Growing the Grecians #77 – 2016/17 season review

Re-read Growing the Grecians #76.

WE ARE GOING UP, SAY WE ARE GOING UP!

After being in the play-offs last season (narrowly losing to Newcastle United over 2 legs) and being predicted to finish 7th, promotion wasn’t necessarily the biggest surprise in the world (our promotion from League One to the Championship was far more unlikely), but it’s great to achieve it. Our form in the first half of the season (we went unbeaten in 19 games) was the key to promotion; when we struggled to score in December and January, we were able to stay in the mix and finally achieved promotion with a game to spare. It was a little disappointing to not win the title after such a strong start, but promotion was the main aim; the title would have been a bonus.

It’s always difficult to pick key games, but I think that there were a couple of important victories through the season. The first was away at Birmingham in November when we won 2-1. That win extended our lead to 8 points and was probably the first point that I genuinely thought promotion was achievable. The second was the 6-1 away win at Derby in April. We went into the game having been outplayed by Birmingham at home in the previous match and a 6 point lead over Blackburn in third with 5 games to go; the result and performance showed that we were able to move on from that and I felt confident that we would get the job done in the final games.

In the wider world, the play-off final saw Leeds United take on West Ham United. Joining ourselves and Birmingham in the Premier League is… Leeds United. Although the better side throughout, they required extra time to beat West Ham 3-1. The F.A. Cup saw Tottenham Hotspur take on Chelsea in the final, with Spurs lifting the trophy after a 3-1 win.

Inevitably, some managers lost their jobs at the end of the season. Barnsley sack Keith Hill (they appoint Steve Eyre), Crystal Palace sack Nigel Clough (they appoint Andy Thorn), Middlesbrough sack Dean Smith (they appoint Paul Jewell) and Peterborough United sack Ian Craney (they appoint David Moyes). In Germany, Mainz sack Michael Frontzeck and the media make me favourite for the job, but I tell them I have no interest. Southampton sack Peter Grant following their relegation from the Premier League and I’m made favourite to replace him. I tell the media I have no interest in the job, but it doesn’t deter Southampton and they offer me the job. I reject the offer.

The end of season awards are made:

Championship Player of the Season: Ignacio Scocco (Blackburn Rovers)
Championship Young Player of the Season: Kenny Mulready (Bristol City, on loan from Manchester United)
Championship Goal of the Season: Pablo Berrera (West Ham United). Oliver Norwood’s strike against Norwich City comes second.
Championship Leading Goalscorer: Federico Cenci – 31 goals.
Championship Manager of the Season: Me

Jagos Vukovic, Jonny Hayes and Federico Cenci are named in the Championship Team of the Season.

Jay Spearing and Federico Cenci are inducted into the Exeter City Overall Best XI, although only on the bench. I would suspect that as long as Cenci stays and his form continues, he will be named in the Overall Best starting XI at the end of next season. Unsurprisingly, Cenci is named Fans Player of the Year. His average rating of 7.49 from 44 games sets a new Exeter City record, beating the previous record of 7.44 from 37 games by Michel in the 2015/16 season. What will next season bring?

Read Growing the Grecians #78.

Read from Growing the Grecians #1.

Growing the Grecians #75 – Party at the Park

The final game of the season and after our priceless draw at Portman Road, there’s nothing to play for; we’re up and can’t win the title, Barnsley are relegated. A chance for the fans to salute their heroes and say farewell to a player who has been very important during our stay in the Championship.

Date: Sunday 7th May 2017
Opponent: Barnsley (23rd)
Venue: St. James Park
Odds: Exeter City=Evens, Draw=11/5, Barnsley=11/5
Weather: Dry, 19C
Referee: Mr. Billy Siddall

Gennaro Riccardi is making his 75th career league appearance. Michel returns for Jay Spearing as we take a more attacking approach. There’s also one other change. Alain Besse makes way for Dacian Varga, who is retiring at the end of the season. He joined when we got promoted to the Championship and is making his 180th and final game for the club.

The carnival atmosphere before kick-off steps up a notch in the third minute when Federico Cenci plays in Jonny Hayes, who scores his 7th goal of the season from 12 yards. Conga lines can be seen snaking their way across the Big Bank.

Three minutes after setting up the opener, Cenci spins his marker and shoots from 18 yards. Steele dives down and is able to push the ball around the post with his fingertips. It’s certainly a strong start in front of our fans.

Varga has a chance to score in the 19th minute, but his shot from 18 yards goes wide. A minute later, Cenci plays Varga in, giving him a great chance to score on his final appearance. He shoots from 12 yards. Steele saves and the loose ball is collected by Hayes. He’s only four yards out, but it’s a tight angle. No problem. Our second and Hayes’ second (his 8th of the season) keeps the party going. What a great end to the season!

Bradley Johnson shoots from 30 yards in the 29th minute and Steele catches the ball. A minute later, Wordsworth hits a soft cross/shot from the left. Bond inexplicably fumbles the ball and Roman pulls a goal back for the visitors from a yards. The annual Christmas goalkeeping nightmares DVD has a new clip!

We look to restore our two-goal lead. Hayes crosses from the right in the 34th minute and Cenci heads just over from 8 yards. Four minutes later, Hayes passes to Cenci. He shrugs off a defender and powers his 31st goal of the season in from 16 yards. Resume the party!

The half ends with Dunne picking up a booking from Mr. Siddall three minutes before the break for a foul on Michel.

Six minutes into the second half, Oliver Norwood takes an inswinging corner. Cenci, 6 yards out at the near post, heads just over.

Barnsley start to come more into the game. Vela shoots from 12 yards in the 56th minute and Bond is forced to turn it behind for a corner. Four minutes later, Dunne shoots just over from 18 yards. The next chance falls a minute later and it falls our way. Cenci unleashes a powerful effort from 25 yards and is only denied by a full-length diving save by Steele.

In the 64th minute, Norwood makes way for Jay Spearing. Spearing’s contract is up at the end of the season, so this is likely to be his swansong in front of the fans. It doesn’t seem to have an impact on us pushing forwards; a minute later, Steele catches a 25 yard shot from Johnson.

The mood is slightly dampened in the 68th minute when Silva crosses from the right and Wordsworth brings the visitors back within one from 10 yards. It certainly spurs them on and they go looking for an equalier. Silve goes close to levelling the score in the 71st minute, but his shot goes just over.

Two minutes later, Varga plays one of his trademark defence-splitting passes. It falls to the feet of Cenci. He shoots from 12 yards, but is unable to get it on target. Wordsworth has his name taken in the 74th minute for a foul on Hayes.

In the final ten minutes, we push on to restore our two-goal lead. Hayes fires just over from 16 yards in the 80th minute. In the 88th minute, Hayes passes to Cenci and he runs into the box before shooting from 12 yards. It goes wide. It’s Cenci’s last involvement as he’s replaced with Michele Marconi before the goal kick is taken. It’s a chance for St. James Park to show their gratitude for the outstanding performances from Cenci this season that have propelled us to promotion.

The final action of note is in the 90th minute. Johnson slips in Varga. He’s 16 yards out. He places his shot and scores. A fairytale ending, scoring with what’s likely to be his final touch. I don’t know who is writing his scripts, but they couldn’t have done any better. Oh no! The linesman’s flag is up. Varga was a fraction offside. It’s disallowed. I don’t think I’ve ever been as disappointed by a goal being disallowed and I’m sure that all the fans feel the same way.

Result: Exeter City 3-2 Barnsley
Man of the Match: Jonny Hayes
Ratings: GK-Bond (5.8), DR-Zapotoka (6.8), DCR-D’Avanzo (6.8), DCL-Vukovic (6.8), DL-Riccardi (6.8), MCR-Norwood (6.9, sub 64), MCL-Johnson (6.7), AMR-Hayes (9.3, 2G, A), AMC-Michel (7.2), AML-Varga (7.2, A), ST-Cenci (8.6, G, A). Subs-Spearing (5.8, on 64), Marconi (on 88). Unused-McCarey, Rentea, Gazzoli.
Attendance: 8,648
League Position: 2nd
Match Stats:

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Incredibly, despite our promotion, it’s not a sell-out. Evidently some people decided that with nothing to play for, the game would be a dull affair. It turns out they were wrong. We looked very good going forward and could (perhaps should) have had more. Barnsley also played their part in a very watchable game. Jonny Hayes’ performance earns him a place in Team of the Week.

We finish in second and receive £25,000. Brighton take the final play-off spot. The final league table looks like:

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The final words must go to Dacian Varga, who has had 5 great seasons with the club. His 180 appearances saw him notch up 34 goals and 47 assists. He will be missed by all at the club.

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Read Growing the Grecians #76.

Read from Growing the Grecians #1.

Growing the Grecians #74 – Can we get promoted with our second chance?

Two games to go. Six points clear of third-placed Blackburn. Surely we’re there. And yet. There’s still a doubt. Our lead over them was cut by two points last time out. If we lose our two remaining games and Blackburn win theirs, they’re going up on goal difference. And it can happen. I’ve seen it happen. I’ve caused it to happen. Championship Manager 01/02 when we pipped Tranmere Rovers to the League One title with a scenario exactly the same as this. So we need a point.

Date: Saturday 29th April 2017
Opponent: Ipswich Town (19th)
Venue: Portman Road
Odds: Ipswich Town=13/8, Draw=2/1, Exeter City=6/4
Weather: Wet, 17C
Referee: Mr. Stuart Attwell

I make one change from our last outing, with a defensive midfielder in Jay Spearing replacing an attacking midfielder in Michel. This has served me well throughout the season and hopefully will again today. A more defensive midfielder should increase our chances of a draw, which is all we need. Although in our last away game with a defensive midfielder in place, we went goal-crazy, so who knows!

Six minutes in and Ipswich win a corner. We clear and Federico Cenci gets the ball. The counter is on. He’s running with it. He crosses the halfway line. He’s 30 yards out. He’s 20 yards out. He’s in the area. He’s 12 yards out. He shoots. He… watches Welch make a comfortable catch. It would have been the perfect start, but not to be. However, can’t be too disappointed – we don’t actually need to score again this season to get promoted. Although it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Three minutes later, it’s the turn of Jonathan Bond to make a catch. He catches a 25 yards shot from Darrigi. Oliver Norwood shoots from 25 yards in the 15th minute and Welch is required to beat the ball away. A minute later, Welch denies Alain Besse from 16 yards.

We’ve had some pressure, but then Ipswich start to apply some and test our nerves. Bond is called into action in the 18th minute when he catches a shot from Majewski 12 yards out. Darrigi finds the side netting in the 25th minute from 10 yards out. A minute later, Majewski opens the scoring from 18 yards. Surely it’s not going to go down to the final day of the season…

On the half hour mark, Bradley Johnson fires in a shot from 25 yards that Welch catches. On the stroke of half time, Norwood takes an outswinging corner. It’s met by Cenci, who is 6 yards out at the near post. He heads it goalwards. It’s in! He’s levelled the score with his 29th goal of the season. We’re going up!!!!

It’s a slow start to the second half. Ipswich don’t really have anything to play for, so hopefully they’ll be happy to accept the draw. I know I certainly would!

The first action of note occurs in the 58th minute when Johnson shoots from 18 yards. Unfortunately, it’s a long way wide. On the hour mark, Cenci meets an outswinging Norwood corner. He’s unmarked and 6 yards out at the near post. He heads it goalwards. It’s… an outstanding diving stop by Welch and he hold on, preventing us from even scrambling in a rebound.

We’re pressing for another goal though. Besse feeds Cenci in the 63rd minute and he shoots instantly from 10 yards, but only succeeds in finding the side netting. With 21 minutes to go, Jagos Vukovic passes to Cenci. His back it to goal. He turns his marker. He shoots powerfully from 18 yards. It’s under Welch. IT’S IN!!!! His 30th goal of the season. Surely that’s the goal that guarantees Premier League football at St. James Park next season!

