Manager looks on to Gigg Lane clashAhead of the Grecians’ visit to Gigg Lane on Saturday, Exeter City manager Paul Tisdale acknowledged that Bury were one of the standout teams to visit St James Park in the first half of the season.
It so happened, however, that the Shakers were also the first team that City defeated on home soil in 2014/15 – Exeter matched up against a fine footballing Bury side and came out with their second win in five days, following on from a Tuesday-evening triumph in Cambridge. The result knocked Bury off the top of the table, and put some breathing space between Exeter and the drop-zone.
Exeter’s trips to Gigg Lane, however, haven’t been particularly fruitful down the years. In the 15 away fixtures against Bury in the Football League, City’s 1-0 win in 2008 – thanks to an early Richard Logan goal – is the only victory. The Grecians’ only other win at Gigg Lane came in the first ever meeting between the clubs – a 2-1 triumph as part of the club’s famous 1930/31 FA Cup run.
The past will count for little on Saturday though – and Tis is keen to buck the recent trends of being defeated at Bury. With the two teams now separated by just three points – a slither compared to the 11 points that separated them going into the season’s earlier meeting – it will take on an added significance.
Paul said: “We have had a poor record up there – we have had one win there out of six or seven, and it’s a record we would very much like to reverse. It’s a big game for both teams.
“I still maintain that the best two teams we have played against this year have been Bury and Shrewsbury – they have had the most potential and firepower, and more dimensions to their game than both.
“Bury have slipped off it – I don’t know the issues for it and it’s not an issue to me. For me, it’s about Saturday and who wins the three points.
“But they are a good side and they’re capable of some good football. We played there last year and they were a very good side then under their current manager. They have got some consistency and they have been able to play some good football.
“We have been level pegging for a while and they are slightly ahead of us – to all intents and purposes we have been very close in the league now for a month or two, and it’s a big game.”
The legacy of a recent fixture against Wycombe Wanderers – in which all but the six-yard boxes were covered in snow – is that the playing surface up at Lancashire has been left less than ideal for slick, on-the-deck football.
That is likely to mean for a very different game to September’s meeting at the Park, in which the ball hugged the turf for most of the fixture.
Therefore Saturday is likely to be a battle of two teams to see how they are able to adapt from being a little bit outside of their comfort-zone.
“They are playing a slightly different style – it has been well-reported that their pitch is pretty poor,” Tis continued.
“I can empathise, having had that situation four years ago in our League 1 campaign at the time – it does take the stuffing out of the middle part of your season. They have a vastly deteriorated surface there, they’ve had to change the way they play a little bit.
“I don’t think we can look too much at that game [in September] – the surfaces have changed, and the types of game you play in League 2 in the autumn are very different to the middle of winter on a February afternoon.”
And despite not having the greatest points harvest in January, Paul feels that the team are beginning to move in the right direction again.
But while performances have been largely pleasing, the City manager knows that the points are now the most pressing factor in the remainder of the campaign.
“There was a frustration going back a month when we lost two or three games and we didn’t quite seem robust enough,” said Paul.
“But over the last three games I’ve been happy with the way we have played, especially in the first half last week; we also did really well at Oxford and we had a competitive game at Mansfield.
“Although we have won one, drawn one and lost one of those three, the signs are that we were are functioning again.
“If we don’t get a win on Saturday, the season isn’t over either – but we do know that every point is vital.”