Full-back admits surprise at start against the DonsGrecians left-back Connor Riley-Lowe admitted that it came as a big surprise to get the nod for a starting berth ahead of Exeter City’s 3-2 win against AFC Wimbledon at St James Park.
Surprise starts for youngsters against the Dons has become a bit of a theme – Jamie Reid was handed his full debut away at Kingsmeadow two seasons ago, and Matt Grimes made his first ever pro appearance when he played 90 minutes in the corresponding fixture at the start of last season.
Riley-Lowe had played two cup games previously, as well as featuring for an hour against Hartlepool in a League 2 game back in August – but he wasn’t part of the travelling party last weekend against Carlisle.
So with regular left-backs Craig Woodman and Jamie McAllister both absent, the first-year pro was pleased that manager Paul Tisdale had faith in him was happy to give him his first 90-minute performance in the Football League for a critical game against Wimbledon.
“I found out that I was playing just before the game when Tis said the team,” Connor said. “It was a massive shock to be fair – I came in and got ready as usual, and if I’m honest I didn’t think I would be on the bench today.
“So when he said I was starting, it was a shock to the system – but I got myself ready in the warm up. And it was a good game.
“Woody has been out and Macca had a late fitness test and clearly wasn’t fit enough – so he picked me and I’m happy for that. I think I put in a good performance and it was a good win for the lads.”
“I had a month out at Weymouth, and I did enjoy that. It gave me game-time and gave me that winning spirit back.
“I’ve been training for the last few weeks and just waiting for my chance, and thankfully it came today.”
Last month he was featuring at Weymouth in a loan spell alongside fellow Academy graduate Jamie Reid.
And with that experience under his belt, alongside a few games in Grecian colours early in the season, Riley-Lowe felt better equipped to come straight in this time around. And so it proved with a solid and sensible display on Saturday.
“I was a little bit more comfortable this time than I was last time, because it was my first start then,” he continued.
“This was a massive game – the lads really wanted to win it today and thankfully we did. I think that puts us above Wimbledon now.
“And that’s what we wanted – we needed to get the result, especially at home. Thankfully we did.
“The first goal was a great finish to be fair, and sometimes there is nothing that you can do with them.
“But the lads did well and kept pressing – and I think as soon as the guy got sent off we felt comfortable that we would win the game. We knew that if we were patient with our build-up play that we would get the goal.”
The 19-year-old was involved in one of the flashpoints of the match – midway through the first period, a series of tackles exchanged between the two teams ended with a lunging challenge by Dons midfielder Dannie Bulman on Riley-Lowe. Referee Darren Deadman had no hesitation in reaching for the red card.
Connor was in no doubt that Bulman’s reckless challenge was worthy of a dismissal, and he felt that it allowed Exeter to turn the screw on their guests.
“It all happened really quickly – Alex [Nicholls] was trying to keep hold of the ball, so I just backed it up and the ball came out between me and a player,” he explained.
“I just slid in and won the ball – and next thing I know [Bulman] has come flying in from nowhere, two-footed – it was a red card.
“The ref booked me after – I’m not sure why. I said to him, ‘I got the ball’ but he said it was for the intent.
“But as soon as he got sent off it felt like it gave us a big boost and we had to go and win it then, and we did.
“We got in the changing room at half-time and we were quite frustrated because we seemed to have so many opportunities. But in fairness to them they were putting the blocks in and bodies on the line, and we couldn’t quite find that breakthrough.
“We knew that if we kept patient and kept building up that we would eventually find a goal, and we did. We pushed on from that equaliser and went three-one up – we put a bit of pressure on ourselves at the end but we dealt with it.”