Morrison looks to hit straight back for the hosts, but he shoots wide from 10 yards in the 73rd minute. Moments later, Johnson plays in Cenci. A chance to secure the score a hat-trick, secure the points and promotion. He shoots from 18 yards and is denied by an outstanding diving save by Welch. We do gain a corner, but nothing comes of it. Johnson shoots from 25 yards again in the 77th minute, but Welch catches.

Majewski comes close to pulling the hosts level in the 79th minute when he shoots from 12 yards. Bond makes an excellent diving stop to keep us in the lead. With 7 minutes to go, Torral crosses from the left. It hits Luca D’Avazo, wrong footing Bond and it’s an own goal. A draw is all we need, so it’s not a disaster. But it could be.

We’re a minute into stoppage time. The away fans are whistling, urging Mr. Attwell to blow the final whistle. We’re defending. We’ll take this and I won’t complain if Mr. Attwell blows up a couple of minutes early. We’ve players behind the ball and Ipswich aren’t going anywhere too fast. McAllister is 30 yards out. He decides that a shot is his best course of action. He strikes it well. But it’s wide. Two minutes later, Mr. Attwell blows the final whistle. WE ARE GOING UP!

Result: Ipswich Town 2-2 Exeter City
Man of the Match: Federico Cenci
Ratings: Gk-Bond (6.7), DR-Zapotoka (7.1), DCR-D’Avanzo (6.7), DCL-Vukovic (6.8, A),DL-Riccardi (6.6), DMC-Spearing (6.6), MCR-Norwood (7.9, A), MCL-Johnson (6.9), AMR-Hayes (6.9), AML-Besse (7.3), ST-Cenci (9.1, 2G). Unused-McCarey, Rentea, Michel, Gazzoli, Marconi.
Attendance: 18,352
League Position: 2nd
Match Stats:

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Am I disappointed we couldn’t hold on to secure the win? Not really. At the start of the game, I’d have happily accepted this as the final score and result. It’s all we needed to secure promotion, which was the aim. A win would have been nice (and deserved), but I’ve never been happier with a win turning into a draw in the last 10 minutes.

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Promotion! #FM12

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Did we even need a draw? Did Blackburn win. Would it have gone to the final day? Who knows. I certainly wasn’t checking.

The results over the weekend see Birmingham secure the league title and Middlesbrough take the final relegation place. Blackburn, Leeds and West Ham will all be in the playoffs, so there’s a place up for grabs on the final day of the season.

Federico Cenci is named in Team of the Week for his double and Man of the Match performance. It’s fitting that he scored the goals that secured promotion. He also signs a new 5 year contract, removing a minimum fee clause. If he does go, I want much more than the £5,000,000 that had been in place.

Bertin Matip resumes full training, but is unlikely to play a part on the final day of the season as he’ll be lacking match fitness. Juho Virkki returns from his loan spell at Hereford United.

Philipp Langer requests to be removed from the transfer list and I agree. Whilst Langer wants to stay, Lasse Karlsen wants to go and requests to be placed on the transfer list. I accept his request.

The awards for April are made:

Player of the Month: Milan Lalkovic (Brighton and Hove Albion)
Young Player of the Month: Damian Evans (Leicester City)
Goal of the Month: Tarmo Kink (Hull City)
Manager of the Month: Sam Allardyce (Birmingham City)

Read Growing the Grecians #75.

Read from Growing the Grecians #1.

Growing the Grecians #73 – Can we get promoted with our first chance?

Three games of the season left. Eight points clear of third-placed Blackburn Rovers after beating Cardiff. We’ve definitely got one foot in the Premier League. But Blackburn can still pip us. A win and we’re guaranteed to go. However, we can lose all three remaining games and still get promoted. If I was the Blackburn manager, I’d be accepting that we’re going into the play-offs. As the Exeter manager, I’m concerned that’s where we’ll end up.

Date: Saturday 22nd April 2017
Opponent: Huddersfield Town (9th)
Venue: St. James Park
Odds: Exeter City=6/4, Draw=2/1, Huddersfield Town=13/8
Weather: Dry, 12C
Referee: Mr. Mike Dean

We have a chance to get promoted in front of our fans with two games to spare, so an excellent position to be in. The important thing will be to achieve promotion. Jonathan Bond lines up for his 150th career league appearance and it could certainly be a memorable one.

Oliver Norwood has a couple of early range finders. He shoots just over from 20 yards in the 6th minute and wide from 25 yards in the 7th minute. Dalla Valle also has a shot from 25 yards in the 14th minute, but he’s unable to keep it down and threaten Bond’s goal.

16 minutes in and a chance inside the area is fashioned. Michel passes to Federico Cenci and he runs into the area. He shoots from 16 yards, but it’s wide. He’s the player I’d have wanted the chance to go to, so I’m a little disappointed he couldn’t at least get it on target. A minute later, Danalache shoots from 12 yards, but thankfully it’s straight at Bond and he holds on.

The game quietens down, with the next chance coming in the 35th minute when Danalache shoots from 16 yards. He beats Bond, but the crossbar keeps the scores level. The crossbar at the other end of the pitch does the same a minute later when Cenci, 6 yards out at the near post, heads an inswinging Norwood corner.

We finish the first half on the front foot. Cenci strikes a thunderous free kick from 30 yards in the 41st minute that Cervi beats to safety. Norwood goes to recover the ball and gets booked in the process. Bradley Johnson shoots from 25 yards two minutes before half time, but is unable to keep it down. On the stroke of half time, Cenci has his name taken by Mr. Dean for a foul on Geng.

Jagos Vukovic has his name taken by Mr. Dean a minute into the second half for a foul on Danalache. Johnson tests Cervi from 20 yards in the 48th minute and five minutes later, finds the side netting from 25 yards. A goal (and one that will hopefully seal promotion) seems to be coming…

Johnson passes to Cenci in the 56th minute. Cenci is 18 yards out. He shoots. It’s over. A minute later, Johnson passes to Cenci again. Again, he shoots from 18 yards. It’s on target. Cervi saves, conceding a corner. 61 minutes in and an outswinging Norwood corner is met 6 yards out at the near post by Cenci. His header is going in, but Cervi catches and keeps the score level.

We continue to look for a goal that could secure promotion. In the 68th minute, Alain Besse shoots from 18 yards and Cervi pushes it over the bar. Norwood takes the resulting corner. It’s an outswinger. Johnson is 6 yards out at the near post. He heads it. Over.

For all our pressure, the scores are level. I’m concerned that we’re going to get undone by a sucker punch. With 16 minutes to go, Copp shoots from 20 yards. Bond make a regulation save with ease.

The crossbar is rattled for the third time when the clock reaches 78 minutes. It’s Norwood who is denied from 25 yards. McDermott enters Mr. Dean’s book in the 79th minute for a foul on Gennaro Riccardi. Michel shoots from 18 yards in the 83rd minute and Cervi catches. With 5 minutes remaining, Johnson 6 yards out at the near post heads over an inswinging corner from Norwood.

In the final minute, Visser is 25 yards out. He looks up and unleashes a shot. It’s over. A point. Will it be enough?

Result: Exeter City 0-0 Huddersfield Town
Man of the Match: Gennaro Riccardi
Ratings: GK-Bond (6.9), DR-Zapotoka (7.2), DCR-D’Avanzo (7.0), DCL-Vukovic (6.7, booked), DL-Riccardi (7.3), MCR-Norwood (6.8, booked), MCL-Johnson (6.9), AMR-Hayes (6.7), AMC-Michel (7.0), AML-Besses (6.8), ST-Cenci (6.8). Unused-McCarey, Rentea, Spearing, Gazzoli, Marconi.
Attendance: 8,714
League Position: 2nd
Match Stats:

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We controlled the game and had the better of the chances, but ultimately could not finish anything off. It could be enough. Unless Blackburn have won, we’re promoted. Blackburn have…

We welcome back a number of players from loan spells: Charlie Hollett from Luton Town, Busao from Bristol Rovers, Richard Ibrahim from Plymouth Argyle, Nathan Holland from Yeovil Town and Dennis Judge from Newport County. We’re also likely to keep Will Keane and Ryan Mason, both of whom request to be removed from the transfer list.

At the bottom of the league, Barnsley become the second team to be relegate to League One. At the top, have we joined Birmingham? Are we promoted to the Premier League? We started the game 8 points ahead of Blackburn. A draw means that Blackburn need to have won to retain any chance of pipping us to promotion. They have. They are now 6 points behind.

Read Growing the Grecians #74.

Read from Growing the Grecians #1.

Growing the Grecians #72 – Can we take a step closer?

Four games left. Six points ahead of third. As outstanding as we were against Derby, it was still only worth three points. Blackburn’s win means that the gap stays at six points, although there is now one game less for them to overhaul us. A win in our last mid-week game would be a huge step for us.

Date: Tuesday 18th April 2017
Opponent: Cardiff City (11th)
Venue: St. James Park
Odds: Exeter City=5/4, Draw=11/5, Cardiff City=7/4
Weather: Dry, 8C
Referee: Mr. Howard Webb

Federico Cenci returns from his suspension and is straight back in to the starting line-up. It’s perhaps harsh on Michele Marconi (who is relegated to the bench) as he was outstanding last time out, but Cenci has been consistently excellent and lethal in front of goal. Cenci’s return marks his 100th league appearance. Jay Spearing makes way for Michel as I select a more attacking line-up in a home game.

The enforced lay-off seems to have had little impact on Cenci and he’s soon involved. The third minute to be precise. He passes to Jonny Hayes, who runs into the area and shoots from 12 yards. Marshall saves and pushes it away. Alain Besse is switched on and picks up the rebound 6 yards out. A dream start as the net ripples. But wait. He’s only found the side netting! The angle was a little tight, but he really should have done better with that. We can’t afford to waste chances and I hope we’re not going to be punished for it.

A minute later, Hayes crosses from the right and Michel shoots from 8 yards. Again, Marshall is unable to hold on, but Cardiff have had a wake-up call and reach this rebound first, clearing upfield. All the way up to Delfouneso. Who could counter if Bertin Matip doesn’t bring him down. Which he does. Mr. Webb is not impressed and takes Matip’s name.

Quarter of an hour in and things are going ok; we’ve had the only two chances and Marshall looks slightly jittery, so hopefully we can capitalise on that at some point. Lubomir Zapotoka has the ball and gifts it to Delfouneso. He’s in with only Jonathan Bond to beat. He shoots from 16 yards and puts it wide. A huge let off and it arguably equals up the luck after Besse missed in the 6th minute.

Delfouneso goes closer two minutes later. Much closer. His header from 10 yards beats Bond and hits the bar. We’re able to react and put the ball behind for a corner, but Cardiff are certainly coming in to the game. Bruls finds our side netting from 8 yards in the 19th minute and I’m starting to get concerned at the chances that Cardiff are creating. A goal from us would help ease my nerves somewhat…

25 minutes in and Marshall takes a goal kick. Bradley Johnson meets it with a powerful header and Besse is on to it in a flash. He’s clear of all defenders and closing in on Marshall. Hopefully he can show more composure than he did 19 minutes ago. He elects to shoot from 18 yards. It’s under Marshall. It’s in! His 6th goal of the season has put us in the lead. A vital goal after some pressure from Cardiff.

Six minutes later, Delfouneso fires low from 16 yards, forcing Bond to get down quickly and well to concede a corner. Hayes shoots from 12 yards three minutes later, but Marshall doesn’t have to save as it’s not on target. Ibrahim Dagasan enters Mr. Webb’s book in the 37th minute. On the stroke of half time, Bertin Matip is forced to go off injured and Jay Spearing comes on to replace him.

Matip’s injury is a loss as he was on corner duty for us. Michel takes his place and three minutes into the second half, an inswinger is flicked on by Johnson at the near post. It’s going in until the Cardiff defender on the far post clears it off the line. Hayes also goes close to extending our lead in the 57th minute when he shoots from 12 yards, but a spectacular diving save from Marshall pushes the ball over the bar for a corner.

A inswinging corner 4 minutes later sees us double our lead. Michel’s corner is met by Cenci 6 yards out at the near post and Bruls panics, putting it into his own net. It’s a really important goal as it gives us a cushion. A six point lead with three games to go is an excellent position to be in.

