Town Visit Exeter Targeting Wembley Final
Friday, 3rd Jan 2020 13:22
Town visit Exeter City on Saturday with only three games standing between them and a Wembley appearance in the Leasing.com Trophy final.
The Blues are still to appear at the new Wembley stadium with their most recent game the 4-2 play-off final against Barnsley in 2000 before the rebuild.
Prior to that, Town were at Wembley twice in 1978 for the FA Cup final in which they defeated Arsenal 1-0 and the Charity Shield in which they were beaten 5-0 by Nottingham Forest.
Their first game at Wembley was in 1928/29 when they thrashed Ealing 4-0 in a Southern Amateur League fixture during a short spell in which the West London side played home games at the national stadium.
Assistant manager Stuart Taylor admits that the competition hasn’t been the club’s main priority this season but says they have gone into matches looking to win them even if they haven’t played their strongest sides.
“I’ve always said from the start of the season when we did the interviews for this tournament that I want to win every game that I play in,” he said following the New Year’s Day draw at Wycombe.
“But what we did at the start of the season was we gave the youngsters a chance, we gave lads that were coming back from injury a chance to go and get minutes.
“We wanted to make sure that everybody was progressing through the season and getting equal game time, so that when they were called upon that they were fit, they were ready to go rather than bring somebody in who hadn’t played for six or eight weeks.
“There aren’t enough U23s games in the schedule to keep people fit and ticking over and there’s a big difference between U23s football and first-team football for experienced players.
“So for them to get as much as they can out of that then playing first-team football is very, very good for them and it’s essential for them.
“For the younger ones coming through, as many minutes as they can get in the first team playing in front of a crowd is invaluable to them.
“And this is what this club is all about, bringing through the younger ones, progressing and developing our own. We’ve got a fantastic academy, so why not bring the younger ones through and give them game time?
“Now we’re getting to the latter stages of the cup, they are still in contention and let’s just see what the manager does in terms of the team for the weekend.
“But it is going to be a very tough game, there’s no doubt about it. We can’t be slack on Exeter, we’ll treat them exactly as we have every other game and we’ll do our homework on them and make sure that we give the boys as much information and be detailed on it and we’ll go and win this game.”
Taylor confirmed that the Blues, who are flying down to the South-West, will be taking a strong squad with the competition now into its knockout rounds.
“When you do get to the later stages you do need the win, if you don’t win it goes into penalties and you don’t get through, and we want to get through,” he said.
“We want to win the game and we have to score more goals than we concede, simple as that.”
While Town are without a win over 90 minutes in their last 11 games - their second round Leasing.com Trophy victory at Peterborough came via a penalty shoot-out - Exeter are in a good run of form.
The Grecians sit second in League Two and are undefeated in 14. In their last eight matches in all competitions they have alternated between a win and a draw every other game over 90 minutes.
“Exeter are flying, they’re on a really, really good spell just now, they’ve won three out of their last five and they are a good side, there’s no doubt about that,” Taylor continued.
“Certainly we’ve got to watch out and look at the threats that they’ve got. But if we play like we did at Wycombe, there aren’t many teams that can live with us.”
Despite Town being from the upper echelons of a division above Exeter, Taylor expects the Grecians to be stiff opposition.
“When you get in the later stages, it becomes a leveller for everybody, it doesn’t matter who you’re playing, whether it’s a bigger club or a smaller club, whatever because everybody raises their game like we’ve noticed this season,” he said.
“Everybody’s raising their game 20 or 25 per cent when they play against Ipswich. I think Sunderland had that problem last year as well.
“It’s no different when you go into the cup, it really does become a leveller, especially when you go and play away from home, it’s their surface, it’s their supporters, it’s everything added to that.
“But we’ve got a good bunch of lads in the dressing room, we don’t let those things bother us, we’ve got great confidence in what we do, so we’ll give it a right good go at the weekend and hopefully we’ll win this game and get through to the next round.”
He says the draw and the display against League One leaders Wycombe on Wednesday will give the squad something to build on after a difficult spell.
“Definitely, without a shadow of a doubt. I think it was a fantastic performance,” he said. “We asked the lads to go and do the ugly side of the game well, the fighting, the battling, picking up second balls.
“But I thought the lads were very, very brave today and they looked to get the ball down from the back, which is something that we possibly came away from by trying to be a little bit more direct and being more aggressive in our play and getting the ball forward.
“We showed a little bit more composure today and we tried to play it from the back, which I thought we did well and I thought it worked for us and we looked to go and play through the thirds, which was pleasing for us on the sidelines to watch because when they do play like that, they’re a very good side and it’s entertaining for the supporters to see.
