Exeter City: Rise to the top

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Exeter City appoint new manager

Exeter City today confirmed that they had promoted U-23 coach Tom James to be their new first team manager on a one-year contract, following Matt Taylor's surprise resignation last week.

This is James's first managerial role, and the 26 year old now holds the distinction of being the youngest manager in England's top four divisions. The Grecians narrowly missed out on a playoff position last year, and prior to that, had lost two playoff finals in a row.

James said in his press conference today: "I know most people won't know who I am, and I would like to assure the fans that I can get the best out of this squad. We've been a nearly club for too long, and I intend to take the club to League One by the end of this season."

Exeter open their season at home against Macclesfield.
 

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September 1st 2019

Transfer Review: Exeter City


In today's Transfer Review, Exeter City fan Ryan Adams looks at his club's signings in this window.

Like many, I was surprised when Tom James was appointed. Yes, he'd done good work with the U23s, but he's younger than most of our players. Nonetheless, he's impressed me so far. Bar a 4-0 defeat in the cup to Bristol City with a weakened team, we've won all our games and have looked generally solid defensively. I'll start by looking at the transfers made before James arrived.

INs

Lewis Ward (GK) - missed a few games with injury, but has performed well since being introduced to the team, keeping two clean sheets in four games.

Nicky Ajose (ST) - hasn't started since the opening day, when the team struggled for fluidity in a 4-4-2 formation. He didn't really click with Bowman up front together, although has scored two good goals from the bench, including a late winner away to Stevenage.

Tom Parkes (CB) - performed dreadfully in his only start in that cup game against Bristol, but did score an important header seconds after coming on against Oldham

Jonny Maxted (GK) - hasn't played since the 4-0 defeat, but kept clean sheets in his first two games. A useful back-up.

Jared Thompson (GK) - 3rd choice keeper with lots of potential, needs a loan move.

Alex Fisher (ST) - unlikely to get much game time ahead of Bowman and Ajose, missed out through injury so far

Nigel Atangana (CM) - still recovering from a knee injury, will probably go straight into midfield when he's back

Gary Warren (CB) - his only outing was the cup defeat

Brennan Dickenson (LM) - decent cameos against Oldham and Mansfield, but was ineffective on his only start in the cup

OUTs

Ryan Harley (CM) - good servant to the club

Jordan Tillson (CM) - slightly disappointed to see him go, but was going to struggle for game time

Christy Pym (GK) - was gutted about this at first, but Lewis Ward has eased my fears

Hiram Boateng (CM) - a big, big loss. Hopefully we don't regret selling him

And now here's the transfer that Tom James has made

INs

Nathan Donnelly (LW) - decent 16 year old winger, could possibly see him in the first team in the next few years

Jake Wright (CB) - fantastic signing, may be 33 years old but has excelled so far. Missed all of last season but hasn't played like it.

Adam Lewis (LB/CM) - first of our loanees from Liverpool. Ridiculously versatile for such a young player. Scored a sensational free kick to give us a last minute win at Morecambe.

Neco Williams (RB/RM) - another loanee from Liverpool, brilliant work rate and has provided a few assists already.

Alfie McCalmont (CM) - loanee from Leeds, has only played one game but I'm confident that he'll prove to be a major signing

OUTs

Pierce Sweeney (CB/RB) - often criticised by fans last season (and often rightly so), Sweeney would probably still be at the club, had he not had a well publicised spat with the manager. Unhappy with being dropped in favour of Neco Williams and Jake Wright, Sweeney was moved onto MK Dons.

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Tactically, James seems to be employing a possession based game with a 4-2-3-1 system. So far it's been very successful, dominating and winning all our league games. There's been a few occasions where we've not scored as many as we perhaps should have, but I guess that's quite a small complaint. 9/10 from me so far, I hope James can keep up this form.

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Amazing start to the season, despite a televised humiliation against Bristol City in the cup. Ryan Bowman and Adam Lewis prove to be particularly impressive.

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A terrible performance against Carlisle (marred by a 5th minute red card from Jake Taylor) leads to a bit of a slump, before coming from behind to beat Newport and return to winning ways.

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Mixed bag of results, but beating bitter rivals Plymouth live on Sky a definite highlight.

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After coming back from 2-0 down to beat Bradford 3-2, and another come from behind cup win against Bromley, the goals dry up.

