Saturday, 19 September 2009

Stability holds the key to progress

First published in The Grecian, 19 September 2009, Exeter City -v- Tranmere Rovers

Given the pressure and the chances generated by Leyton Orient at Brisbane Road last weekend, the Grecians can feel reasonably satisfied with a point from a tough away fixture. But the aim today will be to get back to winning ways against a Tranmere Rovers side in transition.

I had very much hoped to make it to the Matchday Stadium (as most Orient fans still refuse to call it!) for the first meeting between the clubs in six-and-a-half years. I was even in London. Unfortunately work commitments and transport snarl-ups dictated otherwise. Sometimes life conspires against live football.

I’ve seen Orient on a number of occasions when I’ve been in the capital in recent years – not least because my good friend Kevin Scully, an East End vicar, is a keen follower. Unusually he had to miss the game too, but the 1-1 draw leaves us at peace!

It would have been hard to imagine a game like this only three years ago, when two whole divisions separated the teams. That’s a measure of the incredible progress achieved by everyone at Exeter City.

One of the merits of the current set-up at St James’ Park is stability. That’s hard to achieve in football these days, when money, media pressure and the drive for results can produce regular regime change and relentless expectation – not always for the better.

Since June, well-known Tranmere manager John Barnes has already been feeling the pinch in his short stint at the club. The ex-England international and top-flight boss with Celtic has recently said his side need an injection of fresh blood as well as better decision-making on the pitch.

The Super Whites visit the southwest after gathering just three points so far this season, and on the back of three defeats and an empty September. They have shipped ten goals in their outings since 29 August, and are only spared the ignominy of bottom place courtesy of Southampton’s points deduction.

That said, Rovers pulled two goals back against top-half team Walsall last week, and any notion that they will roll over for the Grecians will, I’m sure, be rapidly dispelled in our dressing room – where another home win would make for a satisfactory if not spectacular first eight games for City.

It’s always important to focus on each particular game, and not get distracted by what’s happening around you. But it won’t be lost on Exeter fans that after this afternoon’s action we face a hard but tantalising trip to Charlton Athletic.

The Valley was actually the last venue where I saw a live Premier League game. Back in 2005, the Addicks were at home early on to Portsmouth (during Harry Redknapp’s first spell there). They had to struggle back then too, but the fall in grace following the eventual departure of Alan Curbishley at the end of the 2005-6 season was substantial.

I have a friend who’s a Manchester United fan (a ‘real one’ who grew up not far from Old Trafford) who has had a season ticket at the Valley since 2006, as he now lives and works in London. He’s certainly had a rounded education in all aspects of the game of late! Now the Addicks are keen to reverse their rough fortune, just as Exeter City want to consolidate in this division in order to continue their climb towards the top. The ups and downs of football continue.

In the midst of all this, we do well to be thankful for what we have going for us. I remember from my trip to the Valley just under four years ago that quite a number of Charlton supporters were grumbling and moaning loudly about the Curbishley regime. Looking back on it all, how wrong they proved to be.

Of course, one man isn’t usually the sole difference between success and failure for a football side. Not for nothing is it a team venture. But a bit of wisdom, cunning and insight can go a long way. Exeter City has certainly benefited from that over the past three seasons, and we will continue to do so this term.

Meanwhile, one of the issues that the back-room staff will be working full tilt to fix is the relative lack of goals. We have plenty of attacking options now, and just as in previous seasons lean spells in front of the net have been ended in determined fashion, so we are looking for a breakthrough or two in the near future… starting this afternoon, hopefully.

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