“But there are those odd games where you do have to mix it up a little bit and it was nice to get back, we played against Coventry and popped the ball about in the two away games and we did a little bit of that today even if the surface was not ideal for it.
“But they were brave enough to get on the ball and that’s where the supporters have been fantastic for us, even last season and this season, they’ve always been encouraging, they’ve always been supportive and even when lads have made mistakes, they still need the supporters to get behind them and encourage them.
“And they’ve done that and we can’t thank the supporters enough for that because it’s a massive part of our lads being confident enough and getting on the ball and being creative.”
Taylor welcomes his boss Paul Lambert signing a new contract on New Year’s Day believing it gives all concerned security and stability.
“There’s been a lot of talk over the last couple of weeks and [owner] Marcus [Evans] has been speaking a lot and it’s great to see that they’ve put pen to paper and finally got it done and everybody can move on,” he said.
“It gives security, it gives stability and everybody in the dressing room is delighted, the staff are delighted as well, so it’s great to be putting a little bit more security to our future at the club.”
While Lambert will pick a stronger side for the visit to Exeter than in previous rounds of the competition it’s still unlikely to be what might be considered full strength.
Tomas Holy could return in goal having missed the last three matches, while Toto Nsiala could well be one of the centre-halves having missed the last two games.
Lambert may look to switch to a back four to rest some of his central defenders after a busy Christmas, which could see Nsiala partnered by James Wilson, who has only made one start and one sub appearance during the Christmas period.
Janoi Donacien could return at right-back after his dead leg, although it’s unlikely any chances will be taken regarding the former Accrington man, with Gwion Edwards or perhaps Barry Cotter alternatives. Myles Kenlock may get a game on the left.
Teddy Bishop seems likely to make his first start of the season in what will probably be a three-man midfield, while it’s unlikely Town will take any chances on Cole Skuse and Jon Nolan if they’re still feeling their neck and heel injuries respectively.
Andre Dozzell could fill one of the other roles having not featured at Wycombe, while one of Flynn Downes, Emyr Huws or Alan Judge could start despite having been in the XI at Adams Park. Idris El Mizouni, Brett McGavin and Tommy Hughes could also be in Lambert’s thoughts for inclusion in the 18 having previously played in the competition.
Up front, Freddie Sears is expected to make his first start of the season, probably on the left of a three, with Will Keane perhaps the central striker and Armando Dobra maybe in line to come back into the side on the right.
EFL teams are obliged to field four qualifying outfield players in their Leasing.com Trophy starting XIs but given Town's rotation policy this doesn't have an impact on the side the Blues boss can pick.
A qualifying outfield player is someone who started the club's previous match, someone in the top 10 players at the club in terms starting appearances in league and domestic cup competitions in the season up to that point, a player with 40 or more first-team appearances over their career or a player on loan from a Premier League or EFL side. If Saturday’s game is drawn at 90 minutes it goes straight to penalties.
The Blues last faced the Grecians at St James' Park in the first round of last season's Carabao Cup when the home side won a penalty shoot-out 4-2 after a 1-1 draw.
Kayden Jackson opened the scoring for Paul Hurst's side and ex-Blues defender Troy Brown levelled for the Devon side, while another former Town man Lee Martin hit the decisive penalty in the shoot-out.
Overall, the Blues have won 11 of the 27 meetings between the sides (eight in the league), nine have ended in draws (eight in the league), while Exeter have won seven (six), including the on-penalties victory last season.
Despite the draw being regionalised on a north-south basis for the final time in this year’s competition, Exeter is further away from Ipswich than any of the teams remaining in the northern section.
Blues striker James Norwood was with the Grecians between 2009 and 2011, making three senior starts and two sub appearances without scoring.
Exeter winger Martin, 32, made 89 starts and 17 sub appearances for the Blues between July 2009 and July 2013.
Saturday’s referee is Josh Smith from Bedford, who has shown 50 yellow and five red cards in 17 games so far this season.
Smith is in his first season as an EFL referee having spent just one campaign in the National League prior to his promotion aged just 26 last summer. Saturday’s match will be his first Town game.
Squad from: Holy, Norris, Przybek, Edwards, Donacien, Garbutt, Kenlock, Chambers, Wilson, Woolfenden, Nsiala, Skuse, Downes, Dozzell, Bishop, McGavin, Huws, El Mizouni, Hughes, Nolan, Dobra, Jackson, Norwood, Keane, Sears, Roberts, Drinan.
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