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Two very impressive performances against League One sides in December, firstly losing out to Wycombe on penalties, before beating Sunderland in the FA Cup in a game where Sunderland had no shots on target.

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The Athletic finally launches UK-based, soccer-centric site with ...


Meeting England's youngest football manager

By James Ingram | December 22nd 2019

The final whistle goes. St James' Park erupts into life, as Exeter City produce a flawless competition to knock League One leaders Sunderland out of the cup. The Big Bank sing the name of a man they'd probably never heard of six months ago.

"There's only one Tom James."

Welsh international rugby player Tom James (coincidentally a former Exeter Chiefs player) might have something to say about that. The point still stands though; Tom James and Exeter City fans go together like biscuits and tea, sausage and mash, fish and chips. He is one of their own, as another popular chant claims. James used to watch games on the Big Bank growing up, before joining as a coach in 2015. His impressive management of the U23s side meant that when Matt Taylor resigned due to personal issues in July, James was ready to take his place. The apprentice had become the master, just as Taylor himself had done just twelve months previously.

I arrived at the Exeter training ground the next morning. The players had been given the day off after their cup heroics, but James was still there. As I knocked on the office door, I notice him rewatching Jake Taylor's goal from last night. His reaction is every bit as gleeful as it was fourteen hours ago, as Taylor's right boot connected with the ball perfectly from thirty yards out, the ball inevitably finding the top right corner, via a brief flirtation with the crossbar. He notices me and invites me in, before showing me the goal again.

"He's Mr Exeter City, that lad," he tells me with the pride of a dad watching his son graduate. Gives 100% every single time."

He offers me a cup of coffee and we begin to talk football. It becomes clear that James lives and breathes the sport. When he's not managing Exeter, he'll most likely be down the pub watching the Champions League games, or settling down to some Serie A on a Sunday lunchtime. He tells me once he was so desperate for a football fix, he found a live stream of the Romanian second division to satiate his desires. His passion is infectious, and even more so when he's talking about his own players.

"There's not a better striker in League Two than Ryan Bowman. That boy could be playing in the Championship and he wouldn't look out of place. And Randall Williams? That boy will play in the Premier League one day."

James' side boast the best defence in the league, and last night reduced Sunderland to just five shots, none of them finding the target.

"I think bringing in Jake Wright has helped certainly. He knows this division so well, and he's got such a cool head on his shoulders. And the young lads from Liverpool (Neco Williams and Adam Lewis) have certainly benefitted from that. Aaron Martin too, what a fantastic centre back."

On this evidence, it's hard to imagine James talking negatively at all. So I asked him if there's been any angry dressing room experiences this season.

"I lost my temper at bit in the Bradford game. We'd just beaten Plymouth 3-0 and yet were 2-0 down after ten minutes. We'd created nothing at half time so I had some choice words. I'd benched Nicky Law to give him a break, but had no choice but to bring him on, and he changed the game completely."

He also had some criticism for Pierce Sweeney, who was sold to MK Dons after a rift grew between the two.

"Burton had come in with a frankly derisory offer for Piercy, and I told them we wouldn't entertain it. Next morning, he's barging into my office saying I'm out of order, and have no right to get in the way of his career like that. I told him if that's truly how he felt, then he should leave the club. A week later, he's swapped Devon for Milton Keynes. And yeah he's done alright there so far, think they've got a shot at promotion to the Championship. But I genuinely don't think he'd be a regular starter here based on what I've seen from the other lads."

James's impressive start to managerial life has earned him a two year extension to his contract already, amid rumours that some Championship teams were eyeing him up. I asked James what his future plans are.

"I want to win the Champions League with Exeter. I've always been ambitious, and I genuinely think I can do it. I told the lads on day one that I expected promotion, and whilst a lot of them were keen to play it down, I know that they'd rather be led with ambition rather than caution. If any player came and told me they didn't think they could get promoted, they'd be out the door straight away."

The Champions League may be a pipe dream for now, but with Exeter flying high in the table, League One certainly looks realistic. An FA Cup run could be on the cards too, as a favourable draw against Leyton Orient awaits in the third round.

"We were a bit disappointed to be honest. No disrespect to Leyton Orient but we play them twice in the league anyway. We want to be testing ourselves against Liverpool, Man City, Chelsea, the big boys. But Leyton Orient are a good side, and a difficult ground to visit so we'll see."

