Flush off a 1-0 victory over Grimsby Town, Exeter City closed the point gap on Swindon Town in the Sky Bet League table. As it stands, the Grecians are on a level with the Robins (each with 53 points), but behind on goal differential. Crucially, the Grecians have a game in hand, which could very well come in handy down the stretch as the clubs continue jostling for automatic promotion.
In thwarting Grimsby last weekend, the Grecians recorded their tenth 1-0 win on the season and, in turn, their 14th clean sheet in the league, which, incidentally, marks the cleanest sheets of any of the 92 Football League clubs in the country.
In previous seasons, the case against Exeter City was arguably a lack of physicality and the ability to do the basics required. If the first half of the season were any indication, it seems Taylor has worked out those issues admirably.
Yet, there are those naysayers that would point to Exeter’s stellar defending and the amazing goalkeeping by Jonny Maxted, who continues to excel behind a stout backline that showed just how willing they were to sacrifice their bodies in defence of the posts as recently as last weekend against Grimsby, as a concerning heavy reliance on Maxted that could backfire.
This vein of thinking rests in part on shot-making statistics and goal scoring that leave something to be desired. Of the top seven clubs in League Two, Exeter City’s 38 goals scored through 27 fixtures ranks at the lower end of the group, fifth overall. Eight of their 13 league wins going into the New Year featured 1-0 scoreline. Two of their last five fixtures in January were decided by the same score, while three were decided by a one-goal margin.
Strange that this needs to be asked, but isn’t winning the be-all and end all of any campaign? The Grecians, who have lost two play-off finals in the last three seasons, are desperate to return to League One after suffering the ignominy of fourth-tier football for eight years, and for the first time in a couple of years, they certainly look to be on track, a fact that can be backed at 2/1 with various top-rated bookmakers.
Last season, in Taylor’s first term in charge, Exeter City barely cracked the top 10 in the league, finishing 9th overall. Good passing and movement they had in abundance then, but defence was sorely lacking.
As the old adage goes, offence wins games but defence wins championships. The importance of playing a balanced game can’t be understated. Winning can’t happen without giving complete attention to both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.
So, what if the win is ugly if it delivers the crucial three points required to plough through the table to its summit. It’s worth pointing out that Exeter City are enjoying a nine-game run of undefeated form across all competitions going into match day 28, when they’ll host Colchester United at St. James Park and are favoured to win at 21/20 according to bookies. Home form is nothing to sneeze at either with a run of seven straight undefeated across all competitions.
Whichever way one slices Exeter City’s chances to advance into League One, when all is said and done, these are heady times for Exeter City fans with Matt Taylor’s lads riding a rich vein of form, playing with a verve and swagger that couldn’t have been predicted when the season first got underway.
In other competitions, this scintillating form is spilling over and nowhere more so than Leasing Cup where the Grecians are through to the semi-finals following Tuesday’s win over Stevenage.
The Grecians banked on home advantage to clinch a spot in the competition’s final four behind a 3-0 win over Stevenage. Matt Jay struck a brace for Exeter, scoring once in each side of the half after Nicky Ajose opened the scoring in the 25th minute. The draw for the semi-finals will be made on Saturday, 25 January at 21:00 GMT, live during Quest’s EFL highlights show with Colin Murray and former Barnsley boss Paul Heckingbottom joining.
All told, with the second half of the season underway, Taylor’s lads look primed for a belated return to third-tier football and, even, potentially Leasing Cup glory.