Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Why Grecian eyes are smiling

First published in The Grecian, 11 August 2009, Exeter City -v- QPR (Carling Cup)

Well, the wait is almost over. Following a momentous trip to Elland Road, Exeter City’s first home game of the new League One season against promotion hopefuls Norwich is only a week away. But first we have some important Carling Cup business against Queens Park Rangers.

A Championship side today, two of the toughest League One teams in rapid succession, and the likes of Southampton and Charlton still to come. Talk about a baptism of fire. As Grecians’ highly experienced back-up goalkeeper Andy Marriott commented recently: “The whole division reeks of class.” He added: “You have a number of teams who have all been in the Premier League. I don’t think League One has ever been so strong. There are no bad grounds to visit, no poor teams to play against.”

Given the strength of the opposition, City’s chances this season have already been downgraded by the bookmakers, and gaffer Paul Tisdale is far too wily to be offering his own predictions. As he said when we got into League Two last term, he hasn’t managed there before so he’s taking it on a case-by-case basis. The last thing you need to do when faced with a new challenge is to make a one-size-fits-all guess.

Instead, the Grecians have been testing themselves against the best in the pre-season. Spurs, with whom the Club has a strong relationship, proved predictably daunting, running out 3-0 winners. Derby County, now with added Deano, looked strong in their 3-1 win at St James’ Park, too. Now we face another much-fancied Championship side with wealthy owners, a new manager (Jim Magilton came in at the beginning of June), a strong history and big plans for the future.

The Grecians might be tempted to think that with the Premier League their number one target, the Hoops will not be so focussed on the Carling Cup. But that would be to misunderstand them entirely. QPR will relish a crack at silverware, and like us see this game as a good opportunity to try out new ideas and players. There will be no easing off on either side this afternoon.

As a measure of their ambition, two weeks ago Rangers re-signed Spurs midfielder Adel Taarabt on a season-long loan. The 20-year-old is a Moroccan international. He made seven appearances at Loftus Road last season, having moved to White Hart Lane from Lens in 2007. He also made 14 substitute appearances for Spurs, but naturally fancies more regular starts.

Jim Magilton commented: “Abdel's a match winner on his day and will bring added competition.” There will be plenty more QPR talent in all areas of the park today, but the Grecians will seek to match them for ingenuity and pace. Tisdale is continuing to build a side that can play attractively and think round corners. They’ll need both attributes against the Hoops.

So what can we expect from City? Well, against Derby, there were plenty of flashes of inspiration. The Grecians could even have had a couple more goals if split second chances and the odd deflection had gone their way. At the beginning of the second half, in particular, they took the game to a strong Rams’ defence and looked dangerous.

But there were plenty of spells where the gulf between League One and the Premier aspirants was strongly in evidence, in terms of technical skill, cunning, and the ability to break into the box without warning. 5-2 to Derby wouldn’t have been an unfair score. So the Reds know they have to up their game further this afternoon, and believe they can do so. Confidence (not over-confidence) is something the talented backroom crew have inspired in our players.

One last curiosity about QPR before we all sit back and enjoy the game. Telly star and City fanatic Adrian Edmondson has an interesting link to today’s visitors. In the BBC comedy series ‘Bottom’ he played a chap called Edward Hitler, who was a QPR supporter.

In his local pub, Ade’s character asked the landlord (one Dick Head) if it was true that he’d had a trial at Loftus Road. He said he had, and he’d floored Les Ferdinand in a sharp defensive ploy – only to discover it was an own goal.

The Grecians are unlikely to be able to rely on comedy antics to get them a result today, but we still hope to be smiling at the final whistle.

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