Saturday, 3 October 2009

City look onwards and upwards

First published in The Grecian, 03 October 2009, Exeter City -v- Hartlepool

So it’s ten games, ten goals and ten points for the Grecians so far. There’s a certain mathematical symmetry to the initial stage of Exeter City’s experimental first season in League One, but also an indication of the huge amount of work still to be done – since we nestle just two places and one point off the relegation zone.

Over the past few weeks some BBC reporters and summarisers have taken to referring to City as “struggling Exeter”. That’s not a fair judgement of actual performances on the pitch, where there has often been an elegance and thoughtfulness on display – as you would perhaps expect from a team managed by Paul Tisdale.

Looking back to my notebook from the beginning of the new adventure, I had reckoned that 14 points would be reasonably healthy at this stage. And with a few kicks and prods in different places, that’s just what City could be looking at.

Putting this in perspective, there’s now only five points separating Huddersfield (our next away opponents) in sixth place and the Grecians a full thirteen places below them. That’s how tight it is. If Exeter had sneaked one more win and a draw we’d be ninth, in front of fancied Norwich.

So in reality, a couple of games can make a huge difference in the run-up to Christmas. But that is certainly no cause for complacency. Points in the bag are the only ones that count, and the truth is that City have achieved only one clean sheet so far this term, and have been conceded far too many goals from set-plays, especially corners.

At the other end of the field, even when the formation has been 4-4-2, Exeter have often been caught with one up front, with the inspired young Craig Noone drifting to the wing, with forward midfielders fractionally off the pace, and with no one really ready to threaten central defenders from the air. Classy build-ups often seem to go begging for want of something more decisive. That’s how it looks from where I sit, anyway.

On Tuesday night all of those problems seemed to creep into an intriguing match against Swindon Town which we could easily have lost – or won, frankly – but which ended up with the honours shared (probably a fair result, all told) after some fine saves from Oscar Jansson and a bit of wizardry from Richard Logan.

Logie most definitely doesn’t want to be thought of as a ‘super-sub’, and it will be interesting to see how soon he breaks into the starting line-up again. But no one could fault the daring involved in pulling Troy Archibald-Henville off and using him to throw the team into attacking gear. It was a calculated gamble that paid off with a niftily taken goal at exactly the right moment – when all might have been lost.

So after ten games the Grecians have shown us plenty of flair and determination. But at the same time the backroom staff will undoubtedly be trying to iron out those little weaknesses and lapses that can make all the difference at this level of the game.

Maybe City sometimes need to mix their naturally attractive football with the odd burst of ‘route one’, too. Swindon’s several (surprisingly) missed chances came from sudden bursts of energy around the area. Knowing how to inject pace and adrenalin into the match is vital.

There’s still a little way to go to the next transfer window, which will focus our minds further on what is and what isn’t working as the season heads for its midpoint. Several of our strongest performers of late have come from loan deals, for example. But it’s also clear that a few regulars have more to offer, too.

City have what it takes to stay in this League, but it’s a question of constantly refining the blend for each game – while ensuring that the backbone of the side remains constant. Who’d be a coach, eh? It’s easy to pontificate from the terraces, but it’s what happens on the training ground and in the dressing room that really counts.

Meanwhile, Exeter now have a chance to improve their games-to-points-and-goals ratio this afternoon against Hartlepool, who sit seven places (but only two points) above us. The warning is that ’Pool have scored more and conceded half as many goals on the road as City – a trend which needs challenging on the park today. Despite their curious nickname, they’ll be no monkeys!

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