Dunk enters Mr. Webb’s book in the 65th minute for a foul on Hayes. With 19 minutes to go, Johnson lifts the ball over the top. Hayes runs on to it and unleashes a volley from 12 yards. It’s a difficult skill to pull off and he doesn’t manage to do it successfully unfortunately, volleying wide. It’s turns out to be the end of Hayes’ involvement as I replace him with Adriano Gazzoli on the right wing in the 72nd minute after Bruls has his name taken by Mr. Webb for fouling Besse.

Our stroll to victory is interrupted in the 75th minute when an outswinging Sosvic corner is headed over by Dunk from 10 yards. A reminder that’s it’s not over yet. And unfortunately a reminder we don’t take heed of. With 10 minutes to go, Jones lifts a ball over the top and Cowie, beating the offside trap, runs on to it and scores from 16 yards. Game on. I’ll be incredibly disappointed if we throw away a two-goal lead in the last 10 minutes.

The Cardiff goal acts a wake-up call. Within a minute of them scoring, Johnson hits the post from 16 yards. Michel shoots just wide two minutes later. Seconds after Michel has shot wide, the ball is in the Cardiff area again as we pile on the pressure. Dunk brings down Cenci and Mr. Webb has no hesitation in pointing to the spot and giving Dunk his second yellow card and marching orders. The man advantage should see us home, but if Cenci can tuck the penalty away, I will feel much more confident. He steps up. The crowd holds its breath. It’s low to Marshall’s right. It’s in! St. James Park erupts! Three more valuable points in our quest for promotion. It’s Cenci’s 28th goal of the season.

Cardiff go close to pulling one back in the 87th minute when a free kick 30 yards out from Jones cannons off our bar, but we’re able to see the game out and have the final chance in the 89th minute when Gazzoli shoots wide from 25 yards. Delfouneso finds his name in Mr. Webb’s book in the second minute of stoppage time for a foul on Zapotoka. The crowd aren’t baying for another red, being happy celebrating another victory.

Result: Exeter City 3-1 Cardiff City
Man of the Match: Alain Besse
Ratings: GK-Bond (7.0), DR-Zapotoka (7.2), DCR-D’Avanzo (7.0), DCL-Vukovic (7.4), DL-Riccardi (7.1), MCR-Matip (6.9, booked, sub 45), MCL-Johnson (7.5, A), AMR-Hayes (6.6, sub 71), AMC-Michel (6.8), AML-Besse (8.0, G), ST-Cenci (7.6, G). Subs-Spearing (6.9, on 45), Gazzoli (6.7, on 71). Unused-McCarey, Rentea, Marconi.
Attendance: 8,714
League Position: 2nd
Match Stats:

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Another welcome win. It was important to build on the momentum from our big win at Derby and I was concerned that we might have had a ‘hangover’ performance in mid-week, but no sign of it. A nervy couple of minutes towards the end, but Cenci was able to calm them quickly with his well-taken penalty.

Bertin Matip picked up a thigh strain and will be out for 2 weeks, so that’s his season over unless I play him in the final game a couple of days after recovery. If required, I will. Hopefully I won’t need to.

We welcome back Karl Chaplin from his loan spell at Bristol Rovers and Miroslav Smejkal from his loan at Cambridge.

With three games to go, Crystal Palace become the first team to be relegated to League One. At the other end of the table, Birmingham City secure their promotion to the Premier League. Our win against Cardiff turns out to be a massive one for us as Blackburn only managed a draw. With three games to go, we have an eight point advantage over them. We could join Birmingham in the Premier League and be promoted as soon as Saturday

Read from Growing the Grecians #1.

Growing the Grecians #71 – Showing pride in the shirts

Five games to go and eleven points needed. After our loss against Birmingham City, this is my focus, not the title. Although if results go completely our way, I won’t turn the title down. We have three home games and two away games, so with the target of eleven points, the plan is to win the home games and draw the away ones. It sounds simple enough…

Date: Saturday 15th April 2017
Opponent: Derby County (8th)
Venue: Pride Park
Odds: Derby County=Evens, Draw=11/5, Exeter City=11/5
Weather: Gusty, 12C
Referee: Mr. Alan Beck

This is one of the two away games we have and I’ll be happy with a point. Whilst it’s difficult to play for a draw, I look to ensure that things stay tight as the attacking Michel is replaced with the defensive Jay Spearing in midfield.

A slow start would be fine by me. However, it doesn’t go like that. There’s action from the off. But it’s us on the front foot. Bradley Johnson shoots wide in the 4th minute from 18 yards. Fie minutes later, Alain Besse feeds Michele Marconi and he runs into the area and shoots from 16 yards. It’s… wide. Five minutes later, Bertin Matip’s inswinging corner is met by the head of Marconi 6 yards out at the near post, but he can’t get it on target. A promising start, but I’d be happier if we could convert a chance into a goal.

I’m soon happier. Much happier. 22 minutes in and Jonny Hayes slips in Marconi and he slots the ball under Fielding from 8 yards for his 12th goal of the season. Three minutes later, Hayes and Marconi exchange passes and Hayes scores his 6th goal of the season from 16 yards. Two minutes later, Johnson passes to Besse and he registers his 5th goal of the season with a cool finish under Fielding from 16 yards. With 33 minutes on the clock, Hayes plays in Marconi and he registers his 13th goal of the season with a first time finish from 8 yards. 11 minutes. 4 goals.

In the 37th minute, Griffiths has the ball in our area and isn’t really going anywhere. Luca D’Avanzo lunges in. Griffiths goes down. Mr. Beck’s whistle goes. Penalty! A way back in for Derby. Griffiths steps up and fires high to Jonathan Bond’s left to pull a goal back. With a minute to go until half time, Hanley meets an inswinging corner at the far post with his head. He’s 6 yards out and heads down. Bond gets down well to save and we complete the clearance by launching the ball upfield off the line.

A three goal lead is comfortable, but the scare before half time has got me worried. Surely we’re not going to score four goals in eleven minutes and still not win the game? If we do, I think we’ll end up in the play-offs.

Eight minutes into the second half, Hayes take a free kick 20 yards out. He finds Jagos Vukovic at the far post. He’s four yards out and powers a header straight at Fielding. It was more difficult not to score. Surely this isn’t going to be a crucial moment?

Griffiths goes close from 25 yards in the 64th minute as we continue to have success in limiting Derby’s chances. With 20 minutes to go, Hayes is replaced on the right wing by Adriano Gazzoli. Three minutes later, Besse chances his arm from 30 yards and Fielding has to be alert, tipping the ball over for a corner. Matip takes the resulting corner and swings it in to the near post. Marconi, 6 yards out at the near post, meets it. It’s in! His 14th goal of the season and the one that seals his hat-trick and has me accepting we’re definitely going to win this game (even though Derby haven’t shown much going forwards).

Michel replaces Johnson in the middle of the park with 12 minutes to go. Derby win a free kick 20 yards out with three minutes to go. It’s not going to be anything other than a consolation if it goes in. It doesn’t. Griffiths gets it over the wall, but can’t get it down again in time. Matip takes a free kick from the right with a minute to go. It’s another free kick that finds Vukovic 4 yards out at the far post. He makes no mistake this time and registers his 6th goal of the season to complete a comprehensive victory.

Before Derby can kick off, I replace Marconi with Philipp Langer. It gives the away fans the chance to applaud Marconi for an outstanding performance in an excellent victory.

Result: Derby County 1-6 Exeter City
Man of the Match: Michele Marconi
Ratings: GK-Bond (7.0), DR-Zapotoka (7.6), DCR-D’Avanzo (6.4), DCL-Vukovic (8.6, G), DL-Riccardi (7.0), DMC-Spearing (7.6), MCR-Matip (9.1, 2A), MCL-Johnson (7.6, A, sub 78), AMR-Hayes (9.0, G, 2A, sub 70), AML-Besse (8.6, G), ST-Marconi (9.7, 3G, A, sub 89). Subs-Gazzoli (6.9, on 70), Michel (on 78), Langer (on 89). Unused-McCarey, Rentea.
Attendance: 19,953
League Position: 2nd
Match Stats:

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Wow. Just wow. I’d have been happy with a point, but am delighted with the response from the lads after losing the big game against Birmingham. Marconi looked like the striker he was in Autumn when he was scoring plenty before drying up over winter and Federico Cenci is available next time out, which is a lovely selection dilemma to have. The only downside on the day is that Blackburn also win. So we’re still only six points ahead, but now there’s only four games to go. Dare I dream?

Mathematically, the results secure play-off spots for Birmigham and ourselves. However, a six point lead with four games to go means that I’ll be disappointed if we have to take part in them.

Unsurprisingly, we have plenty of representatives in Team of the Week – Gennaro Riccardi, Jagos Vukovic, Bertin Matip, Jonny Hayes, Alain Besse and Michele Marconi all get the nod.

We welcome back Will Keane from his loan spell at Middlesbrough and Frankie Timmins from his loan spell at Burton Albion.

Read Growing the Grecians #72.

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Growing the Grecians #70 – The top two clash

An important away win at Bristol City (marred only by conceding the most bizarre of goals) set us up for our clash against league leaders Birmingham City. Unfortunately, it’s a fixture that we go in to without our leading scorer and talisman, Federico Cenci. His goals have been invaluable and I don’t mind my players going for the ball, but he picks bookings up regularly and I could do with having his services to call on for easily our biggest game of the season. If we can win, we can challenge for the title; lose and the focus will have to be on ensuring automatic promotion.

Date: Saturday 8th April 2017
Opponent: Birmingham City (1st)
Venue: St. James Park
Odds: Exeter City=6/4, Draw=2/1, Birmingham City=13/8
Weather: Wet, 15C
Referee: Mr. Mike Jones

It’s a crucial game and there’s three milestones being made. Michel is making his 250th career league appearance. Michele Marconi, Cenci’s replacement up front, makes his 100th league appearance for the club. And the third milestone? It’s mine. My 300th game in charge of my beloved Exeter City. Could my 300th game in charge be the one that is a big step into getting promoted into the Premier League? The next 90 minutes will reveal all!

Seconds after kick off, Rybus shoots wide across the face of goal from 10 yards. Whilst it could have been much worse, it’s hardly the kind of start that I wanted. The game settles down, but Birmingham are the better side. Spector shoots over from 30 yards in the 14th minute and Rybus can only shoot wide from 8 yards in the 22nd minute. Birmingham are doing a good job of preventing us building up any kind of momentum and creating some chances of their own.

Our first chance of note comes in the 29th minute. Bradley Johnson shoots from 16 yards, forcing Foster into a good save. Birmingham are able to react quickly, get to the rebound and clear to safety. Two minutes later, Altman shoots from 12 yards and we require the bar to come to our rescue before completing the clearance.

Our woodwork being struck seems to be the spur we have been waiting for and we finally seem to wake up. Johnson shoots from 25 yards in the 33rd minute and Foster catches comfortably. Whilst it may have been a comfortable save for him, at least we’re making him work and getting out way into the game. Three minutes later, Oliver Norwood takes an inswinging free kick from the left. He lands it on the head of Jagos Vukovic, who is 8 yards out. Vukovic powers a header at goal, forcing Foster to tip over the bar for a corner.

It’s as close as we get to a goal in the first half. But not as close as Birmingham get. Three minutes before the break, Bond parries a Blackstock shot from 18 yards and Beausejour rolls in the rebound from 12 yards to give the visitors a lead on the stroke of halftime. The dugout wall takes a beating as I can’t believe we’ve conceded at the end of an even half with few chances.

My half time words act as inspiration to the lads. Four minutes into the half, Johnson plays in Alain Besse. Besse takes a first time shot from 16 yards, forcing Foster into a save. Five minutes later, Johnson is involved in the action again. He’s 18 yards out and beats Foster. Unfortunately, the bar keeps Birmingham in the lead.

The bar has barely stopped rattling before Birmingham have their next chance. Altman is 12 yards out, but can’t keep his shot down. Although we need to to kick on and get at least a point, Birmingham do a great job in keeping the match dull. Gunter has name taken by Mr. Jones with 15 minutes to go for a foul on Besse.

