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Over the summer, there were rumours that Ronaldo would return to the Premier League. Before the Super Cup, there were rumours that Bale would return to the Premier League. I don’t think either of them will leave Real Madrid through this transfer window, but if one of them did return to the Premier League, which one would you rather see? Leave a comment with your reason after voting.
After brushing aside Colchester United in the League Cup, we turn our attentions back to the League and head up North. Although all our away games see us heading North…
Date: Saturday 2nd September 2017
Opponent: Leeds United (18th)
Venue: Elland Road
Odds: Leeds United=Evens, Draw=11/5, Exeter City=11/5
Weather: Breezy, drizzle, 13C
Referee: Mr. Mike Jones
Those who impressed in the League Cup drop to the bench (if selected) for another match described as a relegation six-pointer. Chamberlain looks to put the hosts into the lead in the 4th minute, but he can’t keep his shot from 20 yards down.
Bertin Matip takes an inswinging corner in the 10th minute. The head of Lubomir Zapotoka, six yards out at the near post, flicks on and Lewis pushes the ball wide for another corner. Matip jogs across to take the corner from the other side. Both hands go up and he swings the ball out towards the near post. Federico Cenci runs onto it and meets it with a header six yards out. Lewis isn’t going to get near to Cenci’s header, but the post denies him the opener and Leeds put the rebound behind for another corner. Matip takes another outswinger to the near post, but Leeds prevent Zapotoka or Cenci meeting it with their head. They intercept and counter. Movsisyvan runs down the left and squares the ball into the area. Wilfried is on hand to sweep the ball into the net from 8 yards and open the scoring. An absolute sucker punch.
We respond well and Bradley Johnson shoots from 30 yards in the 18th minute, forcing Lewis to push the ball away. Ben Amos is called into action six minutes later, making a good diving save when Gosling shoots from 18 yards. Cenci shoots from 25 yards in the 27th minute, but Lewis makes a comfortable catch. Wilfried looks to grab his second in the 31st minute with an absolute rocket of a shot, but Amos is able to put it behind at the expense of a corner. As half time approaches, Hamill shoots from 18 yards and Amos saves. He can’t hold on and Hamill shoots again from 18 yards; Amos saves again for a good double save.
I get the troops into the dressing room at half time and look to fire them up. An early goal would certainly help. And there is an early goal. Unfortunately, it’s for Leeds; Addy curls in a beautiful cross from the left seconds into the half and Lester at the far post makes no mistake from 6 yards out with his header. It’s an outstanding cross and it was all but impossible for Lester to miss.
Nathan Ake brings down Movsisyvan in the 52nd minute and Mr. Jones produces the first card of the game. Bradley Johnson shoots from distance again in the 59th minute. He’s only 20 yards out this time, but it sails wide. Before Lewis takes the goal kick, I make my first substitution as Jonny Hayes replaces the anonymous David Bentley on the right. I make a double substitution 10 minutes later as Rainer Breu replaces Regis Olivier and Oliver Norwood comes on for Johnson. Olivier was playing as a defensive midfielder and Breu, making his 100th career league appearance, drops in behind Cenci, whilst Norwood is a straight swap for Johnson in the middle of the park.
Norwood take a free kick from 25 yards out in the 74th minute, but it goes just wide as we look to pull one back. Four minutes later, Breu feeds Cenci and Lewis needs to be sharp to push away his effort from 16 yards. In stoppage time, Gosling shoots from 20 yards and hits the post. Movsisyvan reacts quickest, he squares the ball from the left and Vokes is on hand to tap home from 6 yards.
Result: Leeds United 3-0 Exeter City
Man of the Match: Addy
Ratings: GK-Amos (6.4), DR-Zapotoka (6.9), DCR-Ake (6.0, booked), DCL-Vukovic (5.9), DL-Riccardi (6.1), DMC-Olivier (6.7, sub 69), MCR-Matip (6.7), MCL-Johnson (6.6, sub 69), AMR-Bentley (5.7, sub 59), AML-Besse (6.0), ST-Cenci (6.8). Subs-Hayes (6.8, on 59), Norwood (6.8, on 69), Breu (6.7, on 69).
League Position: 15th
Another bad result at Leeds, this one a goal worse than our loss when in poor form at the start of the season. I felt as though we had the better of the game, but Leeds were ruthless in front of goal and ran out comfortable winners. It looks as though it could be a long season ahead of us. On the plus side, Federico Cenci has gone a game without picking up a yellow card!
