• Kieran Horn

Exeter City manager Matt Taylor handed positive injury update ahead of Grecians clash with Walsall

Exeter City manager Matt Taylor has admitted his squad are in a "much better place" after several of his first team players, in the midst of a covid outbreak, also suffered significant injuries in December.

As well as having to contend with at least four players suffering injuries in the space of a few weeks, Exeter, similarly to almost every EFL club, experienced a coronavirus outbreak within the squad.

Although the outbreak postponed several games, allowing some of those injured players to recover, the Grecians returned to action on New Year's Day against Sutton with Sam Stubbs, who was making just his third appearance of the season following a lengthy injury lay-off and Cheick Diabate, making his first team debut, as the centre-back partnership.

However, three weeks later, the numbers in the treatment room are rapidly decreasing with Taylor able to give positive news about four of his players progressing well, albeit in different stages of recovery.

“We’re just getting stronger,” Taylor said. “Jonathan grounds has had a week’s training under his belt after the calf strain he picked up against Forest Green, so he’s back in contention.

"Nigel Atangana got on the pitch on Tuesday night for half an hour and Alex Hartridge has started training with the group, but is only a few days in, so he’ll probably be unavailable this weekend, but will have a chance for the following fixture.

"So, all of a sudden, the bodies are starting to come back and we feel we’re in a much better place.

"Sam Nombe is still doing individual work, but he’s getting stronger and stronger by the day. It’s positive signs and all of a sudden, the squad is getting close to what it was pre-second pandemic and after the second lot of injuries.”

The Grecians head into this weekend's game against Walsall off the back of a hugely important three points against Scunthorpe, their first since beating Carlisle on November 20, and will ultimately fancy their chances after a tough month both on and off the pitch for the Saddlers.

Matt Taylor's Walsall are yet to pick up a victory from their three league games in 2022 and the departure of Otis Khan and rumours circulating around homegrown attacking midfielder Liam Kinsella potentially on his way out has left a sour atmosphere around the Banks's Stadium, although Taylor played down those rumours in the press on Thursday.

Nonetheless, there seems to be a slight disconnect between the club and the supporters and Taylor (Exeter City) has laid out his thoughts on why the club may be struggling to find form on the pitch.

“I think they’re still searching for, like most managers at our level, consistency," he said. "In terms of consistency in games and a consistency in terms of a run of games.

“I was at the Stevenage game which finished 3-1, but they were dead and buried at 2-0 down after seven minutes.

“Within games they are fantastic at times and I’m sure their manager will allude to that; they play some outstanding football and have some great attacking players. In the home game, they dominated us for large periods, and we were very much on the back foot.

“But then there is, not necessarily a weakness to the team, but a fragility at times in terms of their goals conceded and the fact they’ve not been able to dominate games for 90-minute spells and go on runs, but I expect them to pick up and find some consistency.”

Although Taylor (Exeter) gave some thoughts on the playing squads frailties, he also handed some significant praise to several Walsall players, indicating that despite everything going on at the club, it will be a far from easy 90 minutes, further supported by a blemish on the Exeter manager's record, he will hope to be rid of on Saturday.

“I think they’ve got two of the best young loan players at our level, Taylor said. “(George) Miller, we love the way he plays, he’s an outstanding centre forward for our level and (Kieran) Phillips as well from Huddersfield.

“So, in terms of the loan options, they’ve brought in two real quality players and you look at some of their players and they were well-renowned players at the start of the season, and they still are now.

“The likes of (Emmanuel) Osadebe, (Joss) Labadie, (Jack) Earing, (Tyrese) Shade, (Brendan) Kiernan. There’s a lot of good players there and they’ve got the experience with the likes of (Stephen) Ward as well.

“In terms of what they are as a group of players, they’re quite impressive and they’ll be looking to build on a disjointed first half of the season in terms of consistency, but I think every manager is similar in terms of relation to that.

“I’ve never won as a manager at Walsall, a couple of draws and a defeat there. So we want to put that record right so to speak.”