Preview: Exeter City

Saturday’s dropped points against Crawley have made it four winless games for the Sky Blues. The worst aspect of that draw was not the losing of two goals in quick succession but the lack of pressure put on our limited opponents during a second half where we dominated possession, mainly in unthreatening areas. Of the 19 shots we took in that game, just three were on target, considering that we scored two of those it’s laid bare in those statistics that we offered very little threat despite dominating Crawley.

Lee Burge will get another chance to show what he can do in goal this evening.
Lee Burge will get another chance to show what he can do in goal this evening.

This coming Johnstone’s Paint Trophy fixture against Exeter City provides Steven Pressley with the chance to assess some of the fringe players in the squad but more importantly opportunity to end this winless streak. Whilst Pressley is clearly set on using the competition to blood untested youngsters, many supporters are desperate for the club to achieve something meaningful and win this competition. Whether he appreciates it or not, progress may give Pressley more leeway with supporters after recent poor performances and results.

Given the competition’s rules stipulate that only five changes can be made from Saturday’s line-up, there should be a reasonably strong line-up against our League Two opposition. Change one will almost certainly be handing Lee Burge some more first team experience. With Reda Johnson back from suspension it might be wise to throw him right back into the action to avoid any rustiness. Aaron Phillips hobbled off on Saturday so Jordan Clarke will have to step in.

Those final few changes are more unclear and will give an indication of how highly Steven Pressley ranks progress in the JPT. With Jackson and McQuoid showing plenty of promise against Crawley, the main area for experimentation seems to be in midfield where Jack Finch could step in in place of Conor Thomas or John Fleck. If that is our manager’s line of thinking then we could see John Fleck given a bit of a rest with the hope that Conor Thomas might play himself into some sort of form after some quiet displays in recent weeks.

Possible Line-Up: (5-3-2) Burge; Clarke, Willis, Webster, Johnson, Haynes; Thomas, Finch, O’Brien; McQuoid, Jackson.

Last Time We Met

Coventry City have played Exeter City 39 times, mainly in the league but mainly in the old Third Division South or Fourth Division in the pre-Sky Blue era. Our last meeting came at St James’ Park (Not that one) in 1959 where Billy Frith’s Coventry City side were beaten 2-1 by the Grecians. Frith and the soon to be Sky Blues would have the last laugh though as Coventry City would go on to celebrate promotion to the third-tier that season and to this day have never dropped lower than that level.

It’s been a different story for Exeter who predominantly remained a fourth-tier side despite brief excursions to the variously named third-tier. In 2003 the club slipped into the Conference in a perilous financial state until their fans took over the club. Firstly under current Liverpool academy director Alex Inglethorpe the Grecians earned an FA Cup replay at Old Trafford in 2005. After that Paul Tisdale finished the job and took Exeter back into the Football League where with players like Dean Moxey, Ryan Harley, Danny Seaborne and Matt Taylor they made it into the third-tier and finished as high as 11th in 2011.

How Are They Doing?

That proved to be the zenith for both Exeter and Tisdale in recent times, relegation and a failure to make the play-offs in League Two in the 2012/13 season has seen the burble burst somewhat at St James’ Park. A brush with relegation back into non-league last season has created a mood of stagnation around the club and a feeling of directionlessness. Finances have been getting tighter and tighter and the squad is now largely made up of very raw youth-team players.

It’s all happy once again for Exeter City after a run of four straight league wins.

This summer saw things get much worse, a PFA enforced transfer embargo, a result of cash-flow issues in the off-season, has meant that the Grecians have been able to make only two permanent signings from last season. Exeter failed to win a league game until September 16th with calls to sack Paul Tisdale growing louder and louder. That victory just a few weeks ago though began a run of four straight league wins to catapult Exeter comfortably into the bosom of the League Two mid-table.

Ahead of Exeter’s first trip to the Ricoh Arena, Paul Tisdale is facing something of an injury crisis.  Key players in Graham Cummins, Liam Sercombe, Pat Baldwin and Liam Noble are out with injury whilst they have also been set back by international call-ups for keeper Christy Pym and midfielder Matt Grimes. To add a further fly in the ointment, Northampton Town have recalled the talented but injury-prone forward Alex Nicholls on Sunday.

Of those who will be available for selection this coming meeting who could cause problems are the midfield trio of David Wheeler, Jimmy Keohane and Arron Davies. Wheeler is a fairly traditional winger who has spent most of his career in non-league. Jimmy Keohane, an attacking-minded midfielder, has been in and out of the Exeter City side since joining from Bristol City in 2011 but has been in form of late. Arron Davies, once an expensive flop at Northampton, has rebuilt some of his reputation since joining the Grecians and is another wide-man who could cause problems.

Aside from those three, there is former Scunthorpe right-back Christian Ribeiro who will count himself as unlucky not to be playing League One this season with the Iron after being a mainstay of their team last season. Danny Butterfield will be a more recognisable name in Exeter’s back-line although the former Southampton man is increasingly getting slower in his old age.

Possible Line-Up: (4-4-2) Hamon; Ribeiro, Moore-Taylor, Bennett, Butterfield; Wheeler, Dawson, Keohane, Davies; Nichols, Jay.


It’s always hard to tell just how seriously either team will be taking this cup game. Whilst there is hunger from the fans to be successful in this competition, Steven Pressley might view progress as secondary to handing young players further first-team experience. Additionally Exeter city manager Paul Tisdale has something of a reputation for eschewing cup competitions in favour of the league.

Exeter’s current form notwithstanding, it’s hard seeing even a second-string Coventry City side being all too troubled by the Grecians given their current selection issues. Whilst complacency is always a potential issue I’m going to predict a routine 2-0 win.

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