With nine minutes to go, Norwood is able to fashion a chance for himself. He’s 25 yards out, so well within his range. If anything, it’s too close, shown by his shot going over the bar. Before Foster can take the goal kick, I replace Michel with Adriano Gazzoli.

The crossbar is rattled for the third time in the 85th minute. This time, it’s a shot from 20 yards. Spector is the player denied as Birmingham look to ensure they will be leaving with all three points. They do wrap the points up with a minute to go when Rybus fires home from 18 yards.

Result: Exeter City 0-2 Birmingham City
Man of the Match: Jonathan Bond
Ratings: GK-Bond (9.1), DR-Zapotoka (6.1), DCR-D’Avanzo (6.9), DCL-Vukovic (6.6), DL-Riccardi (6.8), MCR-Norwood (6.8), MCL-Johnson (6.6), AMR-Hayes (6.7), AMC-Michel (6.7, sub 81), AML-Besse (6.9), ST-Marconi (6.6). Sub-Gazzoli (on 81). Unused-McCarey, Rentea, Spearing, Langer.
Attendance: 8,714
League Position: 2nd
Match Stats:

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No Cenci, no goals. A fairly even game in which late strikes in both half were enough to give Birmingham three points and all but ensure they will get promoted and win the title. Marconi was involved very little and I’m sure that Cenci would have made a difference. It might not have been enough, but he would have kept the Birmingham defence busy. It was an excellent away performance by Birmingham, very much mirroring our performance at St. Andrews earlier in the season.

Before the match, a loss would result in me conceding the title to Birmingham and focusing on winning automatic promotion. With five games to go, we’re six points ahead of Blackburn Rovers. Wins will be important as even going unbeaten until the end of the season might not be enough.

Jonathan Bond’s Man of the Match performance was surprising. Not his performance, but the fact that he was named Man of the Match. It’s unusual for a keeper to be Man of the Match, especially after a 2-0 loss at home. It gets better for him as he gets named in Team of the Week.

I welcome three players back from loan; Martin Koci, Rob McNally and Aaron Walker from Fleetwood Town, Bristol Rovers and Cambridge United respectively. Hopefully the loan experience will have helped them push for first team places.

Read Growing the Grecians #71.

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Growing the Grecians #69 – A key turning point?

After somehow only managing a draw at home against a chasing Brighton and Hove Albion, we could do with three points this time out.

Date: Saturday 1st April 2017
Opponent: Bristol City (14th)
Venue: Ashton Gate
Odds: Bristol City=6/4, Draw=2/1, Exeter City=13/8
Weather: Dry, 11C
Referee: Mr. Stuart Attwell

Jay Spearing makes his 100th league appearance for us. It’s a bit of a slow start, but the game springs into life in the 14th minute when Jonny Hayes shoots from 18 yards. The shot hits the post and the rebound is headed back to Gerken by a defender. Federico Cenci receives the ball with his back to goal in the 21st minute. He expertly turns his marker, but his shot from 10 yards flies harmlessly over the bar for a goal kick. 28 minutes in and Bradley Johnson plays in Cenci, who scores his 27th goal of the season from 12 yards to put us into the lead. Cenci is involved in the action again in the 39th minute when he fouls Cranie and enters Mr. Attwell’s book. He reacts to the booking well, immediately passing to Alain Besse who scores his 4th goal of the season from 16 yards. In stoppage time, Cenci looks to repay the favour to Johnson by setting him up. Johnson shoots from 18 yards and Gerken parries. Besse reacts quickest and gets to the rebound, but can’t keep his header from 8 yards down.

Twelve minutes into the second half, Conneely has name take by Mr. Attwell for a foul on Besse. Bristol City’s first chance of note comes in the 69th minute, but Mulready’s shot causes no panic to Jonathan Bond who watches it sail over his bar. Before the goal kick is taken, I replace Cenci with Michele Marconi in a straight swap. Five minutes after being introduced, Marconi is given the ball by Hayes. Marconi shoots from 16 yards and it requires a good low save by Gerken to keep the ball out, although he does concede a corner in doing so. With seven minutes to go, Mulready shoots from 25 yards again, but this time it goes wide. Elliott’s name is taken by Mr. Attwell in the 85th minute for a foul on Johnson. With three minutes to go, Conneely is 16 yards out. He shoots. He drags it wide across the face of goal. In stoppage time, our defence is replaced by the Keystone Cops. The ball falls to Vukovic in our area and he launches a clearance upfield. Or at least he would have if he hadn’t hit a team mate in the head. The ball loops up. Bond has it covered. An easy catch. But he drops it. Pitman is the beneficiary, grabbing a consolation goal from 1 yard out.

Result: Bristol City 1-2 Exeter City
Man of the Match: Federico Cenci
Ratings: GK-Bond (6.9), DR-Zapotoka (7.1), DCR-D’Avanzo (6.9), DCL-Vukovic (6.9), DL-Riccardi (7.0), DMC-Spearing (6.9), MCR-Norwood (6.9), MCL-Johnson (7.2, A), AMR-Hayes (6.9), AML-Besse (7.5, G), ST-Cenci (8.1, G, A, booked, sub 69). Sub-Marconi (6.4, on 69). Unused-McCarey, Rentea, Michel, Gazzoli.
Attendance: 13,388
League Position: 2nd
Match Stats:

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A deserved win and only a set of bizarre circumstances managed to deny us a clean sheet. The two first half goals proved to be enough and we were comfortable throughout.

Jose Antonio Comacho, the manager of Xerez, was in attendance. He was watching Lubomir Zapotoka.

The Man of the Match award for Federico Cenci was his second in two matches. It was also his 8th of the season, breaking Petar Zlatinov’s club record of 7. His yellow card was also his 10th of the season and he will miss the next two games as a result. Losing our leading scorer who seems to score every match feels like it could change the course of our season. Especially as our next match is against table-topping Birmingham City

Read from Growing the Grecians #1.

Growing the Grecians #68 – One way, then the other

Three more vital points in our quest for promotion in our last match at Middlesbrough; a win this time out would be a massive boost in our chase for automatic promotion.

Date: Saturday 25th March 2017
Opponent: Brighton and Hove Albion (6th)
Venue: St. James Park
Odds: Exeter City=1/2, Draw=13/5, Brighton and Hove Albion=9/2
Weather: Breezy, Wet, 16C
Referee: Mr. Eddie Ilderton

Another game described as a promotion showdown! Bradley Johnson makes his 125th league appearance for us, whilst Jonny Hayes makes his 300th career league appearance. If we can make it a day to remember to them, we can take a massive step towards automatic promotion; a bad day and it may be the play-offs again.

Alain Besse shoots from 16 yards in the 3rd minute, but Hamer gets down quickly to save at the expense of a corner. Six minutes later, an inswinging corner from Faouzi Aaish is met by the head of Lelo 12 yards out and we require the bar to come to our rescue. Lalkovic crosses from the left in the 14th minute and Palenkov, sliding in, puts Brighton in the lead from 8 yards out. Federico Cenci looks to get us straight back in the game by turning Reid and shooting from 20 yards in the 18th minute, but Hamer tips over for a corner. Besse plays in Hayes in the 23rd minute and he marks his milestone by finishing from 12 yards. Or he would mark his milestone with a goal if the linesman’s flag wasn’t up. Hayes was a fraction offside. Oliver Norwood takes an outswinging corner in the 35th minute and Cenci meets it with his head 6 yards out at the near post but is unable to keep it down. Hayes shoots over from 25 yards in the 38th minute and then tests Hamer from 18 yards a minute later; Hamer can’t hold, but Brighton clear. Two minutes before half time, Johnson shoots from 30 and is denied by the post.

We could have done without half time as we seemed to be building up a head of steam. To be fair to the players, they don’t let it affect them much and within a minute of the half starting, Brighton have to clear for a throw after Hamer parries a Cenci effort from 12 yards. Two minutes into the half, Cenci heads over from 6 yards. Surely we will make the breakthrough. Nine minutes into the half, Michel feeds Besse, but he can only shoot wide from 16 yards. With 29 minutes left, Cenci takes a free kick from the left and finds an unmarked Jagos Vukovic at the far post. He’s 4 yards out and scores his 5th goal of the season to pull us level. Three minutes after equalising, we’re in the lead. Reid brings down Cenci and Mr. Ilderton has no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Cenci steps up and fires low to Hamer’s left for his 26th goal of the season. The lead is short lived as in the 71st minute, a Cohen cross from the right is headed home from 8 yards out by Lalkovic. 19 minutes for either team to find a winner and record a massive victory. With 13 minutes to go, Michel shoots from 25 yards. The net ripples! He’s don… no, he hasn’t; it’s side netting only. Hayes passes to Besse in the 80th minute, but Besse can only fire his shot from 16 yards wide across the face of the goal. The final chance falls in the final minute. It falls to Hayes. He’s 20 yards out. He shoots. It’s wide.

Result: Exeter City 2-2 Brighton and Hove Albion
Man of the Match: Federico Cenci
Ratings: GK-Bond (6.7), DR-Zapotoka (6.7), DCR-D’Avanzo (6.1), DCL-Vukovic (7.3, G), DL-Riccardi (6.5), MCR-Norwood (6.8), MCL-Johnson (6.7), AMR-Hayes (6.4), AMC-Michel (6.8), AML-Besse (6.3), ST-Cenci (8.3, G, A). Unused-McCarey, Rentea, Spearing, Gazzoli, Marconi.
Attendance: 8,205
League Position: 2nd
Match Stats:

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A bit of a strange one. After being behind for a long time, I’m pleased that we avoided defeat. However, we had much the better of the game and Brighton capitalised on a couple of defensive lapses to nick a point. Whilst it was important not to lose to a team chasing us, a win here would have put down a marker to the chasing teams and strengthened our position considerably.

Attilio Tesser was in attendance, watching Federico Cenci again. I’m starting to wonder how he’s able to manage Cagliari when he spends so much time watching Cenci.

Nathan Holland and Dennis Judge extend their loans at Yeovil Town and Newport County respectively.

Leigh Griffiths (Derby County) is named Player of the Month. Young Player of the Month goes to our very own Federico Cenci – he averaged 7.54 and scored 5 goals throughout March. Slaven Bilic (Derby County) is named Manager of the Month. Goal of the Month goes to Katlego Mphela for his effort against us at the start of the month. In League 2, Rob McNally (on loan at Bristol Rovers) comes 3rd in the Young Player of the Month award.

Read Growing the Grecians #69.

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Growing the Grecians #67 – Down by the Riverside

A strong first half performance against Crystal Palace saw us score three goals and earn three points. We have another good opportunity to add three more points to our tally.

Date: Saturday 18th March 2017
Opponent: Middlesbrough (20th)
Venue: The Riverside
Odds: Middlesbrough= 4/1, Draw=5/2, Exeter City=4/7
Weather: Breezy, drizzle, 6C
Referee: Mr. Mark Clattenburg

We’re the favourites and in the 6th minute, we get our first shot on goal; Federico Cenci plays in Jonny Hayes and his shot from 10 yards is fumbled by Hamilton for the expense of a corner. Hayes shoots from twice the distance three minutes later, but Hamilton watches it wide. A minute later, Michel shoots from 5 yards further back, but Hamilton is untroubled as it is comfortably over his bar. Hayes looks to turn provider in the 13th minute with a long ball that Cenci collects. He runs into the area before shooting from 12 yards, but Hamilton is equal to it. Hamilton makes a more comfortable catch in the 19th minute when Michel shoots from 20 yards. We’re piling on the pressure and three minutes later, Bertin Matip passes to Cenci and his first time shot from 12 yards cannons off the bar to safety. Middlesbrough’s first chance of note comes in the 32nd minute when Pilkington swings a corner in. McManus meets it with his head 8 yards out at the far post and it requires Gennaro Riccardi to clear it off the line. A few weeks ago, that would have opened the scoring and given Middlesbrough the points, so hopefully it’s a good omen. It looks as though it might be five minutes before half time – Hayes crosses from the right and Alain Besse heads in his 3rd goal of the season from 6 yards out. That makes the half time teamtalk a bit easier and is no less than we deserve.

