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Colchester to prevail at the Mazuma
at 17:40 23 Jan 2021

We won't be relegated, but we're probably not getting near the play-offs either this season. Frustrating, but this season is all about just survival through the crisis.

Today was so frustrating, playing some really good first touch football most of the first half, really should have been ahead going into half-time, and then undone by a sucker punch break-away goal. To be fair, Morecambe worked it very well, but still totally against the run of play. I fully expect the club to challenge Pell's red card, given the benefit of the replay, and possibly the FA will look into the Morecambe player's 'simulation', but he went head to head, and really should have known better. The sliding tackle that provoked it all was actually sublime, the Morecambe players had no right to react as they did, but everyone does it. Telling that when all the fracas died down, the ref agreed it was a fair tackle and gave the throw-in. The substitutions were positive, and we didn't give up taking the game to them, but two clinical strikes showed us just why we need someone in the box putting those sorts of chances away. Didn't see much from Oteh to be honest, but to be fair coming on in a ten against 11 match, it was always going to be difficult to make an immediate impression.

Heyho, we go again on Tuesday.

Up the U's

Edit: forgot to say, I really enjoyed the mixed commentary team, it gave an interesting perspective, and Greggors did well.
[Post edited 23 Jan 17:43]
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Letters from Wiltshire #28
at 14:54 23 Jan 2021

It’s difficult to think about quite how to write this editorial, without appearing mawkish. On Sunday 17th February 671 people succumbed to coronavirus, with the 7-day average creeping just above 1,000 deaths. On that day, one of those was someone very dear to me, who died in Watford General Hospital of Covid-19 pneumonia. Idiots and conspiracy-theorists will tell you there’s no plague, or that masks infringe their civil liberties, or some other form of spurious non-science bullsh*t, so do me a favour – if they say this to you, please punch them on the f’cking nose for me, and say that’s from Wessex – thank you.

Top 5 away-day football grounds

For those that don’t know, Watford General Hospital is on Vicarage Road, virtually right next door to Watford Football Club. I’ve been to Vicarage Road twice, once for our rearranged 1977 FA 1st round 2nd replay against AFC Bournemouth (we won 4-1 with goals from Steve Dowman and a Colin Garwood hat-trick, in front of just 2,230), and the following 2nd Round match actually against Watford (which we lost 0-2 in front of a slightly more respectable 11,907). Thinking about this connection, Letters from Wiltshire #28 will be my top 5 away-day football grounds.

This isn’t just going to be about the big fancy stadiums of our Championship years, and not necessarily those rare one-off cup clashes against top-flight opposition, but as much about the event itself, and the away-day experience overall. As I often say, context is everything – so let’s dive in, and as always, in reverse order.

#5: Stamford Bridge


Haha – so having opened with “…and not necessarily those rare one-off cup clashes against top-flight opposition…”, let’s start off with exactly that. Stamford Bridge was built in 1877, and began life as a vast more or less open bowl athletics track. Chelsea Football Club moved in on the day they were formed in 1905, and have stayed there ever since. Three times in the 20s it hosted the FA Cup final, and in 1935 saw an official record attendance of 82,905 watch a game against London rivals Arsenal (the match was drawn 1-1). Unofficially, it is estimated over 100,000 crammed in to watch a friendly against FC Dynamo Moscow, who were invited to tour the UK at the end of the Second World War.

Our trip to Stamford Bridge, for our first and currently only competitive match against Chelsea, was on 19th February 2006, in the 5th Round of the FA Cup. To accommodate the TV cameras, this match was switched to the Sunday, not that that discouraged the travelling U’s faithful, who snapped up the 6,000 tickets available in no time at all (and more than a few in with Chelsea too).

From a location perspective, it couldn’t have been easier to get to for me. We’d just moved to Warminster, having finally outgrown our Salisbury home following the arrival of Alfie 18 months earlier, but still a simple train journey up to Waterloo and short tube journey from there. Virtually a whole bunch of family before the match, we opted for pints at a pub in Parson’s Green before the match. I can picture it in my mind, but can’t for the life of me remember its name.



The ground itself was quite something – from the outside vast towering stands that dwarfed residential properties that surround it on three sides. The stewards were reasonably courteous, albeit somewhat overzealous in their confiscation of items that could be construed as ‘weapons’ (like small plastic ‘vuvuzela’ horns – although personally, confiscating those hideous things was fine with me).

