Matt Taylor shining brightly at Exeter City after emerging from Paul Tisdale's shadow

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 12 September 2018, 11:58

After Paul Tisdale’s 12-year reign ended this summer, many predicted a transitional season for Exeter City, but replacement Matt Taylor has defied expectations so far with 13 points from seven games.

We analyse an impressive start to the rookie’s managerial career.

Good recruitment

MK Dons-bound Jordan Moore-Taylor, one of the best ball-playing centre-backs outside the Championship, was a hard man to replace, as was namesake Storey, another centre-back who went to Preston.

Aaron Martin though has settled in very quickly, opening his goalscoring account last time out, forming a fine defensive partnership with Troy Brown when the latter is fit.

Powerful forward Jonathan Forte, meanwhile, formed an impressive strike-pairing with Jayden Stockley prior to his injury in late August.

Law and order

Exeter’s best signing must be that of Nicky Law, who was a League One Play-Off Finalist with Bradford as recently as 2017. The busy midfielder might not be especially quick, but he uses the energy he does have selflessly and intelligently, dragging opposing players back with his clever runs to create space for others.

Law, who links play superbly, is arguably the signing of the League Two summer and Taylor deserves great credit for attracting him to Devon. Likeability

“Likeable”, “honest”, “down to earth”, “engaging” – all words that Exeter fans have used to describe Taylor. It was telling that, after a 1-0 defeat at MK Dons when his side had been reduced to 10-men, he was still given a very positive ovation from the travelling fans.

The following week, the 36-year-old didn’t panic after a 3-0 home loss to Lincoln; while he expressed disappointment at the individual performance – and even hinted that one or two players might have got “too comfortable” - he also underlined his faith in them. He is capable of being honest without throwing the group under the bus and clearly, his words post-Lincoln were met with a defiant response.

 

 

Adaptability

The Lincoln defeat showed that the 4-4-2 system Taylor started the season with can leave his side vulnerable in transition. Plus, they struggled to find a high-quality partner for Jayden Stockley in the absence of Jonathan Forte while Hiram Boateng appeared to play somewhat within himself without the extra freedom that comes being part of a three-man midfield.

Taylor killed ‘three’ birds with one stone by switching to a 4-1-4-1, with holding midfielder Jordan Tillson coming into the side instead of a second striker. On paper, this was a defensive change yet in practice, it gave Boateng along with wide men Jake Taylor and Lee Holmes more creative freedom and that was key to a wonderfully smooth, fluent performance in a 5-1 win over Notts County. Constructive criticism

Just as Taylor didn’t go in too hard on his players after below-par Lincoln display, he also didn’t allow them to get carried away after the thrashing of County. In fact, he shared his frustration at the way they conceded the one goal.

Although it was an excellent strike from the opposing player, Taylor focused on the fact that the back-line had not dealt with a route one ball and said his players had to be tougher. In many ways, it was clever to offer a small element of criticism in an otherwise positive situation, to make sure that none of the players got too comfortable again.

Glass to Pym

As well as Taylor has done, it has certainly helped having an excellent goalkeeper in Christy Pym. The academy graduate might only be 23 but he is by no means inexperienced, with 129 appearances to his name already. Pym is athletic and agile, as he proved by saving a penalty in the 1-0 defeat at MK Dons – as well as in the 2-0 win at Cambridge, where

The Exiles were under the cosh for 75 minutes after scoring both goals early on. If Pym continues to develop at his current rate, he could play at a much, much higher level. What do Jack Butland, Joe Hart, Jordan Pickford, Alex McCarthy, Marcus Bettinelli, Tom Heaton and Nick Pope all have in common? That’s right – they have all played in League Two…

 

 

Stockley scoring Jayden Stockley was Exeter’s stand-out player in 2017-18, scoring 25 goals; getting the best out of the striker was always going to be key to their chances this year.

Whilst the Grecians can play well-calculated football through the midfield, they are not afraid to look for the early balls to the target man, who normally wins the initial aerial duels and, when the support is there, is more than capable of bringing others into play. Stockley has scored five goals already this season and looks set for another fine year at St James’s Park.

With all of the above falling into place, Taylor’s Grecians look set for a sustained promotion push.

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Graham Westley
Graham Westley
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