The lead is short lived. Three minutes into the second half, a Campbell cross from the left is deflected and falls to Moore, who makes no mistake from 6 yards. Five minutes after Middlesbrough’s equaliser, Oliver Norwood take a free kick from the right and Matip flicks it on to the far post, where Jagos Vukovic heads towards goal. Hamilton blocks. There’s a rebound. Vukovic is quickest to react. Instead of trying to force it through the bodies between him and the goal, he squares it. To Cenci. Who is 2 yards out. He’s never going to miss from there and records his 25th goal of the season to put us back in the lead. The goal seems to take all the fight out of Middlesbrough, although they do have Semedo and McManmus booked for fouls on Vukovic and Hayes respectively. With 7 minutes to go, I replace an attacking midfielder with a defensive one as Jay Spearing replaces Michel to ensure we see the game out.

Result: Middlesbrough 1-2 Exeter City
Man of the Match: Jonny Hayes
Ratings: GK-Bond (6.8), DR-Zapotoka (7.0), DCR-D’Avanzo (6.9), DCL-Vukovic (7.0, A), DL-Riccardi (7.0), MCR-Norwood (6.9), MCL-Matip (6.8), AMR-Hayes (8.2, A), AMC-Michel (6.9, sub 83), AML-Besse (7.5, G), Cenci (7.4, G). Sub-Spearing (on 83). Unused-McCarey, Rentea, Koch, Marconi.
Attendance: 14,067
League Position: 2nd
Match Stats:

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A well-deserved three points as we looked the team most likely to score throughout. Against Palace, we got a couple of early goals and won comfortably. A couple of early goals would have helped make the result more comfortable and been deserved, but we were denied by Hamilton and the woodwork and Middlesbrough were always in with a chance of snatching something. For away games, Michel has generally been on the bench and I’ve played a defensive midfielder instead of an attacking one, but we’ve some tough-looking games coming up so I decided to gamble by playing a more attacking formation that usual when away from home and it paid off. A special mention to Jonny Hayes, who records back-to-back Man of the Match awards. This time, the award earns him a place in Team of the Week.

Attilio Tesser, the manager of Cagliari, was in attendance and watching Federico Cenci again. I think it’s going to be quite a challenge to keep hold of him during the summer. Speaking of Cenci, his 2 yards tap-in sets an Exeter City season record of 25 goals, beating the 24 scored by Michele Marconi last season.

Adriano Gazzoli resumes full training, but Florian Koch dislocates a shoulder and will be out of action for 2 months. Whilst on the treatment table, he requests to be removed from the transfer list and I agree.

Luton Town offer to extend Charlie Hollet’s loan spell for another month. I agree to the offer and he agrees to the extension.

Read Growing the Grecians #68.

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Growing the Grecians #66 – One from top, one from bottom

A draw in our last game kept an unbeaten run going, but we could do with some wins to keep up our chase for automatic promotion.

Date: Saturday 11th March 2017
Opponent: Crystal Palace (23rd)
Venue: St. James Park
Odds: Exeter City=1/2, Draw=13/5, Crystal Palace=9/2
Weather: Gusty, 10C
Referee: Mr. Will Howard

Lubomir Zapotoka is making his 25th league appearance for both us and in his career. Five minutes in, Jonny Hayes plays in Michel and he slots home from 10 yards for his 4th goal of the season and to get us off to a flying start. Six minutes later, we’re two up; Hayes crosses from the right and Federico Cenci powerfully volleys in from 6 yards for his 23rd goal of the season. In the 14th minute, Cenci shoots from 16 yards and Larsen Kwarasey spills the ball. Cenci goes for the rebound, by Mr. Howard blows the whistle for a foul on a defender. Hayes looks to score himself in the 16th minute, but his shot from 25 yards whistles just over. Parr takes an inswinging corner in the 20th minute and finds Ramage unmarked at the far post, but he heads over from 6 yards out. It’s a let off for us. A minute later, Cenci runs into the area and shoots from 8 yards; Larsen Kwarasey gets down well and concedes a corner to keep the score at 2. Oliver Norwood looks for another stunner in the 27th minute, but he can’t keep his shot from 30 yards down. On the half hour mark, Bradley Johnson lifts the ball over the top, but Cenci’s shot from 18 yards goes wide. McQuoid shoots from 18 yards in the 33rd minute and Jonathan Bond makes a comfortable save. Marrow enters Mr. Howard’s book in the 37th minute for a foul on Gennaro Riccardi. Six minutes before half time, Cox takes a powerful shot from 16 yards, forcing Bond to beat the ball behind for a corner. In stoppage time, we counter from a throw. Cenci runs from the halfway line, shoots from 16 yards and scores his 24th goal of the season. Surely game over.

Dikgacoi has his name taken by Mr. Howard in the 50th minute for fouling Michel. McQuoid joins him a minute later for fouling Vukovic, with Ayling having his name taken a minute later for a foul on Cenci. Alain Besse passes to Cenci in the 55th minute. He’s 12 yards out and has a great chance to complete his hat-trick, but it’s a tame shot and Larsen Kwarasey saves comfortably. Riccardi has his name taken a minute before the hour mark for fouling Tomasov, who forces Bond to save his shot from 18 yards four minutes later. Riccardi crosses from the left in the 65th minute and finds Hayes 6 yards out at the far post. He meets the ball with a header and Larsen Kwarasey pushes the ball over the bar for a corner. Michele Marconi is brought on in the 71st minute for Hayes, with Cenci moving out to the right wing. With 12 minutes to go, Dikgacoi fouls Michel. Mr. Howard blows his whistle. He produces a card. It’s a second yellow. Dikgacoi is off! To ensure we don’t end up with 10 men as well, I replace Riccardi with Catalin Rentea in the 79th minute. Vukovic moves across to left back, Rentea goes to right back as Zapotoka moves into the centre of defence. Marconi lays the ball back to Cenci in the 86th minute, but his shot from 8 yards out goes across the face of the goal and wide. It doesn’t look like he’s going to complete his hat-trick. With three minutes to go, Cenci passes to Besse and he hits a powerful shot from 8 yards that produces a stunning reflex fingertip save by Larsen Kwarasey, who tips the ball over for a corner. The last chance comes in the 90th minute when Cenci lays the ball off to Marconi and he lets fly from 25 yards, only for Larsen Kwarasey to tip over the bar again.

Result: Exeter City 3-0 Crystal Palace
Man of the Match: Jonny Hayes
Ratings: GK-Bond (6.9), DR-Zapotoka (7.2), DCR-Berger (7.1), DCL-Vukovic (7.7), DL-Riccardi (7.1, booked, sub 79), MCR-Norwood (7.0), MCL-Johnson (6.9), AMR-Hayes (9,1, 3A, sub 71), AMC-Michel (7.9, G), AML-Besse (7.0), ST-Cenci (9.0, 2G). Subs-Marconi (6.6, on 71), Rentea (on 79). Unused-McCarey, Spearing, Matip.
Attendance: 8,714
League Position: 2nd
Match Stats:

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A good comfortable win – just what we needed. We got into a quick two goal lead and the goal on the stroke of half time ensured that there would be no comeback. It helps keep us secure in an automatic promotion spot and ensure that Birmingham City can’t take their foot off the gas. It was also nice to play Palace and not have to worry about Scannell after they sold him – he always seemed to play well against us.

After a good performance, I’m expecting to see some players in Team of the Week. Tuesday morning and the team is announced and we have (drumroll please)… one player. And it’s Michel. Whilst I’m delighted he’s in the Team of the Week, I feel very sorry for Hayes and Cenci (evidently their mid-week performance against Peterborough has cost them).

Martin Koci is the subject of a loan bid from Fleetwood Town for one month. All parties agree and Koci joins them. As he leaves, Luca D’Avanzo resumes full training in time for the run-in. I also add a new face to the squad – Bulgarian midfielder Spas Donchev, who we’ve had on trial a couple of times. He’s another prospect for the future.

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Read Growing the Grecians #67.

Read from Growing the Grecians #1.

Growing the Grecians #65 – Knocking at the door

A draw last time out kept things pretty much as they were; hopefully we can win this time out and start to put some distance between us and the chasing pack. However, it’s a mid-week game and we don’t tend to be at our best mid-week.

Date: Tuesday 7th March 2017
Opponent: Peterborough United (11th)
Venue: London Road
Odds: Peterborough United=7/4, Draw=11/5, Exeter City=5/4
Weather: Drizzle, 6C
Referee: Mr. Keith Stroud

Bertin Matip takes an inswinging corner in the 5th minute and the ball falls to Federico Cenci, but he can only find the side netting from a tight angle 2 yards out. Vallee enters Mr. Stroud’s book in the 6th minute for fouling Loic Fournier. Matip takes an outswinging corner in the 9th minute and Cenci meets it at the near post. He’s four yards out and his effort hits the post before being scrambled clear by Peterborough. Cenci collects a ball over the top in the 14th minute and shoots from 12 yards, but only succeeds in hitting the post again. Jonny Hayes shoots just over from 25 yards in the 24th minute. A minute later, Cenci fouls Ake and has his name taken by Mr. Stroud. Peterborough’s first chance of note comes in the 30th minute, but Ross’ shot from 18 yards goes well wide. Fournier lifts the ball over the top in the 32nd minute and Hayes runs onto it, but his shot from 16 yards goes across the face of the goal and wide. Eight minutes later, Hayes runs into the area and shoots from 12 yards. Incredibly, it’s the third time in this half that we find the post and Peterborough put the ball behind for a corner. In stoppage time, Cenci shoots from 30 yards but it’s wide.

Three minutes into the second half, Gennaro Riccardi is booked by Mr. Stroud for fouling Prager. A minute later, Prager crosses from the right and Robson-Kanu shoots from 8 yards. Jonathan Bond gets down well and saves. Hayes shoots just over from 16 yards in the 65th minute. Before the goal kick is taken, I make a straight swap as Michele Marconi replaces Cenci. Jenkins gets booked by Mr. Stroud in the 71st minute for fouling Hayes. With three minutes to go, Bradley Johnson plays in Marconi, but his shot from 10 yards goes wide. Two minutes from time, Buljat fouls Marconi and has his name taken by Mr. Stroud and the game soon comes to an end.

Result: Peterborough United 0-0 Exeter City
Man of the Match: Gennaro Riccardi
Ratings: GK-Bond (6.8), DR-Zapotoka (6.8), DCR-Berger (6.9), DCL-Vukovic (6.9), DL-Riccardi (7.7, booked), DMC-Fournier (7.0), MCR-Matip (6.8), MCL-Johnson (6.9), AMR-Hayes (6.9), AML-Makris (6.9), ST-Cenci (5.8, sub 65). Sub-Marconi (6.7, on 65). Unused-McCarey, Rentea, O’Toole, Norwood.
Attendance: 6,419
League Position: 2nd
Match Stats:

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A midweek game away from home – I’d definitely have settled for a draw before. However, with how the game went, it feels like we’ve dropped two points instead of gaining one. Their woodwork took a battering, whilst Bond had a fairly quiet evening. I’ll have to try and focus on the positive that we took the point I would have accepted before kick off.

Hereford United offer to loan Juho Virkki; all parties agree and he moves to them.

UEFA announce the host of Euro 2024. England (hopefully!) will be packing their passports and boarding a flight to Spain.

Read Growing the Grecians #66.

Read from Growing the Grecians #1.

Growing the Grecians #64 – It’s a promotion clash!

We’re approaching the business end of the season and whilst there now tends to be a week between games, they’re all big games. Good luck to anyone trying to match Oliver Norwood’s wonder goal against Norwich.