Inside the ground was something to behold as well, not just the 2- or 3-tier stands on all sides, fully enclosed and giving a real bear-pit of an atmosphere, but the massed ranks of U’s fans already gathered and in full voice, and it was still half an hour before kick-off! Despite the throng, we did manage to get some fairly standard concourse food and drink before kick-off. We didn’t even bother trying at half-time, it was mobbed. The noise when Parky and the team ran out though was just deafening.



The abiding memory though, and one I know we’ll all share, is 6,000 U’s fans in full voice drowning out anything that Chelsea supporters did for the entire match – “Who needs Mourinho, we’ve got Phil Parkinson” booming out time and time again, and the goal celebrations when we took the lead, quite magical. That and balloons of course. Okay, we eventually lost 3-1 when Mourinho was forced to bring on Lampard, Cole and Crespo in the second half, but what a day, what a stadium and what a brave performance from the U’s.



#4: Ashton Gate


Another bear-pit of a stadium, and this one much more old skool than the revamped all-seater Stamford Bridge. First off, there is a bias here I suppose – my Auntie Di was a Bristolian (lived in Shirehampton until she passed), I’ve always loved the city, still do, and for the last 30+ years I’ve lived in relatively easy reach of Bristol. We even opened a regional office there six years ago, which I visit regularly, and my eldest also lives there. Proximity has meant therefore many trips to Ashton Gate (and the Memorial Stadium) over the years.

Just to clarify here, I am talking about Ashton Gate before relatively recent redevelopment, when away fans were housed in the South Stand, which used to be known then simply as the Covered End. Away fans were given about one third of this stand, with some of the more lairy home support behind a fence in the remaining two thirds (reminiscent of the old Ninian Park for anyone who’s made that trip in the past).

Whoever you support, no one could deny that Bristol City supporters, a bit like (for instance) Leeds and Portsmouth fans, do make a heck of a lot of noise most matches. What I always loved about Ashton Gate was that the acoustics were excellent, which allowed even a paltry few hundred U’s fans to make quite a bit of a racket on their own. My son Sam (who has never seen the U’s lose on any of our football trips together) used to have to cover his ears when we all got going, it was that loud. There were pillars, which could obscure surprisingly large slices of the pitch at times, but that was kind of part of the experience to be honest.

I think also I have to give a big shout out to City (and Rovers) fans too – in all my visits to Bristol to watch the U’s, always in colours, I have never once had any grief from anyone. In fact, quite the opposite, more often than not I’ll find myself drawn into conversation, usually about football, sat around a pub table with 5-10 City fans, everyone buying rounds and just having a good time – and that includes in the infamous Wedlock Pub too – now sadly demolished and redeveloped for flats.

Curiously, given how much I enjoy trips Ashton Gate, we rarely win, but my special memory has to be way back on 8th February 2003, in front of 11,107 (including what must have been 3-400 U’s fans). The U’s took an early lead through Scott McGleish, City equalised just after half-time, and then in front of the travelling supporters, up popped Thomas Pinault to make it 2-1 with about 20 minutes to go – what scenes of celebration there were. Oh, and City’s equaliser was scored by Craig Fagan…



My last visit to Ashton Gate was in 2014, and with the old South Stand then demolished, work had started on replacing it. As a result, we were housed at one end of the Atyeo Stand at the other end, and whilst I still enjoyed my football away day to Ashton Gate, the atmosphere just wasn’t the same.

#3: St Mary’s
Of the ‘new era’ all-seater stadia I’ve been to, I have to say that St Mary’s is probably one of the best designed. Graceful curves, fully enclosed, one continuous roof span, no pillars or supports getting in the way, for a relatively modest 30k+ capacity, it really is the dog’s danglies. Okay, so it’s set in a bit of an industrial wasteland for now, but what I also like about it is the heritage aspect – going back to the parish from which Southampton get their nickname The Saints.



That heritage aspect is also particularly important for me, as we provided the archaeological work to clear the site ahead of the development, which included a fair few dead Saxons, former residents of Saxon Hamwic. In recognition of our support, once the stadium was built, the team were invited to a celebration meal at the stadium, which naturally included a free bar and tour of the stadium – what a pleasant evening that was.

