Meet the opposition: Exeter City likely to name mix-and-match side with promotion push the priority
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Ipswich Town take on high-flying League Two side Exeter City in the last 16 of the EFL Trophy. STUART WATSON takes a look at the Grecians’ season so far.
Could this be Exeter City's year? The Grecians, who have been in League Two since 2012, have finished fifth, fourth and ninth in recent years, twice losing in the Play-Off Final at Wembley.
They come into this game placed second in the fourth-tier standings and on an eight-game unbeaten streak in the league. They've actually gone 14 games without defeat inside 90 minutes across all competitions, their one loss coming via an extra-time goal in an FA Cup replay at Hartlepool.
On December 21, Exeter fought back from 3-0 down to salvage a 3-3 home draw with Walsall, On December 29, they came from behind to grab a 2-2 draw at Colchester.
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Last time out, on New Year's Day, the Devon side ground out a 1-0 win (their 11th of the season) at fellow promotion-chasers Forest Green. Having taken an early lead, goalscorer Nigel Atangana was dismissed soon after the restart. Jonny Maxted subsequently saved a penalty as the 10-men visitors withstood an onslaught.
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When Paul Tisdale left for MK Dons in the summer of 2018 it was the end of an era at St James Park. The flat-cap wearing boss had been at the Devon club for 12 years.
Exeter turned to one of their former captains in Matt Taylor. Just like Tisdale, he arrived from a coaching role - in his case Bath City rather than Team Bath.
A win ratio of 43.7% from 87 games so far has got the 37-year-old off to a great start.
EFL TROPHY RUN
Exeter topped Group E of the Southern Section with a 100% record, beating Cheltenham (1-0 at home), Newport (2-0 away) and West Ham U21s (3-1 at home). They progressed to the last 16 with a penalty shootout victory against Oxford United following a goalless home draw.
They've made it this far with Taylor resting the majority of his first-team regulars in the competition. Senior fringe players such as Dino Visser, Craig Woodman, Jordan Tillson and Alex Fisher (seven league starts between them this season) have been combined with inexperienced young academy graduates such as Jordan Dyer (18), Harry Kite (19), Joel Randall (20), Matt Jay (23) and Will Dean (19).
Speaking ahead of tomorrow's game, Taylor said: "I will have to assess Ipswich in terms of the team that we play but I cannot risk anyone ahead of Cambridge in the league the following week."
The 'star' name in Exeter's last EFL Trophy line-up? That would be Lee Martin.
His was a career that went on a downward curve after Roy Keane paid £1.5m to lure the Manchester United academy graduate to Portman Road in 2009.
After four hugely inconsistent years in Suffolk, the winger (who is prone to a hot-headed moment) joined Championship club Millwall on a free transfer. His three-year spell there included a relegation and ended with a loan spell at Northampton.
After a two-year stint in League One with Gillingham, he dropped down the pyramid again to join Exeter in 2018. There he's scored seven goals in 45 starts and 24 substitute appearances.
SOME HOME FRUSTRATIONS
It's not all been plain sailing for Exeter this season.
During a gritty 1-0 win against Cambridge United in an FA Cup replay (which followed a 0-0 home draw with Cheltenham), Grecians fans ironically cheered a rare effort on goal and chanted 'we've had a shot'.
"There was a bit of sarcasm, but I can't stress how difficult it is to break teams down that sit behind the ball," said Taylor, speaking after that game in November. "In those moments of uncertainty, the message is that everyone has to stick together.
"This group of players are not perfect, I know that, but we should be getting stronger, we should be getting better and there are times when we will frustrate the life out of them (the fans). But they have to stick with us.
"We are League Two players and a League Two team. We have to be patient with each other, we have to be patient on the pitch."