile our team, picking out Federico Cenci and Nathan Ake as our key players for the upcoming season. If Cenci can pick up where he left off last season, I am very confident that we will be safe. Ake will be an important part of a defence that’s likely to be tested often.

We reject a number of offers for Alain Besse, who requests to be removed from the transfer list. As my intended first-choice left winger, I’m more than happy to accept his request. Adriano Gazzoli requests to terminate his contract for £350,000. I reject. He’s a good young player and I’d let him go, but only if we get a good offer for him.

Loic Fournier will miss the start of the season – he’s out for 2 months with a double hernia. He was only going to be a squad player, so it’s not a massive loss for us.

The draw for the second round of the League Cup is made and we will be travelling to Colchester United. It will be a heavily rotated team that travels for that game.

New faces

We welcome a number of new faces to the club. The majority are promising young players who I hope will end up in the first team in the years to come (or that I can sell on and make some good money):

Fabio Mora on a season-long loan from AC Milan

Mora #FM12

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He’ll be back up for Lubomir Zapotoka after the sale of Catalin Rentea.

Ondrej Nedved on a free

Nedved #FM12

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Kevin Bjerkestrand on a free

Bjerkestrand #FM12

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Simone Inserra on a free

Inserra #FM12

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Edoardo Russo on a free

Russo #FM12

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Melvin Dubois on a free

Dubois #FM12

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Marlon Allen on a free

Allen #FM12

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Zvonko Buric on a free

Buric #FM12

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Danny Betz on a free

Betz #FM12

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Fevzi Ilhan on a free

Ilhan #FM12

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Moumouni Traore on a free

Traore #FM12

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Regis Olivier on a free

Olivier #FM12

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Defensive midfield is probably my weakest position, so Olivier is likely to see some first team action over the course of the season.

Muhammed Kurak Kuyumcu on a free

Kuyumcu #FM12

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Jorg Ullrich on a free

Ullrich #FM12

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Thodoros Stefanidis on a free

Stefanidis #FM12

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Mahmut Catalcam on a free

Catalcam #FM12

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Uwe Leitl on a free

Leitl #FM12

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Marcel Hrubesch on a free

Hrubesch #FM12

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A player who is young and will hopefully develop. I’ll be looking to blood him into the team over the season.

Bartosz Pietrowski on a free

Pietrowski #FM12

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Robin Theissen on a free

Theissen #FM12

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Roman Kern on a free

Kern #FM12

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Francis Byrne on a free

Byrne #FM12

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Xavier Jalliti on a free

Jalliti #FM12

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Carmine Mello on a free

Mello #FM12

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A challenger for first team football. He’s likely to start on the bench and will hopefully go on to become my starting keeper in future seasons.

Ceri Cornell on a free

Cornell #FM12

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Niels Bundgaard on a free

Bundgaard #FM12

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Cephas Gombami on a free

Gombami #FM12

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Giorgos Michailidis on a free

Michailidis #FM12

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Lee Atkinson on a free

Atkinson #FM12

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Antonis Vitzekas on a free

Vitzekas #FM12

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Flavio Perrotti on a free

Perrotti #FM12

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David Bentley on a free

Bentley #FM12

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Much older than my normal signings, but an upgrade on Jonny Hayes and I hope to be able to get two good seasons out of him.

Christian Bala on a free

Bala #FM12

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Eddie Hawes on a free

Hawes #FM12

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Ilica Perak on a free

Perak #FM12

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Defensive midfield is probably our weakest area. Or it was until I signed Perak. He looks as though he’s going to be able to perform the role very well and offer protection to our back four.

Torben Ostergaard on a free

Ostergaard #FM12

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Renzo Francioni from Inter Milan for £120,000

Francioni #FM12

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Inter didn’t want him and I wasn’t going to pass on the chance to sign a player who could become a key player in midfield in a few years for such a small fee.

Harry Maguire from Derby County for £190,000

Maguire #FM12

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Centre back and defensive midfield cover. He’s probably more likely to play as a defensive midfielder and another player who I hope can develop into an important first team regular.

Matthew Jenkins from Peterborough United for £300,000

Jenkins #FM12

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A defensive reinforcement. He won’t be starting regularly (unless we run into some injury and suspension trouble), but there’s likely to be chances for him in the Cup competitions and hopefully I can blood him in gently.

Mick Byrne from Blackburn Rovers for £700,000

Byrne #FM12

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Blackburn beat me to signing him in January, but the boost to my transfer kitty means that I end up getting my man a few months later and Blackburn make a tidy profit on a very good young defender.

Ben Amos from Tottenham Hotspur (£1,000,000)

Amos #FM12

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Amos is a player I’ve been tracking for a long time, but have never been able to afford. It was between signing him or Bond a couple of seasons ago, with Bond (excellent keeper though he is) being the choice due to being affordable. I’m pleased to be able to finally welcome him to the club.

Nathan Ake from Chelsea (£2,000,000)

Ake #FM12

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I plan on Ake lining up with Vukovic at the heart of our defence. His pace could be an asset and help cover the older Vukovic.

Rainer Breu from 1860 Munich for £3,200,000

Breu #FM12

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I smash our transfer record to bring Breu to the club. He had a great season in Germany and is an outstanding young player. I have my concerns that the board will step in and accept a good offer for Cenci, so am looking to have his replacement in place before they do. Although he’s my record signing, Cenci will be ahead of him in the pecking order. At least to begin with.