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Mid-season review: Can Exeter City challenge for the title?

Josh Brown reviews the Grecians' season thus far, and what the remaining four months could bring for City following last year's heartbreaking play-off final defeat

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At the time of writing, Exeter City sit in 8th spot – just outside the playoffs – but just two points off third, a spot which guarantees automatic promotion into League One.

This should be encouraging for a City side who, it appears, haven’t hit top form just yet – losing at Newport County, Colchester and Yeovil within the last month, and with all three below them in the league table, manager Paul Tisdale may look back at the winter period and rue missed opportunities.

There have been a few promising results – a 2-0 win at home to high-flying Accrington Stanley a particular highlight, as Tisdale showed signs of tactical flexibility to change away from his usual 4-4-2 to a more dynamic 5-3-2 to secure what turned out to be a relatively comfortable win over good opposition.

“a memorable night”

The FA Cup provided a memorable night at St James’ Park as a 10-man City came from 1-0 down to beat Forest Green Rovers in the third-round replay (the original tie ended 3-3, with Exeter 2-1 up in the 85th minute but having to find a late, great equaliser through summer signing Jayden Stockley right at the death) to secure a fourth round tie against Premier League outfit West Bromwich Albion.

Any hope of a cup upset was soon quashed, however, with Salomon Rondon heading Albion in front early on and Jay Rodriguez doubling the deficit soon after – and but for Christy Pym saving a Robson-Kanu penalty just before half-time, it could have been a lot more than just the two-goal lead that West Brom saw out to full-time. With no other competitions to play in, the Grecians must look to find more consistency with their league form.

In terms of individuals, the summer recruitment has paid dividends – namely in the form of topscorer Jayden Stockley, who’s notched 13 times this season. The striker provides a physical focal point for the attack and great aerial ability, though perhaps at the cost of more intricate build-up that was witnessed with a front two of Reuben Reid (now of Forest Green Rovers) and Liam McAlinden.

“a mention for pierce sweeney”

It would be unfair to exclude a mention of Kyle Edwards, a skilful winger on loan from West Brom who always looks capable of a piece of magic, and whose performances – albeit mostly off the bench – have quickly made him a fan favourite. Whether or not he will return to St James Park is still up in the air, though many would be glad to see him don the red and white for the remainder of the season. A final mention will go to my current player of the season, Pierce Sweeney, who’s chipped in with a couple of goals from the right-back slot on top of consistently strong defence performances.

If the Grecians are able to bring in the right players in this January window, there’s no reason why the Reds can’t make the most out of the winnable fixtures on the horizon, and who knows? They may end up challenging Luton for the league title.

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