The game against Leeds takes us into the international break. I arrange a friendly to keep players match sharp and we host Manchester United. It’s televised and we run out 3-0 winners. It’s an expensive friendly as Melvin Dubois is forced off injured with a dead leg that will keep him out for 3-4 days and Alain Besse sprains his ankle and will be out for 5-6 weeks. More positive news on the injury front sees Loic Fournier resume full training.
Rochdale offer to loan Jon Rune Svendson for a month, I agree and he moves. I also accept month-long loan offers for Adolfo Mannino and Dariusz Lenartowski from Chestefield and Brentford respectively as two more players leave the club temporarily.
Although the transfer window has closed, free agents can still be signed. And the biggest free agent? Zlatan Ibrahimovic. We’re one of many interested clubs. I know I normally sign young player, but how can I turn down the chance to sign Zlatan. Whilst we’re interested in signing him, he’s not interested in moving to Exeter. He also rejects Everton in favour of signing for newly-promoted Birmingham City.
The day we’ve been working towards for six seasons and one we’ve been looking forward to since the fixtures were announced. St. James Park will host it’s first ever Premier League game.
Date: Saturday 26th August 2017
Opponent: Liverpool (2nd)
Venue: St. James Park
Odds: Exeter City=11/5, Draw=11/5, Liverpool=Evens
Weather: Breezy, showers, 15C
Referee: Mr. Billy Siddall
The first ever Premier League game at St. James Park sees us welcome the five-time European champions. I’m expecting it to be a tougher examination than we received at Fulham as an unchanged starting XI exit the tunnel to roars of support from the Big Bank. There are extra loud cheers for Bradley Johnson (400th career league appearance) and Federico Cenci (100th league appearance for the club). Although it’s 4th hosting 2nd, it’s not being described as a title decider.
Even the best plans don’t survive first contact with the enemy. Our plan lasts 20 seconds. Ilica Perak goes down. The physio runs on and is soon signalling (no fancy mike systems for us!) to me that Perak won’t be able to continue. I look along the bench and tell Regis Olivier to quickly warm up before going on to make his debut.
Five minutes in, the situation gets worse. Sigurdsson crosses from the left and Stepanenko volleys in from 16 yards to give the visitors an early lead. Six minutes later, Sigurdsson takes an inswinging corner. Samba rises highest at the far post, but heads over from 4 yards out.
It’s not been a great start, but we carve out a chance in the 14th minute. Well, more of a half chance. Bradley Johnson is 25 yards out and looks up. He evidently doesn’t like the options ahead of him and decides to chance his arm. He shoots and hits the bar. The ball goes high up into the air and Reina safely catches the rebound.
In the 25th minute, Haas takes a free kick from the right about 10 yards into our half. He gets a bit too much on it and it sails over the head of the crowd of players around the penalty area. It looks to be going wide, but Ben Amos decides to make sure and catch the ball. It’s a catch under no pressure, but he somehow spills the ball. Sigurdsson pounces and rolls the ball into an empty net from 2 yards out. He’s unlikely to score an easier goal all season.
Haas is involved again three minutes later when he brings down Lubomir Zapotoka. Mr. Siddall decides that it warrants both a free kick and a yellow card.
Ten minutes before half time, David Bentley crosses from the right and Cenci shoots from 8 yards. Reina smothers the shot and the ball goes along the face of the goal. Alain Besse gets to the loose ball a yard out, but at a tight angle. He’s able to send the ball goalwards, but Liverpool are able to block the effort and keep their two-goal lead.
Stepanenko brings down Bentley on the halfway line in the 39th minute. Mr. Siddall blows his whistle and rushes across. He’s brandishing a card for Stepanenko. It’s red! A straight red! Stepanenko has been sent off. I was expecting a yellow card, but Mr. Siddall clearly feels it warranted more. The second game in a row where we’ve had a man advantage. Is this our way back in to the game?
There’s a chance apiece before the half time whistle. A Cenci free kick from 25 yards goes over, whilst Suarez shoots narrowly wide from 25 yards in stoppage time.
I get the troops in and look to fire them up for the second half. My words have evidently fired up Cenci, who gets his name taken by Mr. Siddall within a minute of the half starting for a foul on Samba. It’s his second booking of the season and it’s already looking likely that he’ll soon be serving a suspension.
