It's hard to believe that just two months remain until the end of the 2018/19 season.
A campaign that has flown by, but when you stand back and reflect, it is also a season where there are already observable positives from the Grecians’ point of view.
No matter what happens over the next eight weeks, whether it ends in success or disappointment, the 2018/19 Sky Bet League Two season is the campaign in which Archie Collins truly announced himself at St James Park.
One of our own, Archie came through the ranks with the Grecians from a young age and made his City debut last season in a 3-1 defeat to Chelsea under-21s in the Checkatrade Trophy.
Archie in action at St James Park
Loan spells with Weston-Super-Mare and Dorchester Town have helped the youngster to gain competitive football experience, but this season under Matt Taylor the 19-year-old has managed to establish himself in the first team.
His first two appearances this season came up against Championship side, Ipswich Town, and Premier League side Fulham. Energetic and determined displays in both of those games helped earn him sporadic appearances prior to December, then he managed to seal a regular spot in the starting line-up.
“It’s been brilliant,” explained Archie. “The last couple of months have gone so quick. I started the season not really around it and then was given my chance through the cup games and now I’m playing in the league. It’s been really good.”
One of the biggest compliments you could pay to Archie is that he has fit into the City team seamlessly. Showing calmness in possession, and a determination and strength without the ball.
But following a good run of form, the youngster credited his teammates as they’ve helped him slot into the team.
He explained: “I’ve played out wide left a couple of times in the cup and played central midfield against Fulham. I’m playing centrally now along with Jake Taylor, he’s the captain and he’s got great experience. Obviously Woody (Craig Woodman) and Deano (Dean Moxey) behind me are always talking to me and Matt (Taylor) has put his trust in me, so it’s been a great experience so far.
“Jake is always close to me and shouting in my ear, saying well done, and he’s always positive and tries to get the best out of me, and with him in there as well, he’s a really good player to play alongside.”
Archie battling at Craven Cottage in the Carabao Cup against Fulham.
Throughout Archie’s positive start to life playing in the Football League there have been highlights, but there is a standout moment. New Year’s Day against Swindon Town, after the Grecians had gone 1-0 up through a Jonathan Forte penalty, the youngster scored his first goal for the club with a fantastic strike from distance to make the points safe.
On the goal, Archie said: “It was a good goal, and I hope to score many more, but without a doubt it’s the best feeling I’ve had on a football pitch so far.”
The Grecians have a number of under-23 players currently out on loan, going through the same experiences that Archie has been through. A necessary experience for the youngster’s fellow team mates like Harry Kite, Ben Seymour, Joel Randall, Josh Key and Max Smallcombe.
“Going on loan helps every young player to understand what it takes to play in the Football League,” said Archie. “Getting the experience was a massive stepping stone for me. It was a good experience and hopefully I can keep pushing on and play as much as possible.
“They (under-23 team mates) always ask how it’s going and I’m close to all of them because I’ve grown up with them over the years and we speak about how important it is to go on loan and your time will come because it’s a great club and they do give you opportunities.”
Having become yet another exciting prospect to rise through the City ranks and represent the first team, Archie was quick to praise the work done by the academy coaches to not only develop player’s football ability, but also their personal values. The 19-year-old was also quick to highlight the success of Jordan Storey who rose into the first team towards the end of last season, and through some impressive displays, earned himself a move to Preston North End in the Championship.
He explained: “It’s not just on the pitch, it’s off the pitch. The coaching staff and the club itself produce players, but men as well. It takes time to get into the first team so you have to keep working hard and they help to keep your attitude right, which is the most important thing because your chance will come.
Archie netted his first City goal against Swindon Town
“I was with Jordan last year and we used to share lifts every week and I’ve seen him develop in front of my eyes. Through the youth team he was brilliant, and we could see that he was a good player, then he was given his chance and he showed everyone how good he was. I grew up with him and I facetimed him the other night and he’s loving it (at Preston.”)
After breaking into the first team it’s clear Archie wants to make his first full season playing in the Football League a successful one. But how does he feel he and his teammates have done in recent weeks?
He explained: “Every game is a big game in this league at the moment, there aren’t many left now. The points between the sides towards the top of the table are so tight so we have to keep plugging away each game because every game is so massive.
“There’s always been belief in the camp this year, the new signings have come in and have taken on board what the club is about. Being in the play-off final over the last couple of years gives us that extra motivation to keep on going because we want to get out of this league.
There are now just five matches remaining at St James Park this season, and Archie and the team are keen to keep up what has been some positive home form over the last few months. Something which could well help the team over the line come the end of the season.
He continued: “The park has been amazing throughout the season. The new stand, the atmosphere the fans produce home and away, it’s that extra motivation for the team to keep on pushing in games to get three points. It’s a massive boost, they’ve been excellent all year, when you score, clear the ball or anything, that adrenaline and extra bit of confidence flies throughout the team. It’s been brilliant and I hope they can keep it coming.”
There’s no doubt that the emergence of Archie this season has been one of many highlights so far for the Grecians. The youngster plays with a maturity in midfield and there is an obvious motivation to develop and be successful as he looks to help the club to success in May.
Up next at St James Park:
City take on Oldham Athletic on Saturday, April 27 in a 3pm kick-off. Ticket prices are cheaper in advance. Click here to buy online.