Whether James is true to his word and stays at Exeter to win the Champions League, for now, the good times keep on rolling.
 
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Jedd95

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I've just reached the Prem with my Exeter save, been thinking of doing a thread on it. Great to see you're doing well my dude !
 
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Winter Transfers

IN

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Took advantage of our newly formed affiliation with Aston Villa to bring in some extra bodies. Dominic Revan brings some youth to the centre back position, and Tyreik Wright serves as back up to Randall Williams.

OUT

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Stalwart Craig Woodman was unhappy with his game time, so I allowed him to move onto Maidstone in the Vanarama South. Gary Warren only joined in July, but was also unhappy with his lack of action, so moved to Barrow instead.
 

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Pretty dreadful month, with only three goals in six matches. Despite this, an away draw at then-leaders Forest Green, and a win over 3rd placed Grimsby gave some hope. Massive disappointment to go out of the FA Cup to Orient.

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Much better results, although draws to 24th placed Stevenage and 21st placed Macclesfield were frustrating. Nicky Ajose becomes first choice striker, after poor form and injury plagued Ryan Bowman.

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A good month, despite a dreadful performance at home to Scunthorpe. The win over rivals Plymouth was the highlight, to keep us in automatic promotion territory.

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Very close at the top, with five games to go. Not going to be easy, with away trips to Orient, Cheltenham and Mansfield still to come.
 

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Oh dear. Form falls off a cliff, and we miss out on automatic promotion by two points. Nonetheless, a point at the home of the champions Leyton Orient gives a bit of hope going into the playoffs.

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Sky Sports - Sports News, Transfers, Scores | Watch Live Sport


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On a warm summer's evening, Cheltenham snapped a three match losing streak to beat Exeter in a confident display. A header from Jay Emmanuel-Thomas sent the home fans into raptures, as Exeter struggled to create any chances of note.

Both sides came into this one in poor form. Exeter hadn't won since their 3-2 away win at Plymouth Argyle, while Cheltenham's only victory in their last seven was a 2-1 home win to Exeter City in the league. Cheltenham dominated the early proceedings, with former Exeter man Tom Nichols proving a handful for Jake Wright and Dominic Revan to deal with. The away side looked flat and out of ideas, and when Neco Williams went off with a foot injury early on, the Grecians looked devoid of pace. Randell Williams was not his usual energetic self, while Nicky Ajose struggled to touch the ball.

On the contrary, Cheltenham's back five looked solid throughout, and nullified Exeter's attack completely. It was left back Chris Hussey's cross from deep which bought about the only goal, as Emmanuel-Thomas pulled away from Revan to find the back of the net.

The two sides meet again on Thursday, where Tom James will hope to see a much better performance in front of the St James's Park faithful.

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A tactical switch up from Tom James saw Exeter City roar back from their first leg woes, and book a date at Wembley. Goals from Adam Lewis, Randell Williams and Nicky Ajose sealed an impressive victory over a lacklustre Cheltenham side.

Exeter looked almost unrecognisable in this match, relentlessly pressing the opposition, rather than trying to dictate possession. On-loan Liverpool left back Lewis played like a man possessed, and gave his side the lead with an absolute screamer, cannoning Nicky Law's cutback into the top corner from 30 yards. Tom Nichols saw a decent effort go just wide, before Randell Williams made it two after the break, latching onto Alfie McCalmont's cross to head into the goal. A placed effort from Nicky Ajose sent the Big Bank wild, and secured a deserved and much-needed win.

Exeter must now prepare for their third play-off final in four years, where they will play Grimsby, who beat Plymouth Argyle in a 4-2 thriller.

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Live coverage of the League Two Play-off Final


"00 (Whistle blows)
Daniel Mann (DM): And we're off, to decide who gets that final place in League One. Will it be Grimsby Town, for the first time since 2004? Or is it third time lucky for perennial bridesmaids Exeter City, who were thwarted by Blackpool in 2017 and Coventry a year later. I'm joined by Andy Hinchcliffe.

Andy Hinchcliffe (AH): That's right Daniel. Exeter's build-up to this match has been marred by injury. Nicky Ajose's leg injury persists, so he doesn't make the squad today, while Adam Lewis, who scored that stunning goal in the semi final, is only fit enough for the bench. Neco Williams also misses out, having been recalled by Liverpool after suffering an ankle injury.

