Sam Marshall casts an eye over an eventful year for the GreciansTHE 2015/16 SEASON was not one that Exeter City fans will forget in a hurry. With a number of memorable moments across the course of the campaign, there is a lot to recap from the past ten months. Here, Sam Marshall looks to do just that.
The Grecians began the 2015/16 Sky Bet League 2 campaign in promising form, registering three wins in their opening four games. A dramatic 3-2 victory over West Country rivals Yeovil Town was followed up with progression in the Capital One Cup at the expense of third-tier side Swindon Town, before Troy Brown’s first goal in City colours ensured that Paul Tisdale’s side bounced back from a 3-0 defeat at Sixfields with a midweek victory over Dagenham & Redbridge. City were rewarded for their success in the first round of the Capital One Cup with another away trip to higher-league opposition: Premier League side Sunderland at the Stadium of Light. Despite a valiant performance that saw the sides go in for the break on level terms, the Grecians would eventually bow out of the competition with a 6-3 defeat.
“To have taken a very strong Premier League team (Sunderland) to 3-3 at half time and then to lose it with some weak goals, gives me an empty feeling… I think we did ourselves proud with our performance and I think we have a lot to be pleased about as a team.” – Paul Tisdale, speaking following the Capital One Cup exit at the Stadium of Light
City made the most of home comforts at the beginning of September as they notched three wins on the bounce at St James Park and kept as many clean sheets in the process. This included a comprehensive 4-0 victory over early Sky Bet League 2 pace-setters Leyton Orient, ending the visitors’ perfect record in the league in the process. Back-to-back defeats at Accrington Stanley and Wycombe Wanderers were a setback, but the month ended the same way in which it had begun, with victory over 2008 FA Cup winners Portsmouth, who, like Leyton Orient, were also top of the league when the Grecians lined up against them.
"It was an emphatic win against the league leaders, but it was a really tough game. I am not sure the scoreline does justice to the opposition, they were the best side we have faced so far this season, but that's football.” - Paul Tisdale, after the win over Leyton Orient
After beginning October with two defeats on the road, City returned to St James Park for a televised fixture against Stevenage. The game certainly lived up to the billing, with David Wheeler and Clinton Morrison netting spectacular strikes in a match that ended three goals apiece. The Grecians ended the month by taking four points from their next four league matches as a 1-0 victory over Cambridge United and a 1-1 draw with Notts County were sandwiched in-between defeats at Carlisle United and Barnet.
“I’ve scored some good ones at Palace and for the Republic of Ireland, unbelievable ones, but that’s got to be the best… I didn’t think at thirty-six I could get my legs that high. I’m buzzing.” - Clinton Morrison after his maiden Grecians goal
City kicked-off an unbeaten November at non-league side Didcot Town as they won 3-0 to set the wheels in motion for a memorable FA Cup run, before they returned to league action with a draw against Crawley Town six days later. Ryan Harley’s brace at Home Park meant that it was City who made the short trip back up the A38 with the three points after the second Devon Derby of the season, and more success on the road followed as goals from Joel Grant and Lee Holmes secured victory over Mansfield Town. Jamie Reid’s last-gasp equaliser against Bristol Rovers in front of a crowd of over 5,500 at St James Park rounded off a fruitful five-game period.
“It’s nice to get a couple of goals in any game but especially against your local rivals… I didn’t feel too nervous taking the penalty, and the second one was one of the nicer goals I’ve scored for the club.” - Ryan Harley after his Devon derby-winning brace
December began with further FA Cup success as City overcame Sky Bet League 1 side Port Vale at St James Park. Jordan Tillson’s strike mid-way through the first half was the least that the Grecians had deserved after a rampant attacking display, before Ollie Watkins showed a glimpse of what was to come by securing City’s place in the Third Round with a composed finish one minute from time. The Grecians failed to emulate their FA Cup success in the league, though, as a disappointing festive period saw them fail to take a point from their next three games.
