Can we get promoted with our first chance?

Three games of the season left. Eight points clear of third-placed Blackburn Rovers. 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:

Huddersfield #FM12

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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.

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Balmy December day

The games are coming thick and fast and we’re on the road again after our trip to Cardiff.

Date: Saturday 3rd December 2016
Opponent: Huddersfield United (14th)
Venue: Galpharm Stadium
Odds: Huddersfield Town=7/2, Draw=9/4, Exeter City=4/6
Weather: Drizzle, 18C
Referee: Mr. Stuart Attwell

I will start by pointing out that the temperature is not a mis-print. It did say 18C for the start of December. Surely some kind of a record. Bradley Johnson is making his 375th career league appearance, Jan Pavlov makes his 25th career league appearance and Dacian Varga is making his 175th league appearance for the club.

It’s a slow start in the warm conditions, with Frimpong shooting just over from 25 yards in the 16th minute. Three minutes later, Johnson marks his milestone by getting his name into Mr. Attwell’s book for a foul on Frimpong. Frimpong continues to shoot from 25 yards and hits an absolute rocket in the 26th minute, but it goes just wide. The weather is evidently having an impact as there is no further action of note in a dull first half.

Notable action in the second half begins in the 63rd minute when former Exeter left back Holmvik crosses from the right and Danalache helps the ball on with his head an in to the net from 10 yards out. Hopefully, it will be the catalyst for us to wake up. Two minutes after going behind, Michele Marconi slips in Varga. He steadies himself and shoots from 10 yards, but former Exeter keeper Cervi is up to the task and saves at the expense of a corner. Bertin Matip takes an outswinging corner in the 68th minute and Marconi flicks the ball on at the near post. The flick on reaches Jagos Vukovic at the far post and he heads back across the ball. It takes a superb diving save from Cervi, who claws the ball out, to deny him. I make a double substitution one minute later; Will Keane and Jonny Hayes come on for Marconi and Federico Cenci respectively. Johnson looks to mark his milestone with a goal, but his shot from 25 yards in the 73rd minute goes over. I make my final substitution in the 81st minute, with Michel replacing Pavlov – a defensive midfielder is replaced by an attacking one as I seek an equaliser (and dare I dream, a winner). Michel is able to find a yard of space 20 yards out in the 87th minute and shoots, but it’s a soft shot that Cervi easily fields. Matip enters Mr. Attwell’s book in the 88th minute following a foul on Denalache. Hayes hits a cross/shot from the right in the third minute of stoppage time, but Cervi comfortably and confidently catches the ball. There’s still time for one more chance though. In the fourth minute of stoppage time, Michel is 25 yards out and shoots. It beats Cervi, but it’s just wide and the hosts hold on.

Result: Huddersfield Town 1-0 Exeter City
Man of the Match: Holmvik
Ratings: GK-Bond (6.9), DR-Zapotoka (6.7), DCR-D’Avanzo (6.6), DCL-Vukovic (7.0), DL-Chaloupka (6.9), DMC-Pavlov (6.7, sub 81), MCR-Matip (6.8, booked), MCL-Johnson (6.7, booked), AMR-Cenci (6.4, sub 69), AML-Varga (6.8), ST-Marconi (6.6, sub 69). Subs-Hayes (6.5, on 69), Keane (6.5, on 69), Michel (on 81). Unused-Spasov, Rentea.
Attendance: 13,023
League Position: 1st
Match Stats:

Huddersfield #FM12

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Coming into the match, we had won our last four, whilst they had lost their last three; it would be fair to say it was a shock result. To be honest, we didn’t play all that well and only really started to play after going one down. Perhaps a loss was a little harsh on us, but I didn’t feel we were good enough to win. It’s important that we bounce back in our next game and ensure this result is just a blip. It is our first loss in 19 league games, the kind of run I’d definitely have taken at the start of the season.

Alessando Gaetani, the manager of Napoli, was one of the 13,023 in attendance. The media report that he’s in attendance because he’s interested in signing Federico Cenci. Chris Hjort returns from his loan spell at Bath City and Aaron Walker returns from loan at Plymouth Argyle. Cambridge beat Hartlepool in their 2nd Round replay in the FA Cup, so we now know our opponents in the 3rd Round. 14th placed Leicester City dispense with the services of Alex McLeish; my name is in the mix, but Gareth Southgate is the favourite to take the job.