DM: Some nice early touches from Ryan Bowman, Ajose's stand-in. Interestingly Ajose and Bowman are neck and neck in the League Two scoring charts, both with 15. Bowman has a chance today to claim the golden boot, despite the fact he's yet to score from open play in 2020.

AH: Tyreik Wright has it now on the left hand side. Were you surprised by James's decision to start Wright in this one? He's played 11 games since joining from Aston Villa, and has yet to provide any goal contributions whatsoever.

DM: I think injury has definitely forced his hand. It's a shame for Neco Williams to miss such a big match, but who knows, this could be a massive breakthrough for Wright.

"21 1-0 Grimsby (Tilley)
AH: So it's a corner for Grimsby. Ramazani to swing it in. Clifton heads it down, and it's TILLEY!!! Hopeless marking from Exeter, and it's the 21 year old who makes them pay.

DM: And Tilley runs over to the Grimsby support. That's his fourth goal of the season, he almost didn't play today, having suffered a bout of food poisoning. Exeter made a good start, but once again, set pieces prove to be their downfall. Questions have to be asked of Aaron Martin there, how was Tilley allowed that much freedom?

"38 1-1 Exeter (Bowman)
DM: Randell Williams now, in the centre of the park, Richardson's making a good run on the right if he can spot him. Delivered into the box, Bowman's in the centre, and THERE IT IS! Bowman gets his second goal of 2020, and his first in open play. He's rediscovered his form at the right time.

AH: Brilliant work from Richardson down the right there, brushes past Clifton with ease, and creates the goal. It's all square now!

"41 2-1 Grimsby (Simoes)
DM: Simoes now picks it up on the left hand side. He's got Matt Jay in pursuit, but still going. Oh and he brushes off Jay, moves inside, still going, is he going to shoot? OH MY WORD!!! That may go down as the goal of the season.

AH: Unbelievable, it comes out of absolutely nothing. I never thought he'd take the shot on from there, but Lewis Ward in the Exeter goal has no chance. It cannons in off the crossbar, and no sooner had Exeter equalised, they're now behind again.

"45 Half-time whistle blows

DM: Well, well, well. Exeter have dominated the half, but Grimsby have scored both of their shots on target. Tilley gave Grimsby the lead, before Bowman headed Exeter back into contention. Simoes gave Grimsby the edge minutes later, with a goal I suspect we'll be talking about for a long time.

"52 Penalty to Grimsby

AH: Corner comes in, and it's headed away, but only as far as Tilley. Taylor closing in on him, the whistle goes, OH IT'S A PENALTY!

DM: What on earth is Jake Taylor doing?? Tom James is furious on the touchline and rightly so. 'Mr Exeter City' may have cost his club dearly in their biggest match here.

AH: It's a needless challenge, but he escapes a booking. Taylor looks like he's about to cry, he knows he's badly let the team down here.

DM: It's going to be Simoes to take it, can he grab his second of the afternoon NO HE CAN'T. Stunning save from Lewis Ward, who dives to his right to keep his team in contention.

AH: A fabulous save, and no one in the stadium is more grateful than Taylor. Simoes can score from 30 yards but he can't do it from the spot!

"58 3-1 Grimsby (Garmston)

AH: It's relentless pressure from Grimsby now, as Garmston has the ball on the left touchline, Taylor in pursuit and it's another needless foul.

DM: Well he's lucky to still be on the pitch to be honest. He's booked for this one, but he should have been booked for the penalty as well. Tom James just shakes his head. He knows this has been a dreadful performance from his captain.

AH: Garmston takes it quickly, finds Simoes. Simoes finds Traore, who plays a good goal to Garmston. Garmston has the beating of Richardson, takes a shot GOAAAAAAAAAL!

DM: It's another stunner, this time from Grimsby's left back. Garmston beats Ward with a left footed piledriver from the edge of the box. Exeter haven't been at the races this half and it's hard to see a way back for them now.

"90 Full time - Grimsby win promotion

DM: AND THEY'VE DONE IT! There will be parties on the Grimsby seafront all night, as the Mighty Mariners muster a magical display. Some feared the worst when Ian Holloway left for Stoke in January. But David Adams, in his first managerial role as worked wonders, and brings Grimsby back to League One for the first time in sixteen years.