Besse shoots from 20 yards in the 51st minute, but Reina is alert and is diving towards the ball. He gets a good hand to the ball and is able to push it wide for a corner. Suarez has a chance in the 59th minute following a cross by Lennon on the right, but his header from 10 yards goes over. Glen Johnson is booked by Mr. Siddall on the hour for a foul on Besse.
In the 63rd minute, Sigurdsson gets the ball 25 yards out. He looks up, quickly assesses his options and threads a ball through our defence. It’s perfectly weighted and Lennon runs onto it and scores from 12 yards. I respond immediately by replacing Cenci with Rainer Breu, who comes on for his debut. There seems little point in risking Cenci picking up a red card in a game beyond our reach.
Breu is involved in the action within his first five minutes. Bertin Matip takes an inswinging corner and Breu meets it at the near post with a header from 6 yards. He does everything right, heading it down. The only part that he gets wrong is the placement and it’s straight at Reina. He gets down well and makes a comfortable save in the end. Breu does have a chance from 20 yards in the 75th minute, but it ends up being a tame effort that dribbles wide.
Besse is booked by Mr. Siddall in the 78th minute for fouling Tevez. In the 82nd minute, Bradley Johnson is 25 yards out again. He elects to shoot again. This time it’s over the bar instead of rattling it. Before the goal kick is taken, Mick Byrne replaces Nathan Ake and the game fizzles out.
Result: Exeter City 0-3 Liverpool
Man of the Match: Sigurdsson
Ratings: GK-Amos (5.7), DR-Zapotoka (6.7), DCR-Ake (5.7, sub 82), DCL-Vukovic (6.7), DL-Riccardi (5.7), DMC-Perak (sub 1), MCR-Matip (6.9), MCL-Johnson (6.9), AMR-Bentley (6.7), AML-Besse (6.9, booked), ST-Cenci (6.7, booked, sub 64). Subs-Olivier (6.8, on 1), Breu (6.9, on 64), Byrne (on 82). Unused-Mello, Mora, Norwood, Hayes
League Position: 9th
Not too much for the faithful to cheer about unfortunately as Liverpool were very good and clinical in front of goal. A disappointing day, especially for the defence. A mistake from Amos and poor performances from Ake and Riccardi helped Liverpool’s cause and we struggled to put on any sustained pressure, even when we had the man advantage. Anything against big clubs such as Liverpool will be a bonus, but I’m hoping for better performances in the future. I think we’ll put it down to the occasion.
The physio reports on Ilica Perak after the game. He’s suffering from a fractured wrist and will be out for 6-7 weeks.
Carmine Mello is named the third best goalkeeper at the U20 World Cup. An excellent pick up on a Bosman for me and if Amos puts in many more performances like the Liverpool one, Mello will soon be getting a chance in the Premier League.
Daniel Berger rejects a loan move to Burnley. Busao agrees to his loan spell at Hereford United. Portsmouth offer to loan Miltos Makris for the season and I accept the offer. I also accept a season-long loan from Nocerina for Riccardo Greppi.
Our pre-season has been good, but it counts for nothing. The real test starts now.
Opening day. Arguably the best day of the season. Fans turn up on sunny days to welcome back their heroes and get their first glimpse of new heroes. Relegation? It doesn’t even cross the mind. There’s no danger of that in August. August is the time to dream about May, the title, Cup finals and writing an unforgettable chapter in the club’s history.
Date: Saturday 19th August 2017
Venue: Craven Cottage
Odds: Fulham=Evens, Draw=11/5, Exeter City=11/5
Weather: Dry, 26C
Referee: Mr. Paul Hutton
The starting XI sees four players making their debut for us. Ben Amos starts in goal, Nathan Ake in defence, Ilica Perak as a defensive midfielder and David Bentley on the right. How will they settle in and what impact will it have on our performance?
Fulham get the game and season underway in what is being described as a relegation six-pointer, which isn’t great reading on opening day. It is understandable though as we’re favourites to finish bottom and Fulham are likely to struggle.
It takes the team a bit of time to settle to the higher level. Four minutes to be precise. Bradley Johnson passes to Federico Cenci, who is 30 yards out and has his back to goal. He turns to face goal and heads for the area. He beats a defender and gets into the area. Cenci shoots from 12 yards and the net is rippling. GOAL! The perfect start. If Cenci can keep up the rate of scoring every 4 minutes, he’ll finish the season with 855 goals (which would be a season-best for him!!) and guide us to the title.
