First published in The Grecian, 28 October 2008, Exeter City -v- Chesterfield
Everyone I see wearing red, black and white walking around the fair city of Exeter seems to be smiling these days. There must be grumps around too (some of them may be pouncing on Exeweb as I write!), but they are surely few and far between at the moment. Being fans, we can always complain. But we’d be daft to do so right now.
For the Grecians are not only in the play-off zone, they have also beaten perhaps the best two teams in the league away from home (what does that make us?), have clinched a two-year rolling contract with excellent manager Paul Tisdale, and have assembled a group of players with a good balance of skills and a willingness to really dig in together.
What could possibly go wrong? Well, as the old cliché has it, “this is football, son!” Expect the unexpected. Due to the happenstance of deadlines, for instance, I am penning this without knowing the outcome of our game against Barnet on Saturday. My instinct is that we will have picked up at least one point, hopefully three. But as the Grimsby game showed, the teams who appear to be struggling can be very, very hard to beat sometimes – whereas sides like Bury and Port Vale, who you would sensibly quake over, can be taken on convincingly.
The difference is often to do with space on the pitch: its presence against confident teams who know they are doing well and who like to open it up themselves, and its absence against those who close down tight and pack behind the ball in order to save goals and points. I have no disrespect for the latter, by the way. Sheer numbers at the back doesn’t make it an easy or risk-free business defending and marking the opposition out of the game, as those who have come undone trying will tell you. Plus, we’ve all been there ourselves at some point.
But while caution can save your skin, a high level of daring is needed to win. That’s what the Grecians have shown this season, and even when there are setbacks (as there almost certainly will be), this quality – together with the ability to get over those humps – will surely see us good in the end.
If the game against Barnet has gone well, by the way, that will just provide a different kind of challenge against Chesterfield this evening: the one called “no let up, no easing back.” The higher you ascend the football ladder in this country, the less room there is for breathing easily or counting your proverbial chickens. Just when you think you have it clucking in the bag, it can slip from your fingers.
It may well be the case that Exeter City are doing just as well in League Two this term as we were in the Blue Square Premier last year. But that doesn’t mean this division is no tougher, or that we know we will inevitably be fighting for promotion in a few months time – as we always thought we would be in the Conference, to be honest. Nothing can be taken for granted whatsoever.
Which is why I am glad we have Paul Tisdale in charge. He brings an evenness and intelligence to his approach. And as he has made clear, he wants to move on up with the Grecians. Paul’s depth of commitment was shown at Team Bath, and we are seeing the same spirit and professionalism here in Devon. So I hope those who were initially sceptical about him (remember that? Seems an age away, thankfully!) have learned their lesson.
Quality in football doesn’t come with reputation or longevity alone; it is the result of hard work, thoughtfulness, inspiration and dedication. You can have the talent and lack those qualities, and vice versa. That’s something the players will be remembering as they take to the pitch tonight too, I’m sure. ’Mon City!