AH: Absolutely, a wonderful story for him. You have to feel heartbroken for Exeter City and their fans. Lifelong fan Tom James is consoling his players right now, but he must be thinking what could have been, had his side not let their automatic promotion spot slip away so tamely. Jake Taylor looks distraught, normally renowned for his big game performances, he was poor today. Exeter were desperately lucky with injuries in the build up, but credit to Grimsby, they looked a cut above today.

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2019/20 Award Ceremony

Despite the play-off disappointment, the manager and players were in high spirits during the annual club awards night. Jake Taylor was the big winner, claiming Fans Player of the Season, and goal of the season, for his long range effort against Sunderland. Ryan Bowman was officially awarded the League Two Golden Boot, with his 16 goals narrowly edging Nicky Ajose's 15 goals. It was also a good night for Adam Lewis, who was awarded Young Player of the Season, and Signing of the Season.

Tom James's speech thanked the players for their hard work, and he promised to lead the club to promotion next season. He also paid tribute to Dean Moxey and Lee Holmes, both of whom announced their retirement this week. He also thanked Lee Martin, Tom Sparkes, Jonny Maxted and Brennan Dickenson for their contributions, with all four leaving the club following the end of the contracts. There was some positive news however, as James announced the extensions of Alfie McCalmont, Neco Williams, Jayden Richardson and Adam Lewis's loan contracts for another year.

James also thanked the fans, and assured them that the team was bringing in some fresh faces, and that they were going to be ready to the promotion fight next season. He even let slip that he was in talks to sign a Premier League winning winger. Whether than transpires, we'll have to find out next season...

From all of us at Exeter City, thank you for your support, and we'll see you back at St James's Park soon.
 

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September 1st 2020

Transfer Review: Exeter City

In today's Transfer Review, Exeter City fan Ryan Adams looks at his club's signings in this window.

Tom James promised big signings at the club award ceremony last year, and he hasn't disappointed. A new look Exeter side have impressed so far, taking 17 points out of 21 in this season so far. Here's my review of the signings James brought in.

INs

Shay McCartan (AM) - didn't think much of this signing at first, the Northern Irishman hardly set the world alight at Bradford last season with one goal in ten appearances. However he's proved me wrong, tripling his goal tally already, and providing the goals Matt Jay just didn't get in the same position last year.

Keinan Davis (ST) - another loanee from Villa. High work rate, although one goal in seven games isn't too encouraging.

Lloyd Jones (CB) - been a rock at the back with Jake Wright, keeping three clean sheets in his five games so far, including one in the cup win against his former club Luton.

Oliver Shenton (CM) - highly rated centre mid released from Stoke. Has only made one short appearance so far in the Carabao Cup defeat to Brentford, although he has been injured.

Adam Phillips (CM) - released by Burnley, the 22 year old has impressed from the bench a few times, and was man of the match against Premier League Brentford in the cup.

Nathan Dyer (RW) - James hinted he was in talks with a Premier League winning winger at the club awards ceremony, and he delivered, signing former Swansea and Leicester player Nathan Dyer on a free. He's been incredibly impressive so far, with three goals to his name in six appearances.

Dempsey Arlott-John (RW) - released by Leicester, Arlott-John has been decent when called upon, providing back-up to Dyer, and already chipping in with a few goals from the bench.

Charlie Daniels (LB) - former Bournemouth man, has looked a little off the pace in his appearances, although provides experienced back up to Adam Lewis.

Angus MacDonald (CB) - a deadline day move, to provide competition for Wright and Jones

OUTs

Nigel Atangana (CM) - never fully settled at Exeter, but at least we got a good fee from him

Alex Fisher (ST) - again, worked hard for the club, but never managed to get a goal in an Exeter shirt. We were lucky to get money for him

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Overall, I'd give this window an 8/10. Resigning the loan players from last season was a coup, and James has bought in youth and experience in equal measure. Let's hope they can maintain their strong form going forward.

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OneMoreGame

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So close to winning promotion, really awful ending of good season. However with these signings you should do it on the second season without any troubles. Good luck this time.
 
