Manager previews Southend’s visit to St James ParkExeter City manager Paul Tisdale has labelled the Grecians’ home fixture against Southend United on Saturday as a ‘must-win’ game for his side, if they want to retain any hopes of promotion to League 1 this year.
A win for Exeter would guarantee that they will still be mathematically in the running ahead of the trip to Hartlepool next weekend. Defeat, conversely, could put the seventh-place spot out of reach if other results don’t fall in their favour.
City defeated Luton and Newport over the Easter weekend – both of those teams now lie just a single point ahead of the Grecians in the table and are teams that the Grecians will want to overhaul in the coming weeks. Shrewsbury and Wycombe, however, have since beaten Exeter to improve their own credentials for automatic promotion.
Southend too have ambitions of reaching the top three, but Tis is well aware that a win against the Shrimpers is critical to their own goal.
“We viewed the two games over Easter [against Luton and Newport] as six-pointers in that vein,” Paul said. “We were beaten the better team at Shrewsbury, and we were a smidgen from three points at Wycombe.
“Over the last three or four weeks we have played in a manner that has been very bold. We have committed players forward and attacked, and we have played with a view that we have nothing to lose. We’ve got no reason to change that going into this week.
“We know that Southend are competing for something of their own – they’re after an automatic promotion spot and they have to win also.
“This is a very important game for us – we made life difficult by coming away from Adams Park with nothing on Tuesday. But this game is absolutely vital – there’s no way to skirt around it. We need three points and it is a must-win game.”
The picture at this stage of the season is very different to this time last year. 43 games into the 2013/14 campaign, City were just two points adrift of the trapdoor with three games remaining.
Exeter were amongst the bookies’ early favourites for demotion in the Conference this summer – compounded by some oft-cited difficulties off the pitch and a winless start of seven games in the early weeks of the new campaign.
While Paul hasn’t given up the ghost on this season yet, he is proud of the way that his team have turned those defeatist predictions around to be in a place where promotion is still a possibility with a couple of weeks left to go.
“I can recall speaking during August and saying that our season hadn’t started – we hadn’t had the opportunity to start,” he said. “We were so depleted and running on empty during that month.
“We started late and had an extraordinarily good run through the Autumn, where you felt it was possible. Then we dipped again, which is no surprise when you consider the games that some of the senior players have played regularly during the season.
“But we’ve come strong again and we’re in with a shout. When you consider that the first game we felt we had a chance to be competitive was the Oxford home game, we have put ourselves in a really good position.
“But did I think we would be here discussing play-offs? No, I didn’t. It is exciting and I am very pleased about it – and it is certainly better than having a problem at the other end of the table.”
Southend arrive in a good spell of form. They are the fifth team in as many games that City have faced who are in promotion contention.
Added to that, Phil Brown’s men have kept clean sheets in each of their last five games – winning four of those – and have kept out the opposition on a remarkable 20 separate occasions to date this year.
So Paul is expecting to face a team that will give away very little cheaply at the Park.
“We know they are a good side and they are functioning really well,” he said. “I have to say last year we lost at home to them and it was probably the best performance we’ve had against us at St James Park for the past two or three years. That day we were squarely beaten.
“It’s the same manager and many of the same players, and it’s no surprise they are in the play-offs and battling for automatic promotion.
“You can look at statistics and get blinded by figures, but there are a couple of statistics you always look at and figures that tell a story.
“Points on the board in long season; how many you score; how many clean-sheets you get or how few goals you concede.
“I think it’s pretty clear that they are a functioning team if they have just had five clean sheets. I don’t think it hides any other story than that they are very well-functioning.
“To have five clean sheets is not about the goalkeeper and the defenders – it is about a team that are well-connected and cover space really well, and they must have that.”