What will the League 2 Playoff final be?


The Grecian Gazette 29/10/17

My latest column in The Grecian Gazette after our game against Sunderland.

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But this ground goes up to 12 (k)

A seven-goal thriller was the final game at St. James Park before the expansion work was completed. Would the first game with the increased capacity bring such excitement?

Date: Saturday 28th October 2017
Opponent: Sunderland (9th)
Venue: St. James Park
Odds: Exeter City=11/5, Draw-11/5, Sunderland=Evens
Weather: Dry, 9C
Referee: Mr. Alan Beck
Exeter City lineup:

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Sunderland lineup:

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As well as it being the first game at the expanded St. James Park, Jagos Vukovic makes his 125th career league appearance for the club. He’s been a stalwart at the back since joining us.

Thirteen minutes in, Federico Cenci passes to Rainer Breu. Breu passes back. Cenci instantly shoots low from 10 yards and…

a diving Gordon pushes the ball around the post for a corner.

It’s not a game full of end to end excitement. Thirty one minutes in, Cenci crosses from the left and the ball falls to Breu. He’s 8 yards and steadies himself. The steadying gives Paolo Andre the chance to get back and slide in, taking the ball off his toe at the expense of a corner.

Two minutes later, we win a free kick 30 yards out. Instead of electing to shoot, Cenci passes to Bradley Johnson. He’s 25 yards out and unmarked, but shoots first time, low and hard…

It’s his first goal of the season. He’s evidently been saving it for the increased capacity!

Nothing further happens in the first half and Sunderland look to change things up at half time in an attempt to get into the game.

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The 57th minute sees Sunderland have their first chance of note. Vossen is 20 yards out and shoots, but it’s safely over the bar.

Johnson finds himself 20 yards out in the 62nd minute. He’s got the taste and shoots again…

forcing a magnificent diving save from Gordon and we win a corner. Before it’s taken, Sunderland make their second change.

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Five minutes later, Sunderland make their final change in an effort to rescue something from the game.

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The change sees a chance a minute later. Johnson is 20 yards out again. He’s already had success shooting low, does it again and…

it’s straight at Gordon, who make a comfortable save.

Ortigoza enters Mr. Beck’s book in the 73rd minute for a foul on Breu. Two minutes later, Ilica Perak is 25 yards out. He shoots. He…

fires just over the crossbar.

With seven minutes to go, Ortigoza takes a free kick from the left. Djuricic is 4 yards out at the far post and heads in, drawing the visitors level. They haven’t really deserved it, but we haven’t really threatened enough to make the game safe.

With four minutes to go, Ortigoza enters Mr. Beck’s book for a foul on Cenci. Four minutes later, Cenci has evidently recovered. He plays in Jonny Hayes who is 10 yards out. He goes to pull the trigger, but Paolo Andre is alert and slides in to take the ball off his foot.

He’s put it past Gordon and surely scored the deciding goal! Plenty of late drama to mark the opening of the expanded stadium! Before Sunderland kick off, I make a change.

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It’s a defensive move as Marcel Hrubesch will play deeper. We see the game out and the larger crowd head home happy.


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Man of the Match: Federico Cenci
Ratings: Amos (6.9), Byrne (6.9), Ake (7.0), Vukovic (7.0), Riccardi (6.8), Perak (6.9), Matip (6.9), Johnson (8.1, G, sub 90), Hayes (7.3), Cenci (9.0, 2A), Breu (6.8). Sub-Hrubesch (on 90)
Attendance: 12,714
League Position: 13th
Match Stats:

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The increased capacity at St. James Park sees us set a record for gate receipts of £275,000.

Federico Cenci and Bradley Johnson get named in the Premier League Team of the Week.

Wrexham offer to loan Abraham Leggett for a month and he makes the switch. Yeovil Town would like Niklas Christensen on loan for a month and he agrees to spend time there. Crawley Town offer to extend Nicky Holmes’ loan spell by three months and all parties agree to the extension. I also receive and offer from Aldershot to extend Aaron Walker’s loan spell by three months, which I accept. Meanwhile, Bruno Pierrat returns from his loan spell at Carlisle United.

There’s good news on the injury front as Lubomir Zapotoka resumes full training.

Queens Park Rangers sack Julian De Guzman. The media make me the favourite to take over at Loftus Road and ask me about my interest. I tell them that I have no interest in taking the job.