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Excellent in the first six games, with six wins and six clean sheets. New signings Nathan Dyer and Shay McCartan in particular have been excellent. Draws against Cambridge and Colchester take the gloss off the month, but the performance against Brentford was particularly impressive, as quite a few first teamers were rested.

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Blip in league form results in first defeat of the season at Crawley, before we return to form with three consecutive wins to see us top the table at the end of September.

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The two Devon sides lead the way so far, will be interesting to see what the table looks like when we visit Plymouth at the end of October.
 

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Off The Mark: Jack Sparkes

After scoring his first senior goal for Exeter in a 3-3 draw in the Devon derby, Sarah Williams interviews local lad Jack Sparkes.

SW: Jack, congratulations on scoring your first goal for Exeter yesterday, and what a game to do it in! How are you feeling?

JS: Thank you, yeah it's a dream come true, I've grown up at the club, and I've always wanted to score for the first team. To do so in such a big match as well, couldn't have asked for a better opponent to do it against.

SW: So you're watching the match, it's 2-2, and the manager wants to make a change. Did you expect to come on?

JS: To be honest with you, yes. He'd told me in training the week before how hard he thought I'd been working, and he said that he wanted to give me some minutes against Plymouth, especially being a home grown player and all. He brought me and Nicky [Ajose] on, and he assisted my goal, so credit to the gaffer for that. Obviously was disappointing to concede such a late equaliser, but you know, we're still top of the table, so can't complain too much.

SW: Nathan Dyer suffered a knee injury yesterday, and it looks like he'll be out until the New Year. Does this open a door for you?

JS: I don't really like to think about that sort of thing, we're all gutted for Nathan, and hope he makes a quick recovery. But obviously that leaves a space vacant, and I think I could be the one to fill it. But you know, Dempsey [Arlott-John] has also shown his quality, and while he didn't have the best game yesterday, he's still scored some big goals already.

SW: You had a frustrating season last year, only making one start and suffering a few injuries. How hard have you worked to get to this position?

JS: I've been training so hard, just to show the gaffer that I can be a first team player, and I'm glad he's starting to see what I'm about.

SW: What are your goals for the rest of the season?

JS: I want to make at least 20 appearances this year, and if I can get some more goals and assists, and help the team, then that'll be amazing. The whole side believe we can go up this season, and I want to be a part of that.

SW: Thank you Jack, best of luck for the rest of the season.
 

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Off The Mark: Ben Seymour

After a stunning four-goal haul against Maccelsfield, Sarah Williams interviews youngster Ben Seymour.

SW: Ben, what a way to get off the mark for Exeter City! Did you imagine a full debut like that?

BS: Haha, not even in my wildest dreams. But I've been in great scoring form for the U23s, and the gaffer told me he wanted to see what I could do against Macclesfield. I'd have been happy with a goal, but to score four, it's absolutely insane!

SW: Before yesterday, you had only made one Exeter appearance, as a late substitute against Walsall. With three strikers seemingly ahead of you in the manager's thoughts, were you worrying about your future.

BS: I was, to be honest. I'm 21, I need to be playing regularly somewhere now, whether that's at Exeter or somewhere else. I think I did well at Flyde last year [Seymour scored 12 goals in 44 appearances], but I knew I needed a good performance in this match, or I'd almost certainly have been out the door in January.

SW: What did Tom James say to you in the dressing room afterwards?

BS: Just that he was very proud of my performance, and I'd helped the side get back on track. We've had a few frustrating results recently, so was glad to contribute to a win.

SW: Jack Sparkes has been playing regularly since his goal against Plymouth, are you hoping for the same sort of thing?

BS: Obviously yes, but there's still three other very good strikers at this club. But hopefully I've shown enough of what I'm about to make some more appearances.

SW: What are your goals for the rest of the season?

BS: Before yesterday, I'd have said I just want a goal in League Two, but I'm now aiming for double figures. But we'll see.

SW: Thank you Ben, and well done!
 

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Good month overall, despite a disappointing performance at Barnet. Lost Nathan Dyer to a three month injury in the Plymouth game, and conceded a frustrating late equaliser.

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Poor month generally, despite an impressive win over Northampton. Massive disappointment to go out of the cup against Southend, especially playing with a near full strength side.

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Much better month. Ben Seymour announced himself to League Two with a stunning four goal showing, and we showed battling spirit to come from 2-0 down against Northampton. Highlight was obviously the 7-2 win at Carlisle, before conceding another late equaliser against Salford.