Eleven minutes in, Bertin Matip takes an inswinging corner and finds Cenci 6 yards out at the near post. Cenci gets too much on the header and it goes over. Three minutes later, Johnson gets the ball on the halfway line and beats Chassagne. That leaves him with only the keeper to bear. 40 yards out and closing. 35 yards and clo… oof! Chassagne brings him down and Mr. Hutton’s whistle blows. He calls Chassagne over. He reaches for a card. It’s red! Chassagne is sent off and we have a man advantage for the remaining 76 minutes. The perfect opportunity to seal a win on the opening day.
Cenci shoots from 12 yards out in the 23rd minute, but he can’t get it on target and Steer watches it wide. Two minutes later, Fulham show that they’re still in the game with their first chance of note. Rodrigues shoots from 8 yards and Amos makes a smart save to deny him, although Fulham win a corner. A minute later, Johnson threads the ball through Fulham defence and Cenci runs onto it, blasting his second of the game into the roof of the net from 12 yards. If Cenci can keep up the rate of scoring every 13 minutes, he’ll finish the season on 263 goals and we’ll be lifting the Premier League title.
Alain Besse is denied by a good save from Steer in the 33rd minute. One minute before half time, Seymour fires over from 10 yards as what has been a close to perfect half for us comes to an end.
The troops head back out for the second half and show no sign of playing for time. Less than a minute into the half, Steer is forced to beat away a shot from 16 yards by Besse. Two minutes later, Lubomir Zapotoka’s head meets an inswinging Matip corner. He’s 6 yards out at the near post and his header hits the top of the bar and goes over. Three minutes after the hour, Bentley shoots from 25 yards as he looks for a spectacular start to his career. Unfortunately, that shot has no chance of marking his debut as it’s a tame shot that poses no threat to Steer and the Fulham goal.
There’s 19 minutes to go and Fulham fans start to head to the exits as the writing is on the wall for them. Cenci picks up a yellow card in the 75th minute for a foul. He’s a great player for us, but I do wish he wouldn’t pick up quite so many cards.
Steer is called back into action in the 78th minute when Besse shoots from 3 yards from a tight angle. Although Steer’s unable to hold onto the ball, Fulham keep the score at 2-0 with a clearance to safety. Steer is able to hold on to Matip’s shot from 30 yards in the 82nd minute.
With eight minutes to go, Michele Marconi replaces Besse (Marconi goes up top, with Cenci moving to the left wing) and Marcel Hrubesch makes his debut, replacing Johnson in the midfield. With four minutes to go, Mick Byrne makes his debut as a replacement for Perak (Byrne goes to centre back and Ake moves up to defensive midfield).
The closing minutes sees both sides hit the side netting. Fulham find it first, with a shot from Basham from 20 yards. Bentley achieves the same for us from the same distance one minute later.
Result: Fulham 0-2 Exeter City
Man of the Match: Federico Cenci
Ratings: GK-Amos (6.7), DR-Zapotoka (7.3), DCR-Ake (7.0), DCL-Vukovic (6.9), DL-Riccardi (7.2), DMC-Perak (6.9, sub 86), MCR-Matip (7.0), MCL-Johnson (7.9, 2A, sub 82), AMR-Bentley (6.9), AML-Besse (6.8, sub 82), ST-Cenci (8.8, 2G, booked). Subs-Hrubesch (on 82), Marconi (on 82), Byrne (on 86). Unused-Bond, Jenkins, Norwood, Michel.
League Position: 1st
WE ARE TOP OF THE LEAGUE, SAY WE ARE TOP OF THE LEAGUE!!!!!!!!!!!! A perfect start as we get our first win on the board in comfortable fashion. I never imagined that come quarter to five we’d be top of the league, so the surprise makes it even more welcome. It’s short lived as Liverpool win the Merseyside derby 3-0 in the teatime kickoff, but not even that can dampen my joy. Cenci’s current scoring rate will see him finish the season with an incredibly healthy 76 goals. His performance sees him make Team of the Week, very much picking up where he left off last season.
Although the result is pleasing, the performance is the best aspect as we controlled the game and it’s difficult to imagine Amos having an easier game all season. The sending off had an impact on the game, but we’d been the better team before the red card, even though it was an early sending off.
Burnley offer £170,000 to loan Daniel Berger for the season. I negotiate the offer, removing the fee so that I can recall Berger if required. Burnley agree to the negotiation. Busao could also be making a switch as Hereford United offer to loan him for 5 months and I accept.