Exeter City manager Matt Taylor is raring to get going as the Grecians kick-off in the first game of professional football to be played in England since the season was curtailed due to COVID-19 back in March.
City travel away to Colchester United in the first leg of the Sky Bet League Two play-off semi-final on Thursday, with the Essex side returning to St James Park the following Monday.
“It’s strange to get used to circumstances, to get back to what we love and enjoy was so important,” said Matt. “The players were desperate to get back, and we’re all looking forward to the fixtures. We’ve done as much as we could in a short space of time and I’ve been really pleased with the attitude shown. It’s almost simplified things with less staff available.”
The City boss then spoke about how the club will navigate the social distancing measures ahead of the fixtures that will determine the final promotion place into League One.
“We’ve tried to make players feel as safe as possible – there’s been a skeleton coaching staff, and obviously the testing. The players’ mindset has been incredible, credit to them and the club.”
“The positive tests are brutal. Luckily all the players with positive tests have been asymptomatic, no family members have been affected. Ahead of the game, the players are travelling on a coach, the staff by car. It’s a bit of a logistical nightmare; a long way, travel on the day. The players will stay over the night before if a hotel is available. We must make it feel like a routine if possible. The main thing is when the game starts, and hopefully it’ll be a good spectacle for lower league football.”
In terms of preparation for the games, Matt spoke about what’s required if the Grecians are to overcome Colchester and progress to Wembley.
“The players have to understand what’s needed – we have to be in the tie going into the second leg, we have to give ourselves the chance of playing well on our home ground and to do that we have to perform away from home," he said.
"Colchester are generally a strong team at home so the first half hour of this game will be absolutely key. We’ve got to perform well away from home and the times we’ve done that, we’ve started the game well."
He added that fitness and substitutions will be prove vital over the two legs.
“I will be selecting a group of players who I think will be capable of lasting 90 plus minutes, but the bench will be vital with five substitutes available," he saod. "We pride ourselves on how fit we are as a team this year but the substitutes will have a huge impact on the game.
“I can imagine both teams will look totally different in the second leg – to play two games in four days after 12 weeks off is unheard of, let alone two play-off games. We’ll have to see where the fatigue and energy levels are at after the first leg. We’ve got to take care of what’s in front of us.”
The Grecians boss spoke of the importance of the support shown by the City fans during this challenging time, and the role they will have as the club moves forward.
“The fans will still be supporting us – there’ll be some cardboard cutouts, and although not in person their support is hugely important. They’ve been with us for a long period of time and have had a big role to play in this football club. It’s a strange environment for them but hopefully we can give them something to cheer about.
“We’re very proud that our fans own our football club, they have a huge impact on everything we do and the fact that they’re not able to watch us is very disappointing. The fans have a huge role to play moving forward and we’re looking forward to them being able to come back.”
Lastly, Matt spoke about the motivation within the camp to have something to show for their efforts this season: “The players have come back in good shape, and their motivation has never been in question. We were deeply disappointed to miss out on automatic promotion but the focus shifted straight away to these play-off games. I want them to enjoy it but also to take the opportunity to get something out of this season – they certainly deserve it.”
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