Date: Saturday 4th March
Opponent: Blackburn Rovers (5th)
Venue: St. James Park
Odds: Exeter City=4/5, Draw=2/1, Blackburn Rovers=3/1
Weather: Downpour, 12C
Referee: Mr. Rob Mills

Oliver Norwood makes his 125th career league appearance and it’s unlikely that he’s going to be able to mark it with anything as special as he did his 124th. It’s described as a promotion clash and if we can win, we can start to put some distance ahead of the chasing pack. However, lose and we’ll have teams breathing down our neck for automatic promotion. So no pressure lads!

In the first minute, Jonny Hayes crosses from the right. It hits a defender before it can reach it’s target and deflects into the near post. Blackburn panic and half clear it to the far post, where Alain Besse heads into the side netting from 4 yards. So close to a perfect start. We go again a minute later when Besse passes to Federico Cenci – he runs into the area and shoots from 10 yards, but Forster catches. The woodwork is rattled again in the 7th minute when Hayes hits it from 18 yards. A minute later, Mphela picks the ball up 10 yards inside our half. He turns Jagos Vukovic, beats Daniel Berger and slots the ball under Jonathan Bond from 18 yards to open the scoring. It’s a good goal, but I feel that we should have stopped him. Norwood marks his 125th league appearance by getting booked in the 13th minute, with Shaban the man fouled. The goal doesn’t deter us and we put together a good move in the 17th minute – Hayes passes to Cenci, who moves the ball on to Besse. Just as he’s about to let fly and surely level the scores, a defender slides in and Forster picks up the loose ball. An equaliser is surely coming and it arrives in the 24th minute. Besse feeds Cenci and he powers it into the roof of the net from 12 yards for his 23rd goal of the season. He must have been reading Roy of the Rovers and decided to mimic Hot Shot Hamish! Hayes enters the book a minute later for fouling Crofts. Mphala shoots from 20 yards in the 32nd minute and it’s a comfortable catch for Bond. He plays the ball upfield and Valkucak is booked by Mr. Mills for fouling Besse. Michel has a chance from 18 yards in the 34th minute, but he’s leaning back and it sails harmlessly over the bar. Eight minutes before half time, Shaban restores Blackburn’s lead with a shot from 18 yards. Cenci looks to draw us level in the 41st minute when he turns his marker on the edge of the area, but he can’t keep his shot from 18 yards down. Two minutes before Mr. Mills blows for half time, Hayes passes to Cenci, but he drags a shot from 16 yards wide.

Michel plays in Cenci six minutes into the second half and he coolly slots finishes from 10 yards. Celebrations quickly stop as the linesman’s flag is up. Cenci was fractionally offside. Bond gets down well to save from Crofts from 16 yards in the 56th minute as Blackburn look to establish a cushion. Three minutes later, the same player shoots from the same distance, but he can’t get the ball on target as it goes wide. I make my first change in the 63rd minute with Bertin Matip replacing Bradley Johnson; Matip will sit and Norwood will be encouraged to get forward more. Mphela has two chances to extend Blackburn’s lead, but his shot from 12 yards in the 65th minute is wide, whilst his shot from 20 yards in the 68th minute is saved by Bond. I bring on Michele Marconi for Michel in the 69th minute, with Cenci dropping back into the hole. Marconi’s soon in the action as Besse plays sends him clear in the 72nd minute. He gets the ball caught up in his feet and Forster rushes out and is on top of his effort by the time Marconi gets his feet sorted and shoots from 16 yards. With 10 minutes to go, Mphela looks to chip Bond from 20 yards, but it goes just over. With eight minutes remaining, the last action of note happens. Gennaro Riccardi passes from the left and Hayes shoots from 16 yards. It’s in! It’s Hayes’ 5th of the season and also his 25th goal for us and 50th goal of his career.

Result: Exeter City 2-2 Blackburn Rovers
Man of the Match: Mphela
Ratings: GK-Bond (6.9), DR-Zapotoka (6.8), DCR-Berger (6.6), DCL-Vukovic (6.9), DL-Riccardi (7.1, A), MCR-Norwood (6.8, booked), MCL-Johnson (6.1, sub 63), AMR-Hayes (7.5, G), AMC-Michel (6.6, sub 69), AML-Besse (7.9, A), ST-Cenci (7.2, G). Subs-Matip (6.9, on 63), Marconi (6.9, on 69). Unused-McCarey, Rentea, O’Toole.
Attendance: 8,714
League Position: 2nd
Match Stats:

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The stats show a fairly even game, but I felt that we had slightly the better of it. A win would have been brilliant for us, but as we were a goal down with less than 10 minutes to go, it’s a good result in the end and keeps things pretty much as they were. In truth, it’s a result I’d have settled for at the start of the game and most definitely with 10 minutes to go.

Attilio Tesser, the manager of Cagliari, was in attendance. He’s rumoured to be interested in signing Federico Cenci and was scouting him in person.

Newport County offer to loan Dennis Judge for a month. I accept their offer and he agrees to the temporary switch.

Read Growing the Grecians #65.

Read from Growing the Grecians #1.

Growing the Grecians #63 – Take a bow son!

An impressive performance at Sheffield Wednesday – will Jonathan Bond actually have something to do this time?

Date: Saturday 25th February 2017
Opponent: Norwich City (18th)
Venue: St. James Park
Odds: Exeter City=Evens, Draw=11/5, Norwich City=11/5
Weather: Dry, 12C
Referee: Mr. Neil Swarbrick

We get an early warning in the 5th minute when Sokolowski shoots over from 12 yards. Four minutes later, Jonny Hayes shoots from 6 yards and Bogdan turns it away for a corner. Oliver Norwood takes the resulting corner and it swings out to the head of Michele Marconi who is 6 yards out at the near post and he scores his 11th goal of the season for a good start for us. Djuric has a chance to level for the visitors in the 12th minute when he’s 6 yards out, but Bond saves. He can’t hold on. Lubomir Zapotoka to the rescue! He slides in and concedes a corner. Jonny Hayes shoots just wide from 20 yards in the 15th minute. A minute later, there’s a mix-up between Halford and Bogdan – Marconi slides in from 18 yards, but Bogdan is able to get back and save the ball on the line. In the 34th minute, Norwood scores his first ever goal for the club and it’s a stunner. An unstoppable curling shot from 30 yards. What a way to open your account! Nine minutes later, Norwich pull one back, but it’s not as stunning a strike – an unmarked Djuric heads an inswinging Hamad corner in from 6 yards at the near post. Bradley Johnson looks to score again against his former club in the 35th minute, but his shot from 25 yards whistles just over. Marconi has a similar result when shooting from 20 yards 2 minutes later. Hayes achieves the hat-trick of shooting over in 39th minute when he runs into the area and shoots from 16 yards. Hamad’s shot from 16 yards in the 40th minute is on target, but Bond saves and holds. With three minutes until half time, Norwood swings a corner in and Marconi meets it with his head 6 yards out at the near post. It’s just over this time.

Norwich start the second half looking for an equaliser and Sidwell’s shot from 20 yards in the 51st minute goes narrowly over. Two minutes later, there’s a scramble in our area and we’re eventually able to put it behind for a corner. Alain Besse shoots just wide from 12 yards in the 62nd minute as we look to re-establish a two-goal lead. I make my first substitution in the 63rd minute, bringing on Jay Spearing for Johnson as I look to be a bit more defensive in the middle of the park. Marconi shoots just over again in the 68th minute, this time from 18 yards. One minute later, Djuric shoots over from 16 yards. Michel replaces Federico Cenci in the 70th minute. Another outswinging corner by Norwood in the 76th minute sees another effort go over the bar; this time, it’s a header from Besse 6 yards out at the near post. Campbell fires just wide from 16 yards two minutes later as chances continue to come for the visitors. With seven minutes to go, I replace Norwood with Bertin Matip to give us two natural ball-winners in the middle of park and see the game out with no further scares.

Result: Exeter City 2-1 Norwich City
Man of the Match: Oliver Norwood
Ratings: GK-Bond (6.9), DR-Zapotoka (6.9), DCR-Berger (6.9), DCL-Vukovic (6.9), DL-Riccardi (7.7, A), MCR-Norwood (8.4, G, A, sub 83), MCL-Johnson (6.2, sub 63), AMR-Hayes (7.2), AMC-Cenci (6.9, sub 70), AML-Besse (6.9), ST-Marconi (7.5, G). Subs-Spearing (6.7, on 63), Michel (6.8, on 70), Matip (on 83). Unused-McCarey, Rentea.
Attendance: 8,714
League Position: 2nd
Match Stats:

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A game with plenty of chances and one that we deserved to shade. Both teams scored from a set-piece, with the winner being a stunning strike. It’s another important three points for us.

Giuseppe Sannino, the manager of Parma, was in attendance and watching Federico Cenci.

Luton Town offer to loan Charlie Hollett for a month, I accept and he joins them. I also receive a loan offer for Nathan Holland from Yeovil Town and accept the offer.

The League Cup is heading to the West Midlands as Premier League Wolverhampton Wanderers beat League 1 Crawley Town 5-2 in the final.

The end of the month sees awards. Federico Cenci is February Player of the Month – he averaged 7.76 and scored 5 goals. Kenny Mulready (Bristol City) is named Young Player of the Month. Hristo Stoichkov (Cardiff City) wins Manager of the Month. Goal of the Month goes to Oliver Norwood for his stunner against Norwich. It’s worth a look:

And what Bogdan faced:

In League 2, Busao (on loan at Bristol Rovers) is named Young Player of the Month, with Rob McNally (also on loan at Bristol Rovers) coming 3rd.

Julian Tagg completes his takeover of the club. There are no plans for any investment to the club.

Read Growing the Grecians #64.

Read from Growing the Grecians #1.

Growing the Grecians #62 – Staying in Sheffield

After our visit to Bramall Lane, we head to Hillsborough.

Date: Saturday 18th February 2017
Opponent: Sheffield Wednesday (9th)
Venue: Hillsborough
Odds: Sheffield Wednesday=4/5, Draw=2/1, Exeter City=3/1
Weather: Drizzle, 7C
Referee: Mr. Mark Clattenburg

The first action of note comes in the 10th minute when Sheffield Wednesday win a free kick 20 yards out. Medda steps up, lifts it over the wall and just over the bar. A minute before the half hour mark, Michel shoots from 18 yards, but it’s straight at Flinders and although he can’t hold on, Sheffield Wednesday clear to safety. Oliver Norwood enters Mr. Clattenburg’s book in the 33rd minute for a foul on Baldock. Federico Cenci gets his head to a right wing cross by Lubomir Zapotoka in the 37th minute, but his header from 8 yards goes over. The half may be coming to an end, but we’re putting pressure on their goal. With four minutes of the half left, Cenci runs into the area and shoots from 12 yards, forcing Flinders to concede a corner. One minute later, Bradley Johnson shoots wide across the face of the goal from 12 yards out.

Cenci enters Mr. Clattenburg’s book in the 48th minute for a foul on Huntington. Norwood goes close to breaking the deadlock in the 53rd minute, but his shot from 25 yards hits the post and Sheffield Wednesday are able to clear the ball away from the danger zone. Nine minutes later, Michel shoots from 20 yards, but Flinders is able to save and hold on to the ball. Daniel Berger becomes the third name into the book in the 63rd minute after he fouls Trajkovski, with Zapotoka following moments later for a foul on Rose. Michel is replaced by Michele Marconi in the 64th minute; Marconi plays up front, with Cenci dropping into the hole. Cenci shoots over from 30 yards in the 65th minute. Marconi tests Flinders from 18 yards in the 68th minute. Flinders spills. Alain Besse goes for the rebound. He doesn’t get to the ball because Kovacevic brings him down. Penalty! Cenci shoots low to the right of Flinders and scores his 21st goal of the season to break the deadlock. Seven minutes later, Cenci plays in Marconi, but his shot from 18 yards rolls wide. Upton shoots from 25 yards with 11 minutes to go, but it doesn’t test Jonathan Bond as it sails over. With 8 minutes to go, Jay Spearing comes on for Jonny Hayes as I look to secure the points – Spearing plays as a defensive midfielder shielding the back four, with Cenci moving out to the right wing. One minute after the change, Besse picks out Marconi, but Flinders saves his shot from 18 yards and it’s cleared. Cenci plays in Besse in the 84th minute, but his shot from 12 yards is parried by Flinders. The rebound falls to Cenci and he plays the ball back to Besse, who spurns the opportunity to double our lead by blazing wide from 10 yards. One minute later, Cenci runs into the area and shoots from 12 yards. His shot hits a defender and the rebound falls to Besse, who makes amends for his miss a minute earlier by scoring his second goal of the season from 8 yards into an unguarded goal. It surely seals the points, but with three minutes to go, Marconi hits the post from 10 yards after being played in by Besse. The rebound off the post is cleared for a corner.