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Federico Cenci comes third in the Player of the Month award. For Young Player of the Month, Rainer Breu comes in second place and Bertin Matip rounds out the top three. The League One Young Player of the Month award sees Josef Neckar, on loan at Reading, claim second place.

Moving up the Match of the Day order

We return to action after the shock result before the international break.

Date: Saturday 21st October 2017
Opponent: Aston Villa (13th)
Venue: St. James Park
Odds: Exeter City=6/4, Draw=2/1, Aston Villa=13/8
Weather: Drizzle, 13C
Referee: Mr. Keith Stroud
Exeter City Lineup:

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Aston Villa Lineup:

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Bertin Matip makes his 75th career league appearance. Three minutes in, Federico Cenci passes to Rainer Breu; he turns and fires low from 12 yards out. Loach dives, but can’t reach it. Unfortunately, it goes just wide of the post. Three minutes later, an inswinging Matip corner is met at the near post by Cenci. He heads downwards. Unlike Breu, he’s able to get his effort on target. However, a diving Agbonlahor header clears the ball off the line and keeps the scores level.

19 minutes in and Johansson passes to Agbonlahor. He’s 12 yards out and, like Breu, elects to shoot low. Amos dives, but can’t reach it. Unfortunately, it goes in and the visitors take the lead.

We look to hit straight back. One minute later, Cenci snaps a shot from 12 yards, but it’s straight at Loach who holds on to the ball. The 22nd minute sees Fabio Mora cross from the right. It gets deflected. To Cenci. 12 yards out. He makes no mistake, firing a low, powerful shot past Loach for his 5th goal of the season.

Cenci’s evidently got the taste and goes looking for more. Three minutes later, he’s 25 yards out and lets fly, but it’s no danger to Loach’s goal as it soars well over the crossbar.

Aston Villa go close to retaking the lead in the 31st minute when Agbonlahor crosses from the left; Kovacic meets it 10 yards out and hits the post, with Nathan Ake on hand to remove the danger. We go close to taking the lead in the 35th minute when Breu shoots from 20 yards. Loach saves on his line.

A goal before half time seems inevitable and it comes in the 40th minute. Muamba hits a free kick down the middle and Agbonlahor flicks on. The defence watches Amos come out, but no-one has gone with Bent, who gets to the ball first and finishes from 8 yards out. A straight free kick and no-one tracking a runner is a disappointing way to concede, especially with half time so close.

Whilst Villa’s second goal is disappointing, their third goal is outstanding. It comes two minutes later. Ku Ja-Cheol is 25 yards out and curls an effort into the top corner, putting Villa in complete control.

My half time words seem to have little impact and Villa start the second half the stronger of the two sides. Agbonlahor shoots wide from 16 yards in the 48th minute. Three minutes later, he’s 12 yards out and fires into the roof of the net, extending Villa’s lead further. Things are starting to get embarrassing now…

I make a straight swap substitution in the 53rd minute:

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With little happening, I make another like-for-like substitution in the 62nd minute:

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Aston Villa make a change of their own in the 67th minute:

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With 74 minutes on the clock, Breu cuts the ball back from the right byeline. It reaches the penalty spot, where Cenci volleys in his 2nd of the game (and 6th of the season) for what can only be a consolation goal.

Aston Villa make two changes before restarting the game:

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I make my final substitution a minute later, moving to a more defensive formation as I look to ensure our goal difference gets no worse:

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Agbonlahor comes close to ruining this plan in the 79th minute when he hits the post from 8 yards. With three minutes to go, he enters Mr. Stroud’s book for a foul on Ilica Perak.

We win a corner in the 89th minute. Matip takes an outswinging corner and Breu flicks the ball on at the near post. It reaches Ake at the far post. He’s two yards out. He heads the ball. He scores! His first goal for the club! Surely we can’t snatch a draw…

The first minute of stoppage time sees Bent hit a ferocious shot from 16 yards as he looks to secure the points for Villa. Amos makes a wonderful save, diverting the ball behind for a corner. Kovacic shoots from 18 yards a minute later and Amos parries the ball. Although we clear the ball, it’s enough for all three points to head to the West Midlands.


