Exeter City manager Matt Taylor thanked the nine players that have left the club this week for their endeavours during their time at the club and wished them all the best for the future.
Craig Woodman, Dean Moxey, Lee Holmes, Aaron Martin, Lee Martin, Gary Warren, Brennan Dickenson and Jared Thompson have all been released after reaching the end of their current contracts, while loan player Jayden Richardson has returned to his parent club Nottingham Forest.
Craig Woodman is the longest serving player on that list having joined the club in the summer of 2012 and made 279 appearances for the Grecians scoring one memorable goal against Scunthorpe.
“He is a fantastic professional,” said Matt. “He seemed to get better with age, certainly from when I first re-joined the club because people were saying he was coming towards the end then. I had two years coaching under Paul (Tisdale) and Steve (Perryman) and Woody was just getting better and better and probably what at his peak in and around that time.
“He played a really big part in my first season as manager. This season he has probably been frustrated. His body has struggled a bit, but what a fantastic servant for the club he has been and what a fantastic example he is for our young players to learn from.
“He almost coaches his teammates through the game and our young boys have certainly learned a lot of Craig Woodman. When he trains he is still our best trainer, which is testament to him. We are disappointed to lose Woody. Age has got the better of him in terms of what he can offer and when we speak about value in the current climate, any player we sign or re-sign, their availability has got to be a strong point.
"I still think Woody will go on and play elsewhere. I think he has got a future in the game in terms of playing and coaching. I certainly wish him all the best and we will help him any way we can in terms of that.”
In terms of appearances for the club Dean Moxey, with 311, has played more than any of the other nine players who have left. He is undoubtedly a club legend, having come through the academy at the club, scored a goal against Doncaster in the FA Cup second round in 2004 that helped set up a money-spinning third round tie with Manchester United to help rescue the club from financial turmoil, before going onto achieve back-to-back promotions with the Grecians and then play in the Premier League. He ten returned to SJP for a further three seasons, but unfortunately, it all came to a sad end for Deano in the play-off final on Monday as he was sent-off midway through the second half. However, Matt was adamant that Deano should not be remembered for that moment when you take into account what he has done for the club.
“Deano certainly shouldn’t be remembered for Monday,” said Matt. “That was his frustration, his disappointment and his despair at how that game was going.
“He played a huge part in the club’s beginning, I suppose. Almost saving the club with that goal (against Doncaster) in the FA Cup and then playing his part in the Manchester United ties, the double promotion and then going onto have a fantastic career at the top level of football.
“To play at the top level is a huge achievement, but to play at the top level when you have started so low down – in the Conference – speaks volumes for Deano.
“He came back as a more senior figure and has played a part in our achievements in getting to the play-off finals and competing towards the top end of the table. He is a local lad. He loves the club. He will be absolutely devastated with the way Monday finished, but he can’t be remembered for that.
“He has got to be remembered for his service to this football club and everything he has done. He is similar to Woody. He leaves us with our best wishes and there could well be a future at this football club for Dean Moxey. In what capacity, we don’t know yet because he has probably got a few years left playing at whatever level he chooses.”
Lee Holmes is another player who has been at City for a while, having joined permanently in the summer of 2015. He only made one appearance last season as injury blighted his final campaign at the club, but Matt again reiterated what a talented player he was and what a fantastic servant he had been to Exeter City.
“He is one of the best technical players I have seen at this football club,” said Matt. “Unfortunately, during the last couple of seasons and maybe throughout his time, we don’t feel he has been able to play enough games on a regular basis at that same level. That is a body issue, because ability wise there is nobody better than Lee Holmes at this level.
“The fact that he was unavailable for every game this season suggest where he is at in terms of his body. We got him close to fitness on a couple of occasions, but we just couldn’t get him involved so he has had disappointing last season but in my first season he played a big part in what we did.
“You almost felt every header Jayden (Stockley) had was off the back of a Lee Holmes cross. That showed you what he did and what he provided. You would have liked to have thought he could have done that this season with the likes of Ryan (Bowman) and (Alex) Fisher but unfortunately it just wasn’t to be and even when he was available a little niggle came up and then he broke his toe and it just spiralled from then on really.
"He goes with our best wishes and as far as I know he is going to stay in the area. There are going to be some local clubs who are going to have a good player and a good professional if they can get him fit and keep him fit, but we do wish Lee well.”
Another player who will be sadly missed is Lee Martin. He made 77 appearances over two seasons at the club and his energetic and infectious character, on and off the pitch, was such a shining example for the younger players around him.
“Lee is a talisman,” said Matt “He has got an incredible personality and an incredible enthusiasm for the game – even at his age. He covers every single blade of grass. He runs the most distance in training and the most distance on a Saturday. He is like a Duracell bunny, he just keeps on going and going and going.
“He is incredible, and it means the rest of the team have to do the same. They have to follow suit when they see a senior player at the top end of the pitch doing that. He presses better than anyone. He contributes with goals and he is an absolutely fantastic professional.
“His style of football is a certain style. Sometimes he gets beaten up or missed out in terms of the physical nature of League Two, but he is a player who has had a higher standard of career for a reason.
“When the football is on the floor and being played in a certain way on good pitches, then he is absolutely outstanding. Unfortunately, our league is not always like that. Our pitch is certainly not always like that and Lee has had to adapt his game at times. We felt we got a lot out of Lee in terms of what he gave us energy wise. Nobody else gave us what Lee Martin gave us and he will be missed.”