Result: Sheffield Wednesday 0-2 Exeter City
Man of the Match: Alain Besse
Ratings: GK-Bond (6.9), DR-Zapotoka (7.1, booked), DCR-Berger (7.1, booked), DCL-Vukovic (7.2), DL-Riccardi (7.0), MCR- Norwood (6.9, booked), MCL-Johnson (6.9), AMR-Hayes (6.9, sub 82), AMC-Michel (6.9, sub 64), AML-Besse (8.7, G, A), ST-Cenci (7.7, G). Subs-Marconi (7.0, on 64), Spearing (on 82). Unused-McCarey, Rentea, Matip.
Attendance: 18,304
League Position: 2nd
Match Stats:

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A much better showing in Sheffield and no late collapse this time. Evidently midweek fixtures don’t agree with us! We were in control throughout and deserved the win. Jonathan Bond is unlikely to have ever have had an easier afternoon.

Stefano Colantuono, the manager of Atalanta, was in attendance, watching Jagos Vukovic.

We have a reserve team match against Brighton and Hove Albion Reserves and I lose two players to injury; Adriano Gazzoli will be out for 4 weeks with a broken rib, whilst Luca D’Avanzo will be missing for 2-3 weeks with a twisted knee.

Read Growing the Grecians #63.

Read from Growing the Grecians #1.

Growing the Grecians #61 – Sean Bean’s revenge

A late penalty against West Ham gave us the three points and two wins on the bounce – can we make it three from three for the first time in a long time.

Date: Tuesday 14th February 2017
Opponent: Sheffield United (17th)
Venue: Bramall Lane
Odds: Sheffield United=Evens, Draw=11/5, Exeter City=11/5
Weather: Drizzle, 3C
Referee: Mr. Alan Beck

Loic Fournier makes his 25th career league appearance. We get off to a flying start – in the 8th minute Bradley Johnson plays in Federico Cenci and he scores his 20th goal of the season from 10 yards. Four minutes later, Cenci looks to turn provider by passing to Jonny Hayes, but Elizondo saves his shot from 16 yards. With 28 minutes on the clock, Quinn takes a free kick from the left and he picks out Omai at the far post. Omai heads from 12 yards and McCarey saves. With a minute to go until half time, Quinn takes another free kick and this one finds Banton. He shoots from 16 yards and scores. Before he can raise his arm in celebration, Mr. Beck’s whistle goes. Offside.

Mollins shoots over from 12 yards in the 48th minute as Sheffield United start the second half well. 56 minutes in and Luca D’Avanzo is forced off with an injury. Lubomir Zapotoka is his replacement. Cenci goes close to doubling the lead in 64th minute, but his shot from 35 yards out hits the bar and Sheffield United play their way out of danger. Michele Marconi and Oliver Norwood replace Cenci and Johnson in the 66th minute. Two minutes later, Omai crosses from the right and Goian levels from an acute angle. Things get even worse in the 70th minute as Sheffield United take the lead. Quinn plays in Jackson and he rolls the ball under an onrushing McCarey from 12 yards. Two minutes later, McCarey has to react quickly to deny Jackson doubling his tally. Although he can’t hold on, we’re able to clear the ball for a throw. With four minutes to go, Goian looks to double his tally from 18 yards, but McCarey saves and the defence completes the clearance. One minute later, Gennaro Riccardi crosses from the left and Marconi flicks the ball on, but Elizondo saves comfortably. In the third minute of stoppage time, McCarey parries a Goian shot from 18 yards and Jackson is able to walk the ball into an empty net and seal the points for the hosts.

Result: Sheffield Unite 3-1 Exeter City
Man of the Match: Jackson
Ratings: GK-McCarey (6.1), DR-Rentea (5.7), DCR_D’Avanzo (6.8, sub 56), DCL-Vukovic (6.1), DL-Riccardi (5.8), DMC-Fournier (6.8), MCR-Matip (6.8), MCL-Johnson (7.2, A, sub 66), AMR-Hayes (5.8), AML-Besse (6.1), ST-Cenci (7.5, G, sub 66). Subs-Zapotoka (5.8, on 56), Norwood (6.3, on 66), Marconi (6.2, on 66). Unused-Bond, Michel.
Attendance: 13,288
League Position: 3rd
Match Stats:

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A good start, but we didn’t do much after that. D’Avanzo’s injury followed by a couple of substitutions saw a bit of a defensive collapse as two quickfire goals put Sheffield United in a strong position. D’Avanzo will be out for 3-4 days with a dead leg. We can have no complaints about the result.

Middlesbrough agree to my negotiation over their loan offer for Will Keane and he agrees to the temporary switch.

Read Growing the Grecians #62.

Read from Growing the Grecians #1.

Growing the Grecians #60 -That’s the hat-trick!

Whilst I’m not expecting us score as many as against Portsmouth, hopefully we can string a couple of wins together.

Date: Saturday 11th February 2017
Opponent: West Ham United (2nd)
Venue: St. James Park
Odds: Exeter City=7/2, Draw=9/4, West Ham United=4/6
Weather: Drizzle, 5C
Referee: Mr. Lee Probert

Luca D’Avanzo makes his 25th league appearance for us in a game billed as a promotion showdown between 2nd and 4th. We put some pressure on early and force a number of corners. The opening goal comes from a corner in the 12th minute. Oliver Norwood takes an inswinger and Bradley Johnson, 6 yards out at the near post, heads in his 6th goal of the season. Four minutes later, a ball over the top is collected by Cole, but his first touch is heavy and Aaron McCarey is able to smother the ball. Cole shoots from 16 yards in the 21st minute, but McCarey is able to make the save and we clear for a throw. Three minutes later, Nolan shoots from 10 yards. Despite being so close, it goes wildly over the bar. West Ham are piling the pressure on and McCarey is called into action again in the 26th minute, with Cole being denied from 18 yards. McCarey doesn’t hold, but we clear and Federico Cenci picks up the clearance but gets fouled by Mora, who has his name taken by Mr. Probert. A cross from the left wing in the 33rd minute is met by the head of Faubert 8 yards out, but it’s straight at McCarey and he holds. Two minutes later, McCarey again denies Faubert from 8 yards, although he’s unable to hold this time. We are able to clear the ball to safety. In the 37th minute, we have a rare opportunity when an outswinging Norwood corner is met 6 yards out at the near post by Cenci, but his header goes just over. Two minutes before half time, Mora goes through Cenci. It’s a clear free kick and booking, but Mr. Probert waves play on.

Michel shoots from 20 yards in the 48th minute, but there’s no danger to West Ham’s goal as it goes high and wide. Faubert crosses from the right in the 54th minute and Cole levels the scores from 6 yards. I introduce Michele Marconi for Jonny Hayes in the 57th minute; Marconi plays as striker, with Cenci moving to the right wing. West Ham continue to pressure and McCarey saves from Cole from 20 yards in the 61st minute. Matic enters Mr. Probert’s book one minute later for a foul on Michel. Three minutes later, Nolan joins him in the book for a foul on Norwood. With 23 minutes left, Johnson plays in Michel and he hits a first-time curling effort from 20 yards – Boffin saves well and pushes away, allowing the defence to put it behind for a corner. Norwood takes the resulting corner and it’s an outswinger that is met by the head of Cenci at the near post 6 yards out. He heads the ball powerfully downwards and Boffin parries. It’s going in, but Ward-Prowse clears off the line. Johnson enters Mr. Probert’s book in the 73rd minute for a foul on Nolan. Cole remains a threat and he fires just over from 20 yards in the 75th minute. Four minutes later, Michel shoots from five yards further out, but the result is same. With 5 minutes to go, Cenci tangles with Viler in the area and goes down. Mr. Probert’s whistle goes. PENALTY! Cenci steps up. It’s high to Boffin’s right. It’s in! It’s his 19th goal of the season and surely the winner. Loic Fournier replaces Michel in the 90th minute as I look for a defensive midfielder to screen the defence and see the game out. He does and we record the win.

Result: Exeter City 2-1 West Ham United
Man of the Match: Faubert
Ratings: GK-McCarey (6.9), DR-Zapotoka (6.9), DCR-D’Avanzo (6.9), DCL-Vukovic (6.9), DL-Riccardi (7.0), MCR-Norwood (7.5, A), MCL-Johnson (7.4, G, booked), AMR-Hayes (6.2, sub 57), AMC-Michel (6.9, sub 90), AML-Besse (6.9), ST-Cenci (7.2, G). Subs-Marconi (6.9, on 57), Fournier (on 90). Unused-Bertolucci, Rentea, Keane.
Attendance: 8,714
League Position: 3rd
Match Stats:

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Not a great performance, but we scrape the win. It’s an important win against a rival at the top of the table and it’s the third time this season we’ve beaten West Ham 2-1 (although we did require stoppage time in the League Cup). It was a nerveless late penalty from Cenci to seal the win.

Stefano Colantuono, the manager of Atalanta, was in attendance. He’s rumoured to be interested in signing Jagos Vukovic.

Dacian Varga resumes full training. However, we lose Jan Pavlov for three months with a broken ankle that he picks up in a reserve team game.

Birmingham City and Middlesbrough both offer to loan Will Keane for 2 months and a future fee of £275,000 to buy him at any point during the loan spell. With Birmingham being top of the league, I reject their offer as I don’t want to help a promotion rival. I negotiate Middlesbrough’s offer, removing the future fee.

Read Growing the Grecians #61.

Read from Growing the Grecians #1.

Growing the Grecians #59 – In our Pomp

Our poor form continued last time out as our troubles in front of goal show little sign of disappearing.

Date: Saturday 4th February 2017
Opponent: Portsmouth (22nd)
Venue: Fratton Park
Odds: Portsmouth=13/8, Draw=2/1, Exeter City=6/4
Weather: Hail, 1C
Referee: Mr. Anthony Taylor

Jagos Vukovic makes his 100th league appearance for the club, but he’s topped by Michel who is making his 150th league appearance for us. Aaron McCarey is called into action in the first minute when Varney shoots from 8 yards, but he’s equal to the shot and holds on. Jonny Hayes finds the net from 12 yards in the 5th minute, but unfortunately it’s the side netting. Ten minutes later, Hayes picks the ball up on the halfway line and elects to shoot from 16 yards; Henderson is able to tip the ball wide for a corner. At the 21 minute mark, Michel shoots from 25 yards, but it gets deflected to Federico Cenci. He’s 8 yards out and coolly slots home, but the linesman’s flag is up. Offside. It looks like being another of those days again. Bradley Johnson plays in Cenci in the 28th minute. The flag stays down. He shoots from 10 yards. It’s underneath Henderson and in for his 17th goal of the season. Two minutes later, we’re two up – Michel plays in Cenci and he shoots from 16 yards. It’s not another goal for him as Henderson saves, but the rebound falls to Alain Besse who rolls the ball into an empty net from 18 yards for his first goal for the club. Two minutes later, it’s three! Oliver Norwood plays in Cenci and he hits a powerful shot from 18 yards for his 18th goal of the season. In the 38th minute, a Vukovic cross from the left is deflected to Hayes and he scores his 4th goal of the season from 12 yards. I’m not sure where this has come from, but it’s very welcome! Two minutes before half time, Ghilas shoots wide from 18 yards.

