• Nathan Smith

IS IT FINALLY THE GRECIANS YEAR: EXETER CITY 2021/2022 SEASON PREVIEW


As the 21/22 League Two season draws near, Exeter City will once again be looking to secure promotion into League One.


Manager Matt Taylor embarks on his fourth campaign in the St James Park dugout, and he will be hoping for a better season, as Exeter missed out on the play-offs altogether last time round.


As the Grecians prepare for their ninth season in England's fourth tier, will this be the year they finally go up?


Let's take a look...


TRANSFER WINDOW


Exeter fans were promised a big summer, with the club ready to invest funds from transfer window’s gone by. The word ‘marquee’ has become the main talking point amongst the Grecians, as that was the type of signing that manager Matt Taylor wanted to bring to the club. However, it has not all gone Exeter’s way this summer. Winger Josh Coley kicked off proceedings, joining from Maidenhead United for an undisclosed fee, followed up by young left-back Callum Rowe and attacking midfielder Jevani Brown, who had a good spell at Colchester United.


The first and arguably only ‘marquee’ signing was Sam Nombe, who arrived from MK Dons and has impressed many in pre-season. George Ray, Jonathan Grounds and a returning Pierce Sweeney have arrived to boost Exeter’s defensive line for the season, with the unfortunate news that January signing Sam Stubbs is still struggling with a knee injury that has stopped him making his debut for the club. A long-awaited wait for a goalkeeper following the release of Lewis Ward and Jonny Maxted was finally ended with the arrival of Cameron Dawson on loan from Sheffield Wednesday, a player looking to regain the form that made him a regular Championship starter a few years back.


A believed lack of ‘marquee’ signings had fans slightly confused, and the mood worsened around the fanbase as star player Joel Randall was sold to Peterborough just a few days away from the start of the season. While investment in the training facilities and pitch prove Exeter are here to stay in the football league for many years to come, this summer has fell flat in the eyes of many, and false promises have left some unsure of what this season entails for the Grecians. However, there is still a long way to go in the transfer window, and if any Exeter fans remember the deadline day of the 17/18 season, they will know a lot can change in a short space of time.


EXPECTED LINE-UP



Last season, Matt Taylor operated with either the 4-2-3-1 or 3-4-3 formation, usually the former which allowed Exeter to get the best out of Matt Jay and Joel Randall. One of the highest scorers in the EFL last season, weirdly goals were somewhat inconsistent for the Grecians, as they either created a lot of chances or looked devoid of creativity. The first half of the 20/21 season saw Exeter concede a fair few sloppy goals, something that appeared to happen a lot less in the second half of the season, as Rory McCardle and Alex Hartridge established themselves as a partnership, and Pierce Sweeney impressing consistently.


For this season, Exeter have lined up for most of their pre-season games in a 3-4-3 formation, with a narrow front three. Matt Jay, Jevani Brown and Sam Nombe will occupy those three positions, with the latter leading the line. All three have looked good in the friendlies, with the technical brilliance of Brown and Jay working well with the pace and power that Nombe possesses. Exeter look a little light in terms of attacking depth, with Josh Coley being the only senior back-up for Brown and Jay, with the possibility of James Dodd and Nelson Iseguan getting first team minutes. It’s a similar story up front as the only senior back-up is Ben Seymour who had a frustrating 20/21 campaign, and while wonderkid Sonny Cox looks to be a great future option, it would be a lot of pressure to put on a 16-year-old this early into his career.


The midfield took a big hit last week, as Archie Collins was forced off with an injury that will see him miss at least the first few weeks of the campaign. This leaves Tim Dieng and Nigel Atangana who are quite similar players and would not provide a whole lot of creativity for the Grecians. Harry Kite and James Dodd are the other options, but both have not had too much first team experience, although the former should receive a fair few opportunities this season. Chris Clements is currently on trial at the club, but it is unknown whether he will be joining permanently.


At the back, Exeter will be hoping to be a stronger side to what they were last season, and the arrival of George Ray should help that. Alex Hartridge has continued to grow as a footballer and Pierce Sweeney had an excellent 20/21 season and has returned to the club after a brief fling with Swindon Town. Sam Stubbs has been unable to play since arriving, and a worrying knee injury leaves his future in doubt, as the club explore options to try and bring him back to fitness. Jonathan Grounds represents an experienced option at the back and Jordan Dyer is looking to breakthrough into the team after some successful loan spells.


At right wing-back, Josh Key has attracted plenty of interest, but it looks as if he will remain an Exeter player for this season, and Jake Caprice represents a very solid replacement for the youngster. On the other side, it is a big year for Jack Sparkes as he looks to establish himself as a nailed-on starter, while Callum Rowe offers a youthful option after arriving from Aston Villa in the summer. In goal, Cameron Dawson will be the number one, and will play most games, with either the exciting prospect Harry Lee or goalkeeping coach Scott Brown taking a place on the bench, with the latter joining from Port Vale in the summer.


STAR MAN


Image Credit - Exeter City

SAM NOMBE


Exeter City will be looking to build on the goalscoring success of last season and after losing Ryan Bowman to Shrewsbury, the pressure will be on Sam Nombe to deliver the goods in front of goal. The 22-year-old joined the club from MK Dons for an undisclosed fee, and after a great pre-season where he scored against the likes of Cardiff City, many fans are excited to see what the Englishman is capable of. Despite not scoring a lot of goals in his career, the striker’s pace alone will provide League Two defences with a lot of problems. Add that to a powerful presence and a knack for running in behind, if Exeter can give Nombe the right service this season, he could be the talisman behind a Grecian promotion push.


PREDICTION


The Grecians always find a way to be a part of the play-off hunt, and this season looks to be no different. The attack of Brown, Jay and Nombe may be able to push the Grecians into an automatic promotion push, the overall lack of depth and questions marks over the defence, may leave Exeter battling for the play-offs, a competition they are all too familiar with.


For now, my prediction for Exeter City would be 6th, although some good business to close out the transfer window could leave Matt Taylor’s side looking at the top three.