Another one of Matt’s signings who has impressed is Aaron Martin. Despite a difficult first season, he has come back strong this campaign to make 45 appearances and put in a man-of-the-match display in the play-off semi-final against Colchester United.
“Azzer (Aaron Martin) has had his ups and down in terms of his time at Exeter City,” said Matt. "He started off really well and then lost his way and lost his form to a certain extent.
“In terms of this season, being the central one out of those back three really suited him and the signing of other players around him such as Nigel (Atangana) has taken the physical pressure of Azzer.
“He is character we have relied on week in, week out. The way he has trained on a daily basis has been fantastic and when he has not been in the team, he has trained properly. His attitude towards the club has been spot on and for him to come back and to train in the last month was a huge moment for Aaron and the football club.
“He just had a newborn child. His mum had already tested positive and his dad was in the high-risk group and his partner was at home with two young children. So that was a big decision for Aaron to make and I will be eternally grateful in terms of what he did.
"He was absolutely fantastic in the two semi-final games. A lot is made of the profile I want as a centre half. There is not too many of those profiles around in terms of modern-day football, unfortunately. However, I think we saw the need for it, in terms of that physical specimen in the backline, on Monday evening.
“However, what Azzer gives us in terms of away from those moments is absolutely fantastic. He defends the box better than anyone. His defending on the floor is fantastic. He is never beaten one-v-one and he has chipped in with a few important goals throughout his time as well.
"He will certainly be fondly remembered, and it has to go on record how appreciative I am of what these players have put themselves through, especially those ones who knew they were not going to get a contract. We made that clear to them straight away and for them to come back and train the way they did, and to put themselves forward, was testament to them.”
Gary Warren is another central defender who will be leaving the club. Having joined in the summer from Yeovil Town, his season has been blighted by injury and Matt says it is a shame he could not have worked with the defender earlier in his career as, when he did play, he showed the talented that he had.
“We signed Gaz (Garry Warren) for a certain profile and a certain job, and he is a born leader and a born winner,” said Matt. “He had a physical presence, but we just couldn’t get him on the pitch.
“It is a real shame and it is similar to a lot of these players that we have spoken about. It happened to myself. When you come towards the end of your career and you and you are an honest person, you give everything you possibly can but you continue to put your body at breaking point and the older you get and the more injuries you pick up the harder it is to recover and the more prone you are then to the next injury.
“I wish I would have been able to work with him a long time ago because he would have been a stalwart for this football club. He had the profile and the character that we would have been able to depend on. He is a captain, a future manager and a future leader. I hope he goes into some form of coaching and goes into helping younger players because he is a fantastic individual to look up to.”
Another disappointment from Matt’s point of view is that the funds are not available to continue working with Brennan Dickenson. The full-back joined from MK Dons in January, having played little football following a serious injury. However, Matt admitted that the 27-year-old was just getting back to his best towards the end of the campaign and would have continued to develop at City given the chance.
“It is ironic, because we have almost got him at his best right at the end,” said Matt. “He came to us in the middle of the season and that is why that January window is such a difficult time, because you are basically putting a player straight into a side and expecting them to do a job.
“He showed moments and glimpses of what he is, and he is a fantastic player but to get a player towards their peak fitness during a season is nigh on impossible. Once he finds a home and somewhere where he can have a good pre-season, which is what he needs, he will find a rhythm in his game again he will do exactly what he did at Colchester. He will blow people away at this level and then he will get a move to a higher level.”
Jared Thompson, who joined Exeter City as goalkeeping cover for both Lewis Ward and Jonny Maxted, did not play a first team game for the Grecians during his time at the club. However, he has impressed in training and some under-23 Premier League Cup games and, while he has been released, Matt said the door was not closed on him returning to SJP.
“He trained really well on a daily basis and his future might be slightly different,” said Matt. “He needs to go out and play first team football, but if we could get a club to cover his fees, so to speak, and we had a guaranteed loan move for Jared, he could well come back to us as a number three keeper. He could then train with us throughout the week and then go and play non-league at the weekend. So, in that respect the door is not closed with Jared.”
Matt also added that he would not rule out a return to the club for Jayden Richardson. He has returned to Nottingham Forest, following the end of his loan deal. However, he said his attitude was spot on and he would consider welcoming Jayden back to the club should the possibility arise in the future.
“Jayden’s (Richardson) personality and character has been superb and alongside Dara O’Shea, he is the best loan character we have had at this football club.
“That speaks volumes for Nottingham Forest, it speaks volumes for Jayden and his family, and he has improved throughout the season.
“He has probably been a little bit unlucky that right wingback is his natural position and Randell Williams has been our best player this season, but the fact that I trusted him to play on the opposite side of the pitch in the semi-final and the final speaks volumes for how far he has come.
“He has pace and power and is a dynamic player. He still needs to learn a lot about the fundamentals of football and the defensive side of it if he is going to be a top class fullback, but he is an exciting player moving forward and he has always got a smile on his face and the way he interacted, for a lad that had come down from Nottingham to live in the area in temporary accommodation, was great. He seemed to enjoy his time, which we are delighted with because we want it to reflect well on the environment we have got here, but hopefully he is one we could work with again in the future if he were to go out on loan again. We would love to have him back.”