My latest column in The Grecian Gazette following our home fixture against Aston Villa.
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:
Aston Villa Lineup:
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:
With little happening, I make another like-for-like substitution in the 62nd minute:
Aston Villa make a change of their own in the 67th minute:
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:
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:
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.
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).
League Position: 13th
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!
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 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.
League Position: 12th
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)
Rune Poulsen (DM/MC)
After the squad players got a run out in the League Cup against Spurs, the regular starters return for an important match. Obviously the Premier League brings exciting games for us against the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea et al, but the real big games for us are against the teams who are likely to be battling to avoid relegation.
Date: Saturday 30th September 2017
Opponent: Queens Park Rangers (19th)
Venue: St. James Park
Odds: Exeter City=5/4, Draw=11/5, Queens Park Rangers=7/4
Weather: Wet, 13C
Referee: Mr. Lee Mason
Ten minutes in, Cox plays the ball over the top of our defence. They turn and chase, but Himcinschi was already running forwards and gets to the ball first. He shoots from 8 yards out. Ben Amos dives. He gets a firm hand to the ball and puts it behind for a corner.
On the quarter hour mark, Mutesa brings down Lubomir Zapotoka. Mr. Mason blows his whistle and comes running over, brandishing a yellow card to the retreating Mutesa. Whilst Mutesa is retreating, Zapotoka is still down. The physio comes running on and it soon signalling to the bench that a change is needed. I send on Fabio Mora as his replacement, which sees him make his first league appearance for the club. With the change completed, Bertin Matip stands over the ball on the right to take the free kick. Matip whips the free kick in. It hits Federico Cenci, heads goalwards and rolls under Woods. It’s in! His 4th goal of the season. He certainly didn’t mean it and has definitely scored better goals, but they all count. Perfect punishment for QPR for injuring Zapotoka.
We continue to probe and press, looking to extend our lead. In the 29th minute, Bradley Johnson plays a killer through ball. It’s a race between Michel and Woods for who will get to it first. If it’s Michel, the lead will double. If it’s Woods, the danger for QPR will be gone. First to the ball is… Woods.
Mr. Mason takes Brecko’s name in the 35th minute for a foul on Cenci. Four minutes later, Whelan takes an outswinging corner. It’s deep and reaches the far post. The head of Addison, 6 yards out, meets the ball and draws QPR level. After having had the best of the half, it’s disappointing to concede. Especially from a set piece.
We look to hit straight back. Two minutes after conceding, Cenci plays in Rainer Breu. He’s 12 yards out and hits the ball goalwards. Woods is forced into action and concedes a corner. The last action of the half is in stoppage time, with Jonny Hayes picking up a booking for a foul on Bennett.
I rally the troops at half time as I feel that this is a game we can win. Eight minutes into the second half, we win a free kick 20 yards out. The challenge with a free kick so close is getting the ball up and down in time. Cenci steps up. It’s up. It’s down. It’s on target. It’s in Woods’ hands. He looks to get a counter attack started, but we win the ball back. The ball ends up with Hayes. He passes to Breu, who is 8 yards out. Unfortunately, he’s leaning back and his shot goes harmlessly over the bar.
In the 64th minute, Brecko fouls Cenci. The crowd are chanting for his dismissal. It’s just a free kick. Two minutes later, Brecko brings down Gennaro Riccardi. Again, the crowd chant for his dismissal. As before, Mr. Mason is happy to just award a free kick.
In the 70th minute, Matip takes an inswinging corner. QPR meet it at the near post and clear from the danger zone. It’s only a half clearance and reaches the edge of the area. Johnson is lurking on the edge of the area. He runs on to the clearance and fires an absolute bullet from 18 yards. It whistles just wide.
With fourteen minutes to go, Cenci runs down the left and crosses. It’s every defender’s nightmare – a low cross along the 6 yards box. Any touch could divert it in. It reaches the far post. Hayes is there and he scores his 1st goal of the season from 2 yards.
Hayes is replaced two minutes after giving us the lead, with David Bentley his replacement. Hayes is experienced, but I’m looking for the extra experience that Bentley will bring as we hopefully close the game out and claim three points. I also bring on Regis Olivier for Michel in the 90th minute, sacrificing my attacking midfielder for a defensive midfielder. It has the desired effect, with Johnson having a shot in stoppage time that Woods catches.
Man of the Match: Federico Cenci
Ratings: GK-Amos (6.9), DR-Zapotoka (6.8, sub 18), DCR-Ake (6.9), DCL-Vukovic (6.9), DL-Riccardi (6.9), MCR-Matip (6.9, A), MCL-Johnson (6.9), AMR-Hayes (7.4, G, booked, sub 78), AMC-Michel (6.9, sub 90), AML-Cenci (7.6, G), ST-Breu (6.9). Subs-Mora (6.9, on 18), Bentley (on 78), Olivier (on 90). Unused-Mello, Byrne, Norwood, Hrubesch.
League Position: 12th
The physio reports on Lubomir Zapotoka and it’s not good news. He will be out for 5-6 weeks with a sprained ankle.
There’s plenty of activity in the loan market. Carlisle United offer to loan Bruno Pierrat for a month, Yeovil Town offer to loan Erik Stage for a month, Crawley Town offer to loan Nicky Holmes for a month and Millwall offer to loan Arnaud Aubert for a month. I accept all offers and all the players make the temporary switch. Rochdale offer to extend the loan of Jon Rune Svendsen for three months; I accept, but he rejects and returns from his loan spell. Chesterfield offer to extend the loan of Adolfo Mannino for three months, whilst Brentford offer to extend Dariusz Lenartowski’s loan for three months. I agree to both extensions; Lenartowski agrees, but Mannino rejects.
I sign Swiss midfielder Ermin Jakirovic on a free transfer. As with most of my signings, he’s one for the future. However, he may get a run out in the FA Cup.
It’s just as well I’ve signed him as Oliver Norwood is unhappy about playing second fiddle to Bradley Johnson and hands in a transfer request. I reluctantly accept.
There’s also an award for Busao, who is on loan at Hereford United – he wins League 1 Young Player of the Month.