Needless to say, the U’s haven’t played at St Mary’s too often, five times to be precise, but I have managed to be at every one of them, plus a more recent trip to watch the England U21s play a friendly against Norway. Given the gulf in class between Southampton and the U’s, our record at St Mary’s is surprisingly good, having won once, drawn three times and only lost once (and even that was a spirited narrow 3-2 defeat in the League Cup). Of course, St Mary’s was one of those grounds that some believed was cursed, when Saints went on a prolonged run without a victory after moving in (something we know only too well), so maybe we were benefiting from an aftertaste of that curse?

As far as abiding memories go, it can only be that victory at St Mary’s on 16th March 2007, our first and most glorious season in the Championship. The match was played on a Friday night, so me and a friend from work travelled down for the game after work. I can’t remember why it was played on a Friday, but it clearly had an impact on the travelling support, which I reckon was only around the 200 mark (it would have been at least double for a Saturday afternoon).



Not that we let that get in the way of our support, and the small band of U’s supporters just didn’t stop singing all match. Every time the home support found their voice to try and drown us out, back we came with an almost never-ending chant of “Georgie Williams’ Blue and White Army” – just relentless. It was certainly helped by the U’s on the pitch, who were magnificent in both attack and resolute defence. A neat bit of interplay between Izzet and Iwelumo allowed Cureton to blast us into an early lead, Saganowski finally equalised mid-way through the first half, only for Cureton to brilliantly restore the lead a minute later with a stunning volley from a Richard Garcia cross…and the fans sung on!

#2: Brisbane Road


This one is all about the beer, and I’m not afraid to admit. Although not exclusively, this trip is usually one for leaving the kids at home, so the lads can get a bit lairy. As with any football ground in London or the Home Counties, it’s a straightforward train journey and tube/ overground there and back, always a bonus if beer is involved. The other bonus is it usually allows a stop at one of my favourite football trip pubs, Hamilton Hall at Liverpool Street Station – such as back in 2011 with my mate Jon and Alfie ahead of a forgettable performance on the pitch.



It would appear I’m not the only one that likes a trip to Brisbane Road either, and it is usually one of our better turnouts for away games each season – admittedly it does often bring out some of our gnarlier barsiders from back in the day too, certainly not something for the faint-hearted. The pre-match atmosphere in the nearby Coach and Horses, the usual watering hole for the U’s faithful is always excellent, with song after song raising the rafters at times.

There are some negatives about a trip to Brisbane Road, not least that there’s no alcohol on sale in the ground, albeit most have usually had enough by then anyway, and the queues for antiquated toilet facilities can be daunting (particularly if you’re trying to hold in a whole bunch of pre-match pints). PC Plod and the stewards are generally okay – providing you’re there to have a few beers and a good time that is, less so if you’re getting a bit antsy in your pantsy. I’ve never had any trouble from locals in all my trips, probably because I’ve never gone looking for any, just to meet up with mates and have a good time.

The stadium is compact, tidy, well-laid out, has generally excellent views on all sides, a good playing surface usually, and of course for the massed ranks, excellent acoustics. They don’t, as a rule, have much of a singing culture, so often it’s really only the U’s making all the noise – maybe that’s something to do with their support having a significant proportion who really follow one of the larger London clubs?

I’ve already featured my one trip to Brisbane Road that’s actually in my memorabilia collection (LfW#16) – the ill-fated match that would see Leyton Orient relegated to the Conference, finished in secret behind closed doors following a pitch invasion, and me and Alfie forced to get an Uber all the way back to Wiltshire after the match. For all the great visits I’ve had to Brisbane Road, this one has to stand out as the most notable for so many reasons – plus of course we won! (though we didn’t officially know that until we got home). I’ve already posted this YouTube link in the previous Brisbane Road blog, but I love watching it, so make no apology about doing so again.



…and finally…

#1: Griffin Park


For any that know me, this probably won’t come as much of a surprise. A bit like Brisbane Road, this is all about meeting mates, drinking beer and having a good day out – only this time with perhaps slightly less propensity for the old skool Barside to show up as well. Perhaps the long tube and overground across London is a bit too much of a ball-ache for those travelling from Essex, but for someone living in the West Country it make a London awayday even easier.

