The Imps are already well down the M5, probably training at Bristol City’s ground as I type ahead of the sternest test of out promotion credentials yet.
Exeter City ruined our play off chances last season, becoming the fourth team to knock us out in the semi-finals. In truth, we’d done well to get to that stage and our team looked short of ideas by the time we took to the field. Five of the players who featured for us are no longer with the club, a further two are unlikely to start tomorrow. It is a new-look Lincoln, but is it a new-look Exeter?
To a degree, yes. They had what appeared to be a tough summer, losing manager Paul Tisdale and a raft of top players. Matt Taylor took over, but the Grecians were tipped to struggle this time around. Instead, they’ve impressed from the off and host City as genuine promotion contenders in the early exchanges.
Much of that has to be down to retaining the services of Jayden Stockley and Hiram Boateng. The latter is a midfielder of real class, comfortable on the ball with both pace and power in his arsenal. Stockley is a typical League Two centre forward, strong in the air and able to hold the ball up nicely. Some Exeter fans are critical of his weaknesses more than his strengths, claiming anything into his feet is wasted. Still, he’s got three this season so he’s a proper dangerman for them.
As I explained on the Stacey West podcast, Stockely and Boateng are responsible for almost half of the Grecians efforts at goal and the key to the match lies in keeping those two quiet. They’re not the only threat, but they are the most serious. Much depends on how they have decided to approach the game. If they’re going to play to their strengths and look to let us get on with it, then we need to stop those two and we’ll be fine. If they’re trying to second guess our team selection and neutralise our threat, then the outcome is anyone’s guess. After all, we don’t have a clue how we’ll line up, so what chance do they stand?
What I would point out is two of the Grecians wins have been against Carlisle and Morecambe. The Cumbrians are riding high so it looks to be a decent result, but it was a long opening day trip for them. Morecambe appear to be the whipping boys which might take some gloss off their opening results. they lost to MK Dons, albeit through a late penalty, and beat struggling Cambridge. They might be our first big test, but we’re their second and they failed the first.
Stockley is very much their Matt Rhead figure, a player who has committed the most fouls (12) and been fouled the most (11) for them. The approach really is about keeping him quiet because elsewhere, there are question marks over the longevity of the Grecians side.
Lee Martin and Nicky Law are both the wrong side of 30, but both are uncomplicated players who like to get on the ball. Neither will win any style awards, but this Exeter is functional. They attack more than the Paul Tisdale squad, but in a League Two manner. By that I mean they are uncomplicated in their approach, there’s no Andrade figure twisting and turning, no defence splitting passes from 30 yards, just a methodical and ordered approach to the game. Whether that makes them more dangerous or not remains to be seen tomorrow.
They’ll likely line up in a 4-4-2, more akin to a 4-4-1-1 with Stockley having the luxury of Martin running behind him. They do have Jonathan Forte in their side, I heard Danny praising him in the press conference this week. He might make an appearance from the bench and he is quick, but he’s not as dangerous as some we’ve already dealt with.
One big advantage they have is Pym in goal. I thought he was far and away the best keeper to play at Sincil Bank last season for an opponent and he’s in sensational form already this season. He controls his area excellently and he’s a top shot stopper. Whilst the plaudits and focus remains on the two outfield players we all admire, nobody should forget the colossus they have in goal.
There’s also the unknown quantity of Archie Collins. He’s their ‘Ellis Chapman’, an impressive teenager who impressed in midweek against Fulham. He should make the squad tomorrow.
I can see this being a draw, Exeter are compact and will be more like we were last season, whilst we might be a different beast altogether. At this early stage everything is still settling so it is hard to make sensible calls. I’ll go for 1-1 which would be a fine result for us.
In terms of betting tips, anyone following me last week need not have bothered. In fact, I did so badly I almost didn’t bother this week, but if you do fancy wasting some money, here’s my three team accy. Derby to beat Hull, Charlton to win at Southend and Notts County to draw with Forest Green. £5 would net you around £170 on Betway right now.