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Man of the Match: Federico Cenci
Ratings: Amos (5.9), Mora (6.7, A), Ake, 7.2, G), Vukovic (5.6), Riccardi (6.3), Matip (6.9), Johnson (5.9, sub 62), Hayes (5.7, sub 53), Michel (6.6, sub 74), Cenci (9.2, 2G), Breu (7.3, 2A). Subs-Gazzoli (6.9, on 53), Norwood (6.9, on 62), Perak (6.9, on 74).
Attendance: 8,105
League Position: 13th
Match Stats:

Villa #FM12

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Cenci’s two-goal stormer sees him make the Premier League Team of the Week.

Fabio Mora goes down with the flu and will be out for 5-7 days whilst he recovers. That means my top two right backs are out for our next game.

Kevin Bjerkestrand moves to Hereford United on loan for one month after an offer is made and all parties agree. I receive loan extension offers for Erik Stage and Bruno Pierrat from Yeovil Town and Carlisle United respectively. I agree to both; Stage agrees, but Pierrat rejects.

Our stadium expansion is completed and we will have an extra 4,000 seats for our next home match. We’ll have a five figure attendance!

You can’t please all of the people all of the time

A win last time out against QPR was a welcome boost and our first win in front of our fans in the league. Hopefully it will be a nice boost and we’ll see if we can record back-to-back wins…

Date: Saturday 7th October 2017
Opponent: Manchester City (1st)
Venue: City of Manchester Stadium
Odds: Manchester City=1/6, Draw=5/1, Exeter City=10/1
Weather: Drizzle, 13C
Referee: Mr. Andre Marriner

Ok, maybe back-to-back wins is asking a bit much as we’ve got arguably our toughest test to date, but it’s nice to dream. It would be the most amazing way to mark Jagos Vukovic’s 250th career league appearance and Jonny Hayes’ 125th league appearance for us! I tweak our tactics, electing to counter attack and play more directly.

Unsurprisingly, we’re defending straight from kick off. And I mean straight from kick off. Manchester City attack from the start, Nathan Ake brings down Nangis and Mr. Marriner produces a yellow card. A centre back on a booking with just 89 minutes left; what could go wrong???? It certainly doesn’t make our task any easier.

Manchester City create their first clear chance in the 7th minute when Isimat-Mirin heads towards goal from 10 yards out. It’s close to Ben Amos and he tips over the bar for a corner.

Federico Cenci picks up his seemingly customary yellow card in the 14th minute for a foul on Savic. Two players booked within the opening quarter of an hour away against one of the league’s potent attacks is not how I’d have hoped things would be going. Still, at least they haven’t scored.

Spoke too soon. Two minutes later, Ayew picks the ball up on the right wing, runs all the way across to the left side of our area, gets into it and shoots low from 12 yards into the net, with the ball going underneath Amos’ arm. A tackle or two along the way would have been nice, but it would probably have led to a third yellow card if we were lucky or Ake being dismissed if we weren’t.

It does seem to have acted as a bit of a wake up though and two minutes after conceding, Rainer Breu shoots from 20 yards. It’s a low effort and Hart saves it comfortably, but at least we’ve got to the right end of the pitch and shown that we can fleetingly cause them problems.

However, our effort seems to have the same effect as poking a bear with a stick. Nangis shoots just wide from 12 yards in the 22nd minute. One minute later, Kompany fires wide from 16 yards out. A minute after that, Ayew finds Nangis 12 yards out. As he did two minutes earlier, he shoots wide. It looks like a matter of time before there’s another goal.

Three minutes later, there’s another goal. It’s from a Kompany pass. A loose pass that Breu picks up and shoots from 18 yards, beating the dive from Hart to find the bottom corner and record his 4th goal of the season to draw us level – we’ll take that! The stadium is stunned into silence. Apart from a section going crazy.

It’s not just the crowd who seem stunned and Manchester City take a few minutes to get going again. Hazard shoots from 12 yards in the 37th minute, but has the same directional problems as Nangis from that distance. Isimat-Mirin earns a yellow card in the 39th minute for a foul on Breu – it seems we’ve got them rattled.

The important thing is that having drawn level, we hold on until half time. In stoppage time, the ball falls to Aguero. He’s 12 yards out. I can think of plenty of other players who I would prefer to see shooting against us from 12 yards out on the stroke of half time. Actually, no I can’t – he shoots wide and we go into the break with the scores level.

We start the second half as we started the first – a booking. This time, Fabio Mora enters Mr. Marriner’s book for fouling Hazard. Ten minutes later, a cross from the right finds Hazard 8 yards out. He hits an absolute thunderbolt that crashes off the bar before we clear to safety.