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So we go into 2021 top of the table by two points. However with only 12 points between 1st and 8th, it's crucial that we don't get complacent.
 

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An almost flawless month, including a run to the EFL Trophy semi final as well. Even in the draw against Newport, we showed fighting spirit to grab two late goals.

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Suffered an unfortunate dip in form, with just one win. Nathan Dyer came back from injury, and promptly suffered another two month setback.

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A mixed bag, with impressive away victories at Crewe and Bolton, mixed with abject home performances against rivals Plymouth and Colchester.

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Top of the table with five games to go, hopefully we can seal promotion this season.
 
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An Extract from Tom James's autobiography 'Rise To The Top', published May 2040.

Chapter 8


The home game against Southend was one of the most important matches of my career. Having been ten points clear at one stage, we had lost the league title to Plymouth, and were now just two points ahead of fourth place. I knew that failure to go up this season would probably cost me my job, especially having blown automatic promotion in my first season too. We were on a pretty dire run of form, and had greatly shot ourselves in the foot my losing at home to playoff contenders Crawley and Colchester. Southend themselves were fighting relegation, so we knew they'd be up for it. I'm not a religious man, but I remember finding a quiet moment before kick off and praying: praying that we would just win. I didn't care how, I just wanted a victory.

I made some big calls in the line-up: I dropped Jake Taylor for Adam Phillips, who I felt had been in slightly better form coming into the game. I also went with Keinan Davis up front, preferring him to Ben Seymour. Ben was one of the most professional players I ever worked with, but he was furious to be left out. He told me afterwards that he thought as an academy graduate, winning this game meant more to him than it did to Keinan, who was on loan, and therefore probably wasn't going to be around next season regardless.

The atmosphere from the off was nervous. One of the Southend players placed a header just wide in the first minute of the game. Minutes later, what I feared would happen happened. Another free kick to Southend, and this time, Harry Lennon headed home. I was absolutely livid. Lloyd Jones had been one of our best players that season, but he completely fell asleep at the back.

After that, we started to dominate the game. Neco Williams and Adam Phillips both missed big chances to score, but I was hopeful we'd equalise soon. Unfortunately that wasn't the case. They won a throw in close to goal, and the ball fell to Tyrese Fornah, who slammed the ball home. The rest of the half was a blur. I'd never been so angry in my managerial career so far. We were dominating, Southend could hardly get a touch on the ball. And yet chance after chance were being missed. In the dressing room at half time I lost it. I ripped in to Keinan Davis, who'd barely hit the target all game, and Aaron Martin and Lloyd Jones, who both could have done better for Southend's goals. Furious, I took off Adam and Keinan, and instead bought Jake Taylor and Ben Seymour on, two players who knew how much this match meant to the fans.

My anger at half time seemed to work. Jake was spraying the ball around nicely, and seven minutes later, Neco connected with a lovely ball from Randell Williams to make it 1-2. However as the clock reached 70 minutes, we were no closer to finding an equaliser. I had to do something drastic. Ryan Bowman was on the bench; he'd not had the best season, but he was a massive presence up top, and I felt if I brought him off the bench as a target man, he'd take the pressure of Ben's shoulders. So off came Alfie McCalmont, and on came Ryan, last year's Golden Boot winner, but a player who'd only managed one league goal this season. Moments later, he'd repayed my faith. A corner from Jake was whipped in, Neco headed it across goal, and Ryan had escaped his marker to head home. The Big Bank went into delirium, and all the momentum was with us.

It was now the 80th minute of the game, and I barely had any fingernails left. Jayden Richardson crossed the ball in from deep, it somehow found its way to Randell, who headed us into the lead. I went crazy, I wanted to run down the touchline, but I thought better of it. I didn't want to risk being suspended for the last game of the season. Randell had nearly left the club in January, but thankfully we convinced him to sign a new contract. He was our Player of the Season undoubtedly, and came up with one of the most important goals in our history. A few minutes later, Neco Williams made it 4-2, and for the first time that afternoon, I started to relax. Aside from a silly 90th minute red card from Lloyd, we saw out the victory and knew that we were going into a final day away match at Shrewsbury in a good position. We just needed to draw to guarantee promotion to League One.

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