League Two new boys Exeter City's Carling Cup outing against Championship Southampton provided a flowing, open and entertaining game at St James' Park this evening. But it also offered something of a reality check after the close season hype. With many of their first choice players rested, the visitors achieved a pretty comfortable 3-1 victory. Exeter certainly played well and had a majority of the possession, showing no little endeavour and skill. If they can carry on like this in the League they will be fine.
But the gulf in class still showed. Saints, without stretching themselves, did enough to contain wave after wave of Grecian pressure. They also scored two fine goals and a last-minute penalty, turning on the pace and power just when it was needed up front. City, by contrast, created many good looking opportunities, but then struggled to find their feet in the place where it's most needed -- the penalty area. Their finishing was also lacking decisiveness, with too many shots off target and one sitter missed at the end of the first half. Still, Dean Moxey will be claiming what was given as a Saints own goal, outjumping 'keeper Bartosz Bialkowski to head Exeter briefly back into contention.
The verdict? Confidence, creativity and a clinical touch are what's needed against a side two divisions higher. But there just wasn't enough in City's store. Southampton were also gifted too much space down the left in the second half. Overall, however, the feeling has to be positive, both in terms of lessons learned and in the spirit and skill Exeter displayed in their attractive build-up play and resolute defending. A crowd of nearly 6,500 was also very encouraging, and got good value for money.
Following a gutsy away point at Darlington on Saturday, this is a good start to the season. Shrewsbury on Saturday will be another tough test. Sadly, I'll miss it, as I'll be in Birmingham.