Sunday, 20 December 2009

Digging in for victory

First published in The Grecian, 19 December 2009, Exeter City -v- Southend

In recent years, Exeter City’s seasons have often grown stronger as they have progressed. That has certainly been the case under the tutelage of Paul Tisdale, and while they may have given Grecians’ fans a few jitters along the way, the past two terms have ended up being a cause for celebration rather than trepidation.

Unsurprisingly, League One is proving a really tough proposition, and following three straight defeats against Oldham, Brighton and Bristol Rovers, in which City have also failed to score, the determination of the home side to turn the tide today, so that we can get into a proper Festive swing again, will be very strong – as our visitors from Southend are bound to be aware.

As the cold sets in, the challenge for the Grecians is to ‘dig for victory’ and not to let a debilitating climate get to them too much. I’m thinking of the league table (which, as is often said, does not lie) as well as the obvious climatic conditions!

The approaching New Year is necessarily a time to look forward rather than back, but that isn’t automatically a source of consolation either. On or before 16 January 2010, Exeter face some massive fixtures. We come up against Southampton and Norwich away from home, and then Leeds United at St James Park – a mouth-watering prospect that one, and unimaginable only 18 months ago. The solid performance at Elland Road back in August (when we lost 2-1, but were unlucky not to come away with a point) shows the team have nothing to fear, but much to achieve.

Being a skilful side, the Grecians sometimes find their feet better against the really demanding opposition than when taking on what some might consider ‘journeyman’ teams. But whatever the opposition, the right frame of mind and the correct preparation remains vital. And that is in our hands, not somebody else’s.

Over the past few weeks it seems that we have lacked a killer touch in the final third once more. That appears to come and go with us. At Boundary Park we failed to take early chances. Opponents now know very well that City can keep the ball on the deck and move it around effectively, so they tend to sit back and close down spaces – waiting for chances to break away, for the occasional mistake from us, or for a loss of momentum in the game.

This means its important not to be predictable. Hopefully City will have one or two surprises up their sleeves (or should I say, “at their feet!”) for Southend this afternoon, away at St Mary’s on Boxing Day, and then for the visit of Gillingham to the southwest two days later.

It’s a demanding winter schedule, and one not made any easier by the realisation that the Grecians sit only a couple of points off the relegation zone. That said, the division as a whole has stayed pretty tight, and a few good results could alter the complexion of the situation significantly.

What is certain is that our 2009-10 campaign will go the full distance, that more than a handful of teams will find themselves caught up in a struggle for survival and better, that there will be no easy games, and that many of those we face will have considerably larger financial and other resources at their disposal than we do.

What Exeter City possesses in greater abundance, however, is community spirit and determination – together with some of the best coaching staff in the division. Things are difficult at the moment, for sure. But that’s precisely why it is desirable not to put yourself under any more pressure than you already face from your opponents on the pitch.

Equally, it is important to gain insight from the inevitable setbacks, rather than to wallow in recrimination or to allow division to set in. That includes the relationship between players and fans, as well as what goes on in the dressing room.

Overall, given the swings and roundabouts, it seems to me that Exeter City are continuing to hold their own commendably in an unyielding segment of the Football League pyramid. As the season progresses, and as more lessons are learned, so more opportunities will be opened up for consolidation and progress in our different performance ‘departments’, from front to back and all stations in between.

Right now, it’s the team’s morale that needs a boost – and that is something the fans can help to provide. Taking a glance back over the club’s recent history there’s a huge amount to be grateful for, and even more reason to go on cheering the current red and white’s squad into 2010.

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