"I have never played a 5-0-5 before. I described it to the players as a schoolyard swarm. I told them to think back to when you're playing in the schoolyard and you all chased the ball, which is how we did it.” – Paul Tisdale speaking after the FA Cup win over Port Vale
After a run of four straight defeats in the league, FA Cup action under the floodlights at St James Park provided a welcome distraction for Paul Tisdale’s side. The national media had descended on Devon and the Grecians didn’t disappoint as they held the seven-time winners of the competition to a 2-2 draw to secure a mouth-watering replay in the historic surroundings of Anfield. Jayden Stockley arrived on loan from AFC Bournemouth three days later and the 22-year-old made an immediate impact, netting the equaliser in the re-arranged fixture at Morecambe before finding the net twice in the 3-1 victory over Leyton Orient to secure a league double over the O’s. City’s FA Cup adventure came to an end at Anfield in front of a crowd of over 43,000, at the hands of a side featuring seasoned internationals Joe Allen, Christian Benteke and Simon Mignolet. The Grecians saw out the month by taking maximum points from clashes against promotion chasing Accrington Stanley and Hartlepool United.
“There’s so many things to be proud of, and not just the players on the pitch but the club showed itself in a great light. The place was buzzing, we’re proud of our football club and the people of Exeter put on a good show.” - Paul Tisdale after the famous draw with Liverpool
After a two-week break following the long trip north-east to face Hartlepool, City began a tricky-looking February schedule by taking a solitary point from four league games. The Grecians did return to winning ways by the end of the month, though, as Jayden Stockley netted a late brace to see off Stevenage at the Lamex Stadium. Paul Tisdale, meanwhile, reached his five-hundredth game in charge of the club in a disappointing home defeat to Oxford United.
“It was a really solid performance. Everyone did the basics well and sometimes that’s all it takes in this division.” - Bobby Olejnik after the win at Stevenage
Ollie Watkins’ last minute equaliser against Portsmouth set the tone for a big month for the City academy graduate. After rescuing a point against play-off chasing Pompey, the youngster proved the difference again four days later by scoring the only goal of the game against Cambridge United at the Abbey Stadium. A 2-2 draw against Carlisle United followed – a game that was suspended for just over an hour due to a fire-scare behind the Stagecoach Stand. Convincing wins away at Notts County and Crawley Town either side of a home draw to Barnet put City on the coat-tails of the top seven with the end of season run-in approaching.
“It could have been a few more possibly, I thought the longer the game went on the stronger we got. I think it was my second touch that I scored with, they said when I came on to try and make a difference and thankfully Ollie (Watkins) played a lovely pass to me and I managed to tuck it away.” - Jake Taylor after his first City goal since his return, at Notts County
April began with more Ollie Watkins heroics as the youngster scored twice late-on to secure City a league double over local rivals Plymouth Argyle. In a game of few noteworthy chances Jamille Matt looked to have secured all three points for the visitors mid-way through the second half, but it was Watkins who had the final say, first sliding one under the body of Luke McCormick before looping an unstoppable effort into the far corner with seconds remaining – an effort which was later named Exeter City’s goal of the season. Watkins was at it again the following Saturday, netting City’s opener in a 2-0 win over Yeovil Town at Huish Park. Having witnessed Northampton Town clinch the League 2 title at St James Park, promotion was still very much a possibility for the Grecians with the end of the season looming.
It wasn’t to be, though - a 3-2 defeat at home to Mansfield Town ended City’s ten-game unbeaten run and effectively nullified their chances of securing a top-seven finish. Defeat away to Bristol Rovers meant that the gap to seventh was insurmountable, before the home campaign ended with a 1-1 draw to Morecambe as Jayden Stockley signed off at St James Park with a late penalty. After the final whistle Lee Holmes was named City’s Player of the Season for his consistent string of performances on the left-flank.
“It’s all a bit of a blur… I can remember doing a little step-over and cutting inside on my left foot and reversing it. I’m just so happy we got the three points and we’re only a couple points away from the play-offs now.” - Ollie Watkins on his second goal against Plymouth Argyle
The final game of the season ended in disappointment for City as they fell to a 4-1 defeat against Luton Town at Kenilworth Road, with Jayden Stockley’s consolation goal two minutes after the restart meaning that he took the club’s golden boot for the campaign. City will look to go one better next season, and have already begun bolstering the squad with the recent arrivals of Lloyd James and Robbie Simpson.
“Although it was a disappointing result at Luton, it was nice to get the golden boot… It’s just annoying I couldn’t have been here all season to get a good tally. With the service I’ve been getting I probably should have gotten more goals.” - Jayden Stockley at the end-of-season awards night
You can watch a video recap of all of our goals in 2015/16 here.
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