Exeter City Season Preview: drama at St James’s

Paul Tisdale’s wild celebration of Jack Stacey’s spectacular 95th minute play-off semi-final winner was one of the iconic moments of the League Two season. The two legs against Carlisle, which both saw Exeter throw away a two-goal lead, typified the topsy-turvy nature of their campaign. The Grecians spent 59 days in the drop zone – 44 more than relegated Hartlepool – yet ended the season one game away from promotion. The Football Lab spoke to Rodney Boulton to find out whether this season will be as dramatic as the last.

16/17 saw Exeter City play good football and finish in its highest position for six years. A positive campaign for the club?

After the disappointing start in the end it was definitely a good campaign and gives us something to build on for the upcoming season.

Back in November, some Exeter fans felt it would be best for Paul Tisdale to go, yourself included. Has your opinion changed?

Yes it has. He did a superb job in turning things around after such a poor start and he has to be given credit for that, so I’m more than happy for him to stay. I’d much rather see him leave the club on a high when he does go. He deserves that.

With only 34% of your shots coming from outside the area (2nd lowest in League Two), you’re clearly a patient side. In the second half of the play-off final though, did you need to compromise that approach and show more urgency?

Definitely. Unfortunately they had a game plan and it worked barely limiting us to any chances . Sadly it wasn’t our day.

A lot of fans liked goalkeeper Bobby Olejnik. Did the club decide not to offer him a contract due to there being no re-sale value?

It could be a factor. We don’t need to have three keepers on our books and we have two very good young keepers, one in Christy Pym who played a key part in our turnaround. Plus Bobby Olejnik couldn’t be guaranteed first team football which may have been another reason.

You’ve only made two signings at the time of writing. Are you disappointed that transfer business has been slow?

Not really. Tisdale had already stated there wouldn’t be much transfer activity and we already have a pretty strong squad. I do believe there will be a couple more signings at least. We still need an established right back as we have no one who plays in that role.

The attacking trio of David Wheeler, Reuben Reid and Ollie Watkins blended together superbly last season with 75 goals for the team. They must have been delightful to watch at times?

They were. We were very lucky to get a striker of Reid’s pedigree and given a full pre season which he didn’t have last time, there’s no reason why he can’ get 20 goals this season. Wheeler is my favourite player and he had an outstanding season, I’m glad he’s signed up for next season. Watkins just continued to prove why there is a lot of interest in him with some superb performances.

There have been murmurs of Championship interest in Watkins – do you think he will leave?

Yes, if not in this transfer window in January as I believe his contract is up next summer. I am a little surprised he hasn’t already gone as we turned down a substantial offer for him in January.

Left-back Connor Riley-Lowe is among those released. Were fans more sympathetic to that decision once Dean Moxey signed?

Yes. It was no secret Moxey was going to sign when we released Riley-Lowe. It was a shame as he’s a good young player, but with Woodman’s form last season limiting him to only a handful of appearances last season it was no surprise as the lad needs to be playing regular first team football.

Luke Croll signs on a permanent deal after being released by Crystal Palace. Do you see him being back-up to Troy Brown and captain Jordan Moore-Taylor?

Yes. I didn’t really rate him during his loan spell but at the moment I only see him as cover to Brown and Moore-Taylor who were both excellent last season. But hopefully having signed a permanent deal he will be able to improve.

Ethan Ampadu has been snapped up by Chelsea. What do you make of his decision to move?

Not surprised. Sadly he was never going to sign for us and you can’t turn down an offer from the club the size of Chelsea. There are some doubts whether it’s the right move given Chelsea’s record with bringing through the youth. Hopefully he can be the exception to the rule.

Jack Stacey has gone to Luton after his loan expired. Will it be important to bring in a right-back?

In my view it’s vital. The only right-back at the club is 19 year old Kyle Egan and he’s gone out on loan. Pierce Sweeney has played there but central defence is his natural position and he struggled in that role at times. So hopefully we’ll sign one before the season starts.

What are your thoughts ahead of the League Two season as a whole? Any potential dark horses for you?

I think it’ll be close and competitive this season with no out and out favourites for promotion. Mansfield have made a lot of signings and could well challenge. I see the two promoted teams Lincoln and Forest GAreen as two potential dark horses too.

The bookies have Exeter at 100/30 for promotion – where will you finish?

There’s no reason why we can’t make the playoffs again, as the squad is good enough so I’ll say fifth.

The Football Lab’s Verdict

Exeter were one of the best attacking teams in the division last season and should excite the neutrals once again. Promotion prospects hinge on Watkins’ whereabouts and whether Moxey helps tighten the back-four. 8th

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