• Kieran Horn

Matt Taylor provides clarity on Sam Nombe's availability ahead of clash with Swindon Town

Exeter City manager Matt Taylor will have his squad bolstered by the return of striker Sam Nombe for their League Two fixture against Swindon Town.

The Grecians talisman, signed from MK Dons in the summer, has missed the last two months of football after suffering a serious hamstring injury in the 2-1 FA Cup fourth round defeat to Cambridge United.

In his absence, Exeter have struggled for goals, finding the back of the net just six times in seven league games, and further injuries at the top of the pitch has made things far more complicated for Exeter, with Barrow forward Offrande Zanzala, who joined the club in January on loan until the end of the season, suffering a severe knee injury in just his second game.

Not only did this leave Exeter with just one recognised striker in the team in Padraig Amond, it also forced Taylor to go back into the market and sign Kieran Phillips on loan until the end of the season from Huddersfield Town.

Phillips, who spent time on loan at Walsall earlier in the season, is expected to go straight into the matchday squad and Taylor revealed that he will be joined by Nombe.

"Sam Nombe and Alex Hartridge are available," Taylor said. "It just depends how much game time we can give some of the group on the back off the layoff they’ve had.

"I’ve said for the last few weeks, first and foremost we’ve got to be mindful off the back of the hamstring injury where he (Nombe) is fitness wise. We’ve not been able to give him a game before his re-introduction back into the first team squad so to speak.

"He’s been training, but he’s not played a match, so his introduction will be done with a little bit of caution, but we want him to be fit and we need him to be fit so he can contribute to the team as well.

"It will be great to have him in our armoury so to speak going into Swindon this weekend."

The 23-year-old has found it tough to earn a settled place at a club in his football career, with four separate loan spells from MK Dons since 2018 amounting to just 45 appearances but a decent return of 11 goals.

And while he went without a competitive goal in his first seven league games for the Grecians, the following six games saw Nombe find the back of the net in every single one and while that goal-scoring form was a huge plus, his ability to combine with the other attacking players and cause problems to opposition defenders, has perhaps been missed more.

“We’ve missed him let’s be honest," Taylor admitted. "We’ve not scored enough goals in his absence and we haven’t threatened or moved the oppositions backline enough in his absence as well. When we signed him, we knew what affect he could have in terms of the balance of the team.

"Unfortunately, we haven’t had two or three games to build him into the first team which is what you want when you’re coming back from a significant time off, so don’t expect too much too soon.

"But, it’s great to have him back and I’m sure you’ll see MJ (Matt Jay) and Jevani (Brown) in better form when Sam comes back in and starts occupying centre halves."

Nombe’s return to fitness has come at the perfect time with Exeter playing 13 games throughout February and March.

The first fixture of those sees them make the trip to the County Ground to take on 7th placed Swindon Town this Saturday. Ben Garner’s Robins sit two points above City, just inside the play-off places although they have played an extra game.

Despite Swindon making a push for promotion, they have only secured three victories on their own patch from 13 games, however they’re progressive style of football has Taylor expecting a tough and enjoyable game of football on Saturday likely with a big crowd in attendance.

“Swindon is always a big game,” he said. “Location wise, it’s one of our closer ones. It’s still two hours away though, but we’re so well supported there.

“I think we’ve already sold our allocation, so it suggests there could be a double figure attendance there. 10,000 people and the fact we’re close together in the league suggests it’s got that big game feel.

“It’s a fantastic stadium and pitch and a big club for our level so we know what it will feel like on Saturday and that’s why it’s always one to look forward to for our fans and also for our players to represent the club in the right way as well.

“Whatever happened in their off-season, they recovered fantastically well in terms of bringing that group of players together and they are challenging towards the right end of the table. It’s all about the personnel you have at your disposal and they’ve got some excellent players for our level.

“I’ve watched them a couple of times live this season and they are a possession-based team, very structured and very fluid with their ball movement and they’ve got some talent in there as well.

“We’ve got to somehow knock them off their style to a certain degree and implement are style of play on the game, but I’m hoping for a good reflection of League Two football with two footballing teams.

“When we go away from home, we want to play football and the pitch and the environment should allow us to do that. So, a game to look forward to and a game as a player and manager you want to be involved in.”