Eight minutes into the second half, Besse plays in Cenci. He’s 12 yards out and shoots, but Henderson denies him his hat-trick with a save. One minute before the hour mark, an outswinging Norwood corner is met at the near post by a diving header 6 yards out from Cenci; Henderson blocks the header and Portsmouth scramble it clear. In the 68th minute, Cenci takes a free kick from 20 yards out. It’s over the wall. It’s dipping. But not enough. It hits the bar. The ball comes off the bar, hits Henderson’s back and goes in for an own goal. With 20 minutes to go, Michele Marconi replaces Michel and Cenci drops back to playing in the hole as Marconi plays up front. Rezek shoots from 18 yards in the 74th minute, forcing McCarey into a good save before we complete the clearance. I bring on Loic Fournier for Johnson with 14 minutes to go to try and limit Portsmouth’s chances. The final action of note comes in the 80th minute when a curling Hayes effort from 25 yards forces a great save from Henderson at the expense of a corner.

Result: Portsmouth 0-5 Exeter City
Man of the Match: Federico Cenci
Ratings: GK-McCarey (7.7), DR-Zapotoka (7.9), DCR-D’Avanzo (8.1), DCL-Vukovic (8.6, A), DL-Riccardi (8.2), MCR-Norwood (8.1, A), MCL-Johnson (8.0, A, sub 76), AMR-Hayes (8.2, G), AMC-Michel (8.2, A, sub 70), AML-Besse (8.5, G), ST-Cenci (9.7, 2G, A). Subs-Marconi (6.7, on 70), Fournier (on 76). Unused-Bertolucci, Rentea, Keane.
Attendance: 11,519
League Position: 4th
Match Stats:

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Portsmouth #FM12

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We’ve perhaps been a bit unfortunate in front of goal for the past couple of months, but we found our shooting boots today. A four-goal salvo in 10 first half minutes secured the game for us. It’s certainly nice to be amongst the goals again and hopefully it can be a platform for us to build upon and get our campaign properly back on track. Aaron McCarey, Jagos Vukovic and Gennaro Riccardi all make Team of the Week following our excellent win.

Hull City are concerned that Steve Cotterill may leave at the end of the season; if he does, the media make me favourite to replace him. The Football League Paper report that we’re in the process of appointing a new chairman.

I make three free transfer signings:

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Lehtinen #FM12

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Motturi #FM12

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Svendsen #FM12

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Read Growing the Grecians #60.

Read from Growing the Grecians #1.

Growing the Grecians #58 – Midweek woes

We return home after our disappointing trip to Rotherham.

Date: Tuesday 31st January 2017
Opponent: Hull City (13th)
Venue: St. James Park
Odds: Exeter City=6/4, Draw=2/1, Hull City=13/8
Weather: Drizzle, 4C
Referee: Mr. Jon Moss

Aaron McCarey starts for us, making his league debut for us and the 100th league appearance of his career. Three minutes in, Jonny Hayes heads the ball down and a half volley from Federico Cenci from 12 yards out goes over. A minute later, Alain Besse cuts in from the left and shoots wide from 8 yards. Michel flicks the ball on in the 8th minute and Cenci shoots from 16 yards, forcing Brooks-Meade to make a good save in tipping the ball wide for a corner. We continue pressing and Hayes shoots from 18 yards in the 25th minute and Brooks-Meade is required to concede a corner again. Oliver Norwood’s inswinging corner in the 35th minute is met by Bradley Johnson 6 yards out at the near post, but it goes just over. With one minute to go until half time, Roman Chaloupka fouls Fryatt and Mr. Moss points to the spot. Fryatt is the man entrusted with the spot kick and puts it low to McCarey’s left to score.

Cenci looks to turn provider in the 46th minute when he plays in Michel, who looks to chip Brooks-Meade from 25 yards. He lifts the ball over the keeper, but it doesn’t drop quick enough and hits the bar before bouncing over. Mr. Moss’ book sees some action, with Cenci, Chaloupka and and Evans entering his book in the 49th, 52nd and 53rd minute respectively. With 25 minutes to go, Michele Marconi comes on for Michel, with Cenci dropping back to the attacking midfield role as Cenci goes up top. Catalin Rentea replaces Chaloupka – he goes to right back and Lubomir Zapotoka moves into the centre of defence as Jagos Vukovic shifts across to left back. Mr. Moss continues to hand out cards, booking Hayes, Poulsen and Vukovic. De Jong takes the free kick after Vukovic’s booking and an unmarked Michalik scores from 8 yards at the far post. I respond by bringing on Will Keane for Hayes – Keane plays behind Marconi and Cenci goes out wide to the right. The change has no impact and the game peters out, although Mr. Moss books Fryatt in the 77th minute and Rentea in the 87th minute.

Result: Exeter City 0-2 Hull City
Man of the Match: Michalik
Ratings: GK-McCarey (6.5), DR-Zapotoka (6.0), DCR-D’Avanzo (6.8), DCL-Vukovic (6.8, booked), DL-Chaloupka (5.1, booked, sub 65), MCR-Norwood (6.5), MCL-Johnson (6.9), AMR-Hayes (6.9, booked, sub 75), AMC-Michel (6.5, sub 65), AML-Besse (6.8), Cenci (6.8, booked). Subs-Rentea (6.4, booked, on 65), Marconi (6.5, on 65), Keane (6.7, on 75). Unused-Bond, O’Toole.
Attendance: 8,676
League Position: 4th
Match Stats:

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Hull #FM12

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It was a pretty scrappy game with few chances and we didn’t make the most of our early pressure and were punished for it again. It was a disappointing result and performance.

Jay Spearing resumes full training, but Jonathan Bond strains his neck in a reserve game against Fulham and will be out for 8-10 days.

Clement Baud returns from his loan spell at Millwall and Martin Brandt returns from his loan spell at MK Dons.

The January awards are made. Andrei Goian of Sheffield United is named Player of the Month, whilst Burnley’s Luciano Thijsen is Young Player of the Month. Graeme Jones of Sheffield United scored Goal of the Month. Manager of the Month is awarded to David Jones of Cardiff City. In League 2, Busao (on loan at Bristol Rovers) comes in second place in the Young Player of the Month award.

Read Growing the Grecians #59.

Read from Growing the Grecians #1.

Growing the Grecians #57 – The Chuckle Brothers organise the defences

Buoyed by a two-goal victory, we look to string a couple of wins together for the first time in a long time.

Date: Saturday 21st January 2017
Opponent: Rotherham United (24th)
Venue: Rotherham Community Stadium
Odds: Rotherham United=6/4, Draw=2/1, Exeter City=13/8
Weather: Sleet, 1C
Referee: Mr. Stuart Attwell

Following the departure of Metodi Spasov and the illness of Jonathan Bond, Eugenio Bertolucci gets the number 1 shirt (figuratively speaking) and makes his league debut for the club. Oliver Norwood is also making his league debut for us, whilst Jagos Vukovic makes his 225th career league appearance. A game against the club bottom of the league gives them all a good chance to mark their milestones with a victory.

Four minutes in, Michele Marconi runs into the area and shoots from 16 yards. Whilst the Rotherham defence might have been napping in allowing him to do so, Blackman is alert and saves before the Rotherham defence wakes up and clear for a throw. Two minutes later, Melikson takes a free kick from the left. It’s the turn of our defence to go to sleep as Arey is 6 yards out at the far post and unmarked. He makes no mistake, putting our hosts into the lead. Federico Cenci goes close to drawing us level ten minutes later, but his shot from 18 yards goes just over. Marconi passes to Jonny Hayes in the 18th minute and Blackman is on hand to deny him from 10 yards at the expense of a corner. One minute after the half hour mark, Porter shoots from 25 yards. It hits the bar, bounces down and in. We’re sinking without trace against the club bottom of the league. With one minute to go until half time, Hayes crosses from the right and Cenci, 1 yard out at the far post, scores his 15th goal of the season. It’s also our first away goal for nearly two months.

Any hopes that a goal on the stroke of half time would spur us on and dashed. Porter shoots just over in the 53rd minute and in the 61st minute, Rotherham surely secure the points; Celik crosses from the right and Airey slides in at the far post, scoring from 6 yards. John-Joe O’Toole makes way in the 65th minute, with Michel his replacement as I replace a defensive midfielder with an attacking one as we go searching for at least two goals. Marconi fires just wide from 18 yards with 20 minutes to go and two minutes later, his shot from 12 yards is spilled by Blackman and then cleared to safety. With 11 minutes to go, Norwood takes an outswinging corner and finds Cenci unmarked 6 yards out at the near post. Cenci heads in his 2nd of the game and 16th of the season to give us a chance. Unfortunately, we’re unable to get anything of note going and Rotherham see the game out.

Result: Rotherham United 3-2 Exeter City
Man of the Match: Federico Cenci
Ratings: GK-Bertolucci (6.1), DR-Zapotoka (6.6), DCR-D’Avanzo (6.6), DCL-Vukovic (6.8), DL-Chaloupka (6.7), MCR-Norwood (7.5, A), MC-O’Toole (5.7, sub 65), MCL-Johnson (6.0), AMR-Hayes (6.9, A), AML-Cenci (8.8, 2G), ST-Marconi (6.1). Sub-Michel (6.9, on 65). Unused-Wilkinson, Rentea, Besse, Keane.
Attendance: 5,833
League Position: 2nd
Match Stats:

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Rotherham #FM12

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Although it was nice to finally score away from home again, we should have left with all three points. Marconi’s shooting boots were not on and just about every chance Rotherham had ended up in our net. It’s the kind of result that I fear that we’re going to look back on with regret at the end of the season.

Jonathan Bond resumes full training after his illness. Alain Besse and Florian Koch request to be put onto the transfer list and I accept both requests. I also accept a request from Roberto Carlos Gutierrez Ramos to be removed from the transfer list.

Loans (Offers)

Dominik Masek to Palencia until the end of the season (can buy at any time for £120,000)
Busao to extend loan at Bristol Rovers for 3 months
Richard Ibrahim to extend loan at Plymouth Argyle until end of season
Paolo Palese to Como until end of season
Adolfo Mannino to Campobasso until end of season
Roman Chaloupka to Sheffield Wednesday until end of season (£80,000 and can be bought at any time for £525,000 – reject)
Michel to Real Sociedad until end of season (£300,000 and can be bought at any time for £375,000 – reject)
Clement Baud to extend loan at Millwall until end of season
Martin Brandt to extend loan at MK Dons until end of season
Per Fischer to Brighton and Hove Albion until end of season
Per Fischer to Sheffield Wednesday until end of season
Per Fischer to FC Nordsjaelland until end of season
Dennis Schmid to Frankfurt until end of season

Loans (Out)

Tomasz Surowiak to Plymouth Argyle
Busao extends loan at Bristol Rovers
Richard Ibrahim extends loan at Plymouth Argyle
Dominik Masek to Palencia
Per Fischer to Brighton and Hove Albion

Loans (Rejected by player)

Martin Koci (extension at Southend United)
Declan Warburton (extension at Stevenage)
David Goikoetxea (Lugo)
Paolo Palese (Como)
Adolfo Mannino (Campobasso)
Martin Brandt (extension at MK Dons)
Clement Baud (extension at Millwall)
Dennis Schmid (Frankfurt

Loans (Returning players)

Declan Warburton from Stevenage (glad to return)
Martin Koci from Southend United (glad to return)

Transfers (In)

Aaron McCarey for £90,000 from Birmingham City

Transfers (Offers)

Espanyol for Lubomir Zapotoka – £220,000, £725,000 over 24 months, £45,000 after promotion and 25% profit from next sale (negotiate, asking for £220,000, £1,500,000 over 30 months, £100,000 after promotion and 10% of next sale, Espanyol reject)
Wolverhampton Wanderers for Philipp Langer – £250,000 and 25% profit of next sale (negotiate, asking from £250,000, £1,000,000 over 24 months, £100,000 after 10 league goals and £50,000 after 40 games; Wolves come back with an offer of £300,000 that I reject)

Transfers (Out)

Johan Hammar to Ascoli at end of season (free)

Transfers (Rumours)

Southampton are preparing a bid for Jagos Vukovic
Wolverhampton Wanderers stepping up their chase for Philipp Langer
Fulham are interested in Alain Besse

Read Growing the Grecians #58.

Read from Growing the Grecians #1.