In the 57th minute, Nangis gets the wrong side of Ake and collects a ball over the top. Ake has already been booked, so any kind of a challenge is going to be fraught with danger. Nangis runs for 20 yards and elects to shoot from 18 yards, but fires harmlessly over the bar.

Rainer Breu is forced to go off injured in the 62nd minute and I bring on Adriano Gazzoli as his replacement. Gazzoli goes to the right wing, Hayes moves across to the left wing and Cenci plays as our striker.

Hazard takes an outswinging corner in the 67th minute. Defensively, it seems as though we’ve decided that Aguero 8 yards out doesn’t need marking. Unsurprisingly, a free header by Aguero from 8 yards out is on target. Thankfully, one of our defenders has stayed switched on – Gennaro Riccardi is manning the near post and he puts the ball behind for another corner, which we defend much better.

With 16 minutes to go, Aguero tries his luck from 25 yards, but is unable to get his shot on target. Three minutes later, he is able to get a shot on target from 18 yards out. Amos gets down quickly and makes a save, with Ake completing the clearance. Before the throw in can be taken, Bradley Johnson replaces Oliver Norwood, with the ex-Manchester United man coming on to a crescendo of boos.

In the third minute of stoppage time, I bring on Michel for Federico Cenci. It’s partly to ensure he doesn’t pick up a second yellow card, partly to play with no striker (Michel comes on as an attacking midfielder), but mainly to try and run the clock down.

We’re five minutes into stoppage time. I’m pointing frantically at my watch. Aguero is 30 yards out on the left hand side. He looks up. There’s few options ahead of him. He hits a wickedly curling shot. It’s a magnificent effort. The only thing that’s better than the shot is the save from Amos. A full length dive and he pushes it round the post for a corner. We defend the corner and Mr. Marriner finally blows his whistle for full time.


Man City #FM12

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Man of the Match: Ayew
Ratings: GK-Amos (7.0), DR-Mora (6.9, booked), DCR-Ake (7.2, booked), DCL-Vukovic (6.9), DL-Riccardi (7.0), DMC-Olivier (6.8), MCR-Matip (6.9), MCL-Johnson (6.9, sub 77), AMR-Hayes (6.9), AML-Cenci (5.9, booked, sub 90), ST-Breu (7.2, G, sub 62). Subs-Gazzoli (6.4, on 62), Norwood (on 77), Michel (on 90). Unused-Mello, Jenkins, Byrne, Hrubesch.
Attendance: 46,531
League Position: 12th
Match Stats:

Man City #FM12

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Charlie Howard, the spokesman for the fans, indicates that the fans are slightly concerned following our 1-1 draw at Manchester City. I accept it wasn’t pretty and we rode our luck, but considering we were 10/1 underdogs (and 5/1 to even get a draw), I’d say they should be pretty pleased that we’re travelling back to Devon with a point against the league leaders.

On the injury front, there’s good and bad news. The good news is that Ilica Perak and Alain Besse resume full training. The bad news is that Regis Olivier pulls his hamstring and will be out for 3-4 weeks.

There’s plenty of activity in the loan market. Burnley offer to loan Jon Rune Svendsen for 3 months; all parties agree and he moves. Aaron Walker joins Aldershot on loan for a month after an offer is accepted by all. We welcome back Adolfo Mannino from loan at Chesterfield. He barely has a chance to put his bags down before Rochdale offer to loan him for a month. I accept, so does he and he’s on his way. At least packing should have been easy! AFC Wimbledon would like Chris Hjort on loan for a month. I accept the offer, but he’s not keen and rejects it. Luton would like Nathan Holland on loan for a month. I agree and he also agrees to the temporary switch. Damien Lambert is the subject of a month-long loan offer from Oxford United and he makes the move after all parties agree.

Wrexham offer to extend the loan spell of Valery Tamitu for the 3 months – all parties agree and he’ll stay there until the New Year. Doncaster Rovers would like to extend Kevin Bjerkestrand’s loan by three months. I agree, but he rejects the extension. We also receive a three month loan extension offer from Crawley for Michel Krejcik and he’s happy to stay there.

I also make a couple of new signings on free transfers. @AshTheNeon is unlikely to be surprised by the nationality of our new signings:

Niclas Lindegaard (ST)

Lindegaard #FM12

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Rune Poulsen (DM/MC)

Poulsen #FM12

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