Forward previews Devon Derby at St James ParkFor Exeter City supporters, the sense of anticipation and build-up towards the home fixture against Plymouth Argyle outweighs any other in game in Sky Bet League 2. As of Thursday, ticket sales were around the 7,500-mark – demonstrating the level of interest in the fixture.
And for the players, it isn’t all that different either.
City striker Tom Nichols, who leads Exeter City’s goalscoring tally this season with 11, has played in plenty of games against the Pilgrims throughout the years. Not just for the first team, but also in reserve games and at Academy level during his time coming through the ranks in the youth programme.
So it’s little surprise that Tom has had this game on his radar for some time now.
“It’s definitely a different atmosphere to last year,” Tom said. “We’re both fighting for the play-offs – we really need to win, and they need to win to stay in those play-off places as well. It should be a good game.
“I haven’t played in front of a gate as big as this at Exeter, I don’t think – you can see that the fans are looking forward to it, just like we are as players. Hopefully we can get the win and keep the fans happy.
“You try not to, but you’re always looking toward this game. When the fixture list comes out it is the first game you look for.
“You do your best to play each game as it comes – but you’ve always got half an eye on the Argyle game and finally it has come around.”
In particular Tom is keenly anticipating playing in front of the largest projected gate since the Grecians hosted Liverpool in the League Cup, three and a half years ago.
While he enjoys the rigors of a league campaign, he admits that these high-profile fixtures are particularly enjoyable for him.
“I love these games,” he continued. “They’re great games to play in and there’s always a great atmosphere. Even in the youth team the parents love it and everyone gets stuck in.
“And we both play good football. They like to play the ball around, and so do we – so it should be an entertaining game. I’ve always loved these games and they seem to get better every time we play them.
“These are one-off games in a season that you have to make the most of. You can’t just let the game pass you by – and you’ve got to enjoy it as well.
“You’re in the middle of battle, but you have to enjoy it. I’m sure the Big Bank will be pumping so I’m personally really looking forward to it.”
For the Grecians, it is a chance to right the wrong of the early-season derby at Home Park, which ended 3-0 to the hosts.
City, just out of a transfer embargo and still settling down after a difficult summer, were picked apart by the Pilgrims that afternoon. But Nichols is certain that the Grecians will offer a very different proposition this time around.
“I haven’t got very good memories of that game at the start of the season,” said Tom. We got beaten quite comfortably and I injured myself in that game as well.
“I’m hoping that we can put on a good performance and forget about that. That’s the last time we played them and we got beaten three-nil, so we’ve got to change that. I’m sure that we will come Saturday.
“We’re a lot better team now than we were back then. They will be a lot more worried about us now and about how we’re going to play.”
The formbook, the cliché says, goes out the window when any derby comes around. That would suit Exeter well – Plymouth are on a streak of three wins without conceding, while City are winless in the last four at home.
Those kinds of stats are of little consequence to the squad, Tom says.
“They’ve got a good defensive record all season – they’re pretty tight defensively,” he continued. “But we’ve got one of the best attacking records so we don’t go into that game thinking anything different.
“We create chances in every game we play. At Portsmouth we didn’t score but we created chances. We always go into games confident – we’ve got a good spirit amongst this dressing room.
“We are on a bit of a dip but we still know how well we can play and confidence is still high in the camp. We know we’ll put in a good performance and hopefully get a few goals.
“When you play a derby, it doesn’t matter where you are in the league. It doesn’t matter how many games you have won or lost in a row – it just completely changes.
“We’re not on the best of form and they are on good form, but I firmly believe that we’ll come out on top in that game. Derbies are about who turns up on the day and I’m sure it’ll be us.”
Supporters are reminded that this game is all-ticket, meaning that tickets must be bought in advance as there will be no sales from the turnstiles or ticket booths on matchday. Click here for information about how to get tickets for this game.