Exeter City manager Matt Taylor labelled the opening day of the season as a “difficult afternoon” after they battled to a 1-0 win over Macclesfield Town at St James Park.
The Grecians were held for much of the game by Sol Campbell’s side with chances few and far between, but after some good fortune which led to Ryan Bowman’s goal, the Grecians took all three points.
Following the match, the City manager explained: “It was a difficult afternoon, full credit to Macclesfield because I thought they were excellent. There was, not anxiety, but a bit of uncertainty at times certainly in possession.
“I thought our ball retention at times was pretty poor in that game in some areas that you don’t expect the players to make. It’s the first game of the season, and if anything, I felt the personality and the character of the team just started to grow as the game went on.
“Second half we were a lot more like ourselves, we had a bit of input of energy in terms of Lee Martin, and Randell (Williams) started to get a bit of freedom down that flank and started to cause problems.”
Matt also admitted that he thought his side were fortunate to pick up all three points against a Macclesfield side that made it a tough encounter for the Grecians, but alongside the three points, Matt was pleased with the group’s character to grind out a win.
“It was a bit of a scruffy goal, I can’t quite remember it, there was a bit of quality from Nicky (Law) and Ryan’s in good goal scoring form,” said Matt. “We probably didn’t deserve it if I’m going to be honest because our keeper has made some good saves as well.
“The character and the group’s ability to see it out and to find a way to win is what I’m pleased with today. Plus, the fitness levels, I think anyone who was here today could testify that the last half an hour or 40 minutes of that game we looked the stronger team. That’s probably testament to the work that the staff have done in the previous six weeks, and the players.”
Having struggled to create in the opening 45 minutes of the match, the City boss felt there was some nerves within his side as the new season kicked off, and admitted the players were almost trying too hard.
“It’s not for want of trying, but everyone can understand where those players are. They’re not perfect and you can guarantee that the supporters in the stands are not perfect as well,” said Matt. “The players are trying, maybe trying a bit too hard to start with, but it’s good to get that opening day out of the way.
“As well as we played last season (v Carlisle United in a 3-1 win), it’s still three points. That’s in the record books now in terms of the three points on the board, the clean sheet, and the goal towards the end. We looked dangerous from set pieces and we defended set pieces pretty well, we knew it was going to be a tight affair, a scruffy game, and a bit of a nervy encounter. We just weren’t quite able to get enough pressure on the ball, certainly in the first period of the game, and let them dictate to a certain extent. I said this after the Swansea game, we did that more often today because we didn’t keep the ball often enough at times.”
Matt was also pleased with how Ryan Bowman performed throughout the afternoon after another tenacious display as he led the line for the Grecians and credited him for being in the right place to fire home from close range.
He continued: “Nicky Law was on the move, his shot was going wide, but in games of football you can’t predict what’s going to happen and scruffy goals are what I want at times. I think this group of players are capable of scoring the more difficult opportunities, and that’s a question I put to them, to score the scruffy ones.
“Ryan’s on a bit of form off the back of last season and a strong pre-season, I was pleased with his performance today, I felt he led the line pretty well. There’s more to come from certain personnel but, like I said, I was pleased with the way we grew as that second half wore on.”
The Grecians made a tactical change early in the second period as they introduced Lee Martin onto the field as Nicky Law then moved inside, and it was a move which helped City going forward in the second half.
Matt continued: “We brought Nicky Law inside to have more influence on the game so that’s a tactical decision on my part. You want energy on the pitch and I just felt Lee and Randell both sides of the pitch either side of Ryan give you that little bit of energy plus Nicky inside meant we had a bit more control in the middle of the pitch.
“It helped Archie (Collins) and Jake (Taylor) and meant our field position in the second half was a lot better. Lee Martin actually stopped one of our headers on goal, but he was doing his job on the keeper, but he’s all energy, all hustle and bustle, and he gets the fans going and I’m sure they could appreciate that today, and the team probably need a bit of a spark.”
Goalkeeper Lewis Ward also impressed on the afternoon as he made a couple of excellent saves to deny Town on his competitive debut.
On the goalkeeping situation, with Jonny Maxted also impressing in pre-season, Matt explained: “Both Jonny and Lewis have performed well in pre-season so there were some question marks in that area, but I picked Lewis to make saves at important times. It doesn’t always go your way as a manager, but he certainly did that today and hopefully his confidence will grow.
“He’s a young lad, his distribution won’t always be perfect, and we know that. There are areas of his game that he’ll keep working on, but he makes saves. That’s what goalkeeper have got to do at important times.”
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