"WE'LL ASSESS HIM TOMORROW": EXETER CITY BOSS GIVES EARLY TEAM NEWS AHEAD OF SOUTHEND CLASH
Exeter City will be looking to get their play-off charge back on track as they face relegation threatened Southend United at St James Park on Saturday.
The Grecians are coming off the back of a disappointing 2-1 defeat on Tuesday night to struggling Barrow, but despite the result still remain in 8th place – two points outside the play-offs.
Of the six games left to play this season, Matt Taylor’s side must face three teams battling for promotion and three teams scrapping to avoid relegation, but he believes all the remaining fixtures will give his side the same level of difficulty.
“There’s almost a split in terms of the teams we’re playing against - three teams above us and three teams below us, but judging by recent results that’s not something to go off in all honesty that’s just the way the league is this season.
“It’s as difficult a fixture when you go to Barrow on a Tuesday night as it is to go Cambridge away on a Saturday it’s just different challenges.
Taylor added: “I said to the players on Tuesday, this level creates different obstacles and different challenges and we can already see that in terms of the differences between the game on Saturday (Cambridge) and on Tuesday (Barrow) but to be successful and be near the top you have to overcome both because this is what this league throws at you.”
The Shrimpers have certainly faced a challenging season in League Two, sitting 23rd, four points away from safety, but for their remaining few games highly experienced manager Phil Brown is in charge to try and pull of what would be a great escape.
With the new manager coming in, it hasn’t been the easiest game for Taylor and his team to prepare for as he’s unsure what to expect.
“It’s been a difficult season for Southend and they’re a big club for this level – relegated from League One and you certainly don’t want back-to-back relegations at any level and a team like Southend, a team of their stature, shouldn’t be involved in those situations.
“They’ve changed their manager in the last 10 days and I know he didn’t make too many changes going into the Crawley game last weekend, but he’ll have had a full week of work on the training pitch with them.
“So, it’s a difficult one to prepare for because you don’t quite know who’s available fitness wise, who suits his plans and what system the new manager will play in relation to that group of players,” said Taylor.
Sam Stubbs and Joel Randall are the noticeable absentees for Exeter going into the weekend while two wide players are possible doubts, but there’s also the worry of how physically drained all of the players will be, especially at this stage of the season.
“We’ve been better at different stages throughout the season, Randell Williams has played two 60 minutes, he was tight and a little bit sore after the game on Tuesday so we’ll assess him in relation to tomorrow.
“Robbie Wilmott has obviously missed the last couple of games with a groin injury, we’ll assess him tomorrow.
“I’ve got to be honest there’s a few tired bodies, a few players who are performing and playing on empty which is a real shame to see and that’s at the cost of the way the season has panned out.
“At the moment we’re not literally wrapping the players in cotton wool but we’re just trying to refresh them after every long trip, after every excursion, after every game and trying to get them to come fresh to every game and I hope they’re fresh this weekend,” said Taylor.
From the outset of this campaign, it was addressed that it will be a rebuilding season for Exeter and that the main priority will be bringing players through the academy, and yet here the Grecians find themselves in the hunt for promotion.
Come the end of the season, the younger players and some others who may not have been relied on heavily before this season, will have around 40 league games under their belt, and Taylor feels we will see the true reward of that next season.
“It’s important we point out that these players are still learning, there’s a whole group in my team at the moment where it’s their first real season, even Matt Jay our leading goal scorer this is the first time he’s played 40+ games and been the main man in any team.
“You look at the rest of the younger ones below him and this is the first time they’re playing week in week out and let’s be honest this season is like no other, the congestion of the fixtures and the travelling it is literally just playing then recovering.
“A lot of players are finding their way and I can guarantee the club will be in a better position no matter what happens at the end of this season, we don’t make the play-offs we don’t make the play-offs, but we’ll have a group of players in a really strong position going into next season and then it’ll be my job to add some real quality and experience in and amongst those young players,” said Taylor.
However, that’s looking at next season, as of right now Exeter are firmly focused on obtaining all three points this weekend, with a huge game against Forest Green Rovers to come the following week.