Hitting the Town

Our next match is at home against Swindon Town, who are 24th in the league. Despite them being bottom and away from home, we’re 13/8 underdogs. I make no changes and Swindon soon have a plan to stop Dacian Varga as Doherty fouls him in the 3rd minute, picking up a yellow card in the process. Whilst they can stop him in open play, they can’t do anything about him taking corners; an inswinging corner by him in the 7th minute finds its way to Michele Marconi, who fires home from 4 yards for his 14th goal of the season. A great start for the underdogs! The underdogs show their teeth again in the 10th minute as Marconi turns provider, playing in Michel who coolly slots past the keeper from 12 yards for his 4th goal of the season. The favourites come close to pulling a goal back in the 30th minute when Richie heads against the crossbar from 12 yards out. Three minutes later, it’s our turn to go close with a header; Marconi crosses from the right and Varga heads overs from 10 yards out. We continue to push and in the 39th minute, Varga crosses from the left and an unmarked Jonny Hayes at the far post scores his 10th goal of the season from 6 yards out. Magera joins Doherty in the book in the 42nd minute when he fouls Varga. Our fourth goal comes in stoppage time and is also from the left – Gennaro Riccardi crosses and Michel volleys from 6 yards out, getting his second of the game and his fifth of the season. 4-0 at half time and we’ve been in total control. The second half starts just as well when Michel takes an inswinging corner in the 48th minute; it pinballs around the area until Sean Morrison pokes his second goal of the season from 2 yards out. Swindon pull a goal back in the 60th minute when Humphrey crosses from the right and Massey scores from 10 yards. Is there a comeback? Three minutes later, we stop any thoughts of a comeback as Federico Cenci scores. But wait! The flag is up. It’s ruled out for offside, so it stays at 5-1. The third booking of the game comes in the 70th minute when Varga fouls Taundry. Two minutes later, an inswinging Michaud corner is headed in by Magera from 6 yards, making it 5-2. Surely we can’t let a 5 goal lead slip? Cenci goes close to getting our sixth in the 77th minute when his free kick is tipped wide. Our sixth goal does come in the 83rd minute when Varga lays the ball off to Marconi, who blasts his second goal of the game (and 15th of the season) in from 30 yards, an absolute screamer that gets the 8714 in attendance on their feet. It also sets a club record, with the previous best having been set by Kostadin Hazurov in 2012/13 when he scored 14 goals. Marconi is named Man of the Match with a rating of 9.4, 2 goals and an assist. Despite this, the media praise Michel’s recent performances post-match. We’re 5th in the league after our 6-2 victory.

Following such a big victory, I bring in a few triallists; Slovakian striker Matej Kulka, Salvadoran centre-back Allen Soriano, Guatemalan centre-back Marvin Cordon and Georgian left-midfielder Vako Kazaishvili, all for a week. Also following our large win, Sean Morrison, Dacian Varga, Michel, Jonny Hayes and Michele Marconi get named in Team of the Week. Will Keane decides to join Barnsley on loan, whilst David Goikoetxea announces he has no intention of joining Sestao on loan; as soon as he rejects them, Pena Sport and Huracan Valencia offer to loan him and I accept both offers. Queens Park Rangers offer £400,000 for Jan Pavlov, along with 25% of the profit of the next sale; the bid is rejected, which results in them upping the initial offer to £425,000 along with 25% of the profit of the next sale, which I also reject. Pavlov is not the only player of mine that is wanted and Southampton bid £625,000 and 25% of the profit for Daniel Berger, whilst Norwich offer £120,000 up front and £200,000 over 12 months, along with 10% of the profit of the next sale – both offers are rejected. Metodi Spasov again offers to terminate his contract for £55,000 and again I reject his offer.

It’s a trip up to Galpharm Stadium to take on Huddersfield Town. They’re 16th in the league and we’re 4/1 underdogs for the trip. I name an unchanged line-up again. Huddersfield go close to opening the scoring in the 9th minute when when McDermott hits the bar from 20 yards. In the 15th minute, the first booking of the game is given when Jonny Hayes is fouled by Holmvik, my former left-back. Michele Marconi has a chance to open the scoring in the 19th minute when Hayes plays him in, but the keeper is out quickly to narrow the angle and Marconi shoots wide from 12 yards. The same duo combine in the 34th minute, with Marconi shooting over from 18 yards. Marconi shoots wide in the 39th minute from 18 yards, with Michel the provider this time. It’s looking like one of those days for both us and Marconi where it’s just not going to go in. The 41st minute sees Johnson flick on an inswinging Michel corner and Vukovic’s header at the far post is tipped over for another corner. We come close to being punished in the 44th minute when Blackman is unmarked at the far post, but he can only head against the crossbar from 6 yards. Stoppage time sees the second booking of the game as Perone fouls Dacian Varga. We do get punished in the 50th minute when a Schwegler cross from the right finds Thomas unmarked at the far post and he is able to finish from 6 yards. Jay Spearing picks up a yellow card in the 65th minute and he soon puts that behind him, playing the ball back to Johnson three minutes later, but Johnson can only shoot over from 16 yards. Huddersfield come close to extending their lead in the when Frimpong plays in Dalle Valla, but he only finds the side netting from 25 yards out. It’s our turn to punish them for a wasted chance a minute later as Michel plays in Hayes, who shoots and hits the post; Varga picks up the rebound and rolls it into an empty net from 6 yards for his fourth goal of the season and the equaliser. We continue to press and Michel has a couple of shots, but his efforts from 18 and 30 yards are at the keeper, meaning we have to settle for a point despite all the pressure we’ve had. Dacian Varga is named Man of the Match with a rating of 7.7 and a goal. Although we only get a point, it’s enough to move us up to 4th in the table.