Aaron Martin has spoken of his delight that Exeter City’s hard work during the COVID-19 lockdown has been rewarded with the opportunity to win promotion to League One in the Sky Bet play-off final at Wembley on Monday night.
Aaron, who won the man-of-the-match award for his stellar defensive display, scored the opening goal in the second leg of the semi-final as the Grecians overturned a first-leg deficit to win the tie 3-2, following Ryan Bowman’s strike in extra-time.
“It’s been very good – everybody’s happy, getting a lot of love for the goal which is nice," said Aaron. "It’s just been a nice feeling because we put in some serious work before we came back and even in the three weeks building up to the games, we worked seriously hard and that’s paid off for us. It’s nice to know that all the hard work we put in is being rewarded.
“It was lovely to score – I actually scored one like that in training two days before! To get the goal and to get it early, to settle everyone down, was perfect. It gave us the platform to build on that.”
Aaron’s goal, an improvised strike following attempts from Alex Fisher and Jake Taylor, was City’s first since the return of professional football, and paved the way for a superb performance in which Jayden Richardson and Ryan Bowman also scored.
He spoke of the difficulty of adjusting back into normality following the lockdown: “To go from having three weeks of training to go into a play-off Semifinal where there’s more riding on the game is testament to how hard everyone worked during the lockdown. The whole situation has been pretty crazy, but it’s been the same for everyone.”
“Everybody came back seriously fit and that was a bonus, we did everything we possibly could to prepare ourselves for the games. You can’t replicate a professional game, so the first game was always going to be how it was – getting 90 minutes in the legs, getting that sharpness back – was vital ahead of the second leg, and going into extra-time we were able to up the level enough.
“When it all got announced I was pretty upset that we didn’t manage to stay in that top three and get automatic promotion, because it’s been such a good year. To fall out the top three at the time we did was pretty tough to take. I genuinely believe that with the way we were playing and the team we have that we would have been in and around the automatic promotion places come the end of the season. Hopefully we can do the job on Monday.”
Speaking of the Monday’s final, it comes against an opposition which Aaron has a good offensive record against, having scored twice against Northampton last season. The Cobblers overturned a 2-0 deficit away in Cheltenham in their second leg in dramatic fashion to set up an intriguing tie in the final.
“It’s my first play-off final," he said. "I’m hoping it’s first time lucky for me and third time lucky for the others. I watched the game against Coventry a couple of years ago, and to get there twice in a row and to lose both times must be pretty tough to take.
“Northampton are going to be in good spirits, confident, we need to make sure we match that and know how good a team we are, and finish the season properly.
“We do a lot of tactical work on the opposition, but we have to focus on ourselves, on our gameplan, and stick to it. In a game like this, to get promoted, you have to be prepared for everything. It’s a play-off final, it’s not just another league game, so we have to be prepared for everything that comes our way.”
Finally, Aaron spoke of the superb support that the Grecians have enjoyed throughout their campaign, noting that any potential celebrations must come later should Monday’s game result in City’s promotion.
“Having the fans there makes a huge difference, it’s something we are going to miss and the support as well," he said. "They’ve been brilliant especially considering the travel they’ve had to do. It’ll be surreal playing without them on Monday and we are gutted for them that they’re not able to be there. We’ve got to make sure we get over the line and we can celebrate at another point afterwards.”