Ahead of the Grecians’ trip to Spotland on Saturday, Exeter City manager Paul Tisdale acknowledged that some of the fringe players in the team are vying for berths in the side to face Rochdale.
An under-21 representative squad – made almost entirely of young pros – took another Premier League scalp on Wednesday by defeating their Southampton counterparts in the Under-21 Premier League Cup and Tis recognised that those individuals are in the forefront of his mind.
“They’re getting closer all the time – that’s their job,” said Tis. “I have to say, I watched that game very closely, and not just because I wanted them to win, but because there are one or two open doors in the team where selection is not guaranteed.
“One or two were being looked at with a view for Saturday; that’s not to say they are going to be selected or not, but often you’re looking at performance in relation of a few open doors.”
The Dale and the Grecians have shared five goals on each of the last two occasions that they have met in Lancashire – the most recent of which was a 3-2 City win last season – and the Exeter manager is confident that his side will express themselves when they meet high-flying Rochdale.
“Rochdale are a good football side with a very good manager, and you always get a good game of football there,” continued the City boss. “It is always an entertaining game of football – they are fluid with their systems and often play three in midfield, and are good at it. We’re expecting a good football match.
“We’ve got an opportunity to be ourselves in that game because of how they play. We like playing there – we haven’t always won, but we like playing there.
“It’s a familiar route up to the north-west – we have a familiar hotel that we stay at in that area, and we need a galvanised and together type of performance.”
Three points at Spotland would go some way to reversing the tide that has washed over Exeter’s bright start to the campaign. City’s results have been poor in recent weeks, even on the occasions when performances have been good.
The latest defeat – against Southend last Saturday, and the fourth on the spin – might have given Exeter a little extra to think about in terms of self-reflection. With a squad almost approaching full fitness again, Paul is aiming to settle things down again to secure a platform to build from.
“We have to believe in what we do,” he continued. “We’ve had a few variables that have been changing a lot over the course of the last month, and I need to try to put more constants back into the game and back into the performance, and make fewer variables to discuss, quantify, assess and coach – and we’ll get back on it.
“It’s been a disappointing three or four games, and the games will come thick and fast. But I believe in the players – they do need reminding of things and they do need to be pushed and directed, and there have been one or two that have dropped their performance levels and I have made that known to them.
“We’ll be on it on Saturday – that doesn’t guarantee a win, but we’ll be okay.”
The home defeat to the Shrimpers did spark an inquest of sorts and for all the disappointment of defeat, the performance has highlighted areas for the City manager to analyse and hopefully translate that into a performance that gains a merited victory.
Paul continued: “I’ve had a day or two in my study looking at all the factors. There’s what we’ve been coaching – as there’s often a correlation between what you coach and how the performance manifests itself – but also players in and out of form, combinations of players, systems, opposition, league, statistics and evidence.
“I’ve been swamped in evidence, rumour, gossip, discussion, debate and everything else – my job is to pick through it all and pick out one or two things to concentrate on, and I have done. That’s my job and I pride myself on digging deep.”