Brentford has always held a kind of fascination to me anyway, from long before I ever visited following the U’s. It was always that ground you could see from the M4 Chiswick Flyover and think “what ground’s that then?”. At university I was introduced to the Brentford Trilogy novels by Robert Rankin, and his two central characters (drunken layabouts) Jim Pooley and John Omally, which I loved from the moment I picked them up. In more recent years, it was fascinating to actual identify some of the ‘fictional’ locations in his books, not least the former Bricklayers pub, The Flying Swan and semi-permanent home to Poole and Omally in the books.



Sadly, this is one on my list that no longer exists (if you don’t count the demolition and rebuild of the Ashton Gate South Stand), but that’s progress I guess. What I will say is that the new ground looks first class, right in the heart of the community, and I sincerely look forward to my first opportunity to visit it following the U’s.

Back to Griffin Park, it’s another traditional smaller football stadium, bags of character and charm, perhaps more suited to hosting 3rd/4th tier football in look and feel, but which has undergone several redevelopments over the years. Many will remember we were originally housed in the two tier Brook Road stand, before the home supporters got roof envy and we were switched to the freezing open Ealing Road terrace. Then Brentford did some fund-raising to put a roof on it, and suddenly the home supporters wanted it back, so back we went to the Brook Road stand.

Traditionally, matches at Griffin Park are always preceded by a lap of the ground, with one (or more) starting in the Royal Oak, then clockwise to the New Inn, the Princess Royal and then finally the Griffin, which is where the U’s faithful usually congregate pre-match. Again, from a personal perspective, never a hint of trouble in all my many visits. The Brook Road stand has good acoustics, and I’ve been in amongst some noisy support at time. I’ve never been in the top tier seating, and of course I never will now.

The open Ealing Road terrace was considerably less welcoming, and on occasions I’ve been frozen solid and literally drenched to my skin watching the U’s (to add insult to injury, the latter whilst enduring a 4-1 drubbing), but it’s never really got in the way of enjoying my opportunities to visit Griffin Park.

Indeed, my favourite memory is indeed from standing on that open terrace with my mate Jon, watching Brentford play ping-pong on our goal line, before Iwelumo set Yeates free to run and run, bearing down on goal to drill the U’s into an unassailable 2-0 lead back in 2005/06 Championship promotion season. I’ve already featured this game (MoY#21), but the grainy video is worth seeing again.



For Jacki

Up the U’s
[Post edited 23 Jan 18:17]
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Latest statement from Robbie...
at 07:40 23 Jan 2021

...with special mention for Daniel, Katie and Harrison

https://www.cu-fc.com/news/2021/january/club-statement/
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Happy League 2020/21 Week 20 (of 34) - Deadline Saturday 23rd January 15.00
at 17:43 22 Jan 2021

Apart from just scraping home for U'sual Champions League qualification, I'm having an absolute shocker in this and the OMB prediction league at the moment!

QUEENS PARK RANGERS v DERBY COUNTY 2-0
CREWE ALEXANDRA v AFC WIMBLEDON 3-0
LINCOLN CITY v NORTHAMPTON TOWN 3-1
OXFORD UNITED v BRISTOL ROVERS 2-1
PORTSMOUTH v HULL CITY 2-1
SUNDERLAND v SHREWSBURY TOWN 2-0
LEYTON ORIENT v FOREST GREEN ROVERS 1-1
PORT VALE v WALSALL 1-1
SOUTHEND UNITED v MANSFIELD TOWN 1-2
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Lockdown loan signing fun
at 12:39 22 Jan 2021

Team list is shaping up nicely, we now more or less have all slots filled, plus some extras, and we have a decision to make on the sub 'keeper. Bongani is traditionally a centre back, but I've stuck him out on the right for now.

Colchester United Loanee First XI

Manager: Steve Foley

1….Goalkeeper: Sam Walker
2….Right Back: Bongani Khumalo(?)
3….Left Back: Luke Garbutt
4….Centre Back: Chris Barker
5….Centre Back: Matt Connolly
6….Central Midfield: Tony Kelly
7….Right Midfield/ Wing: Michail Antonio/ Jamal Campbell-Ryce
8….Central Midfield: Fumaca
9….Striker: Graham Barrett
10..Attacking Midfield/ Striker: Jamie Cureton
11..Left Midfield/ Wing: Isaiah Rankin
…………………………………………………………………………….
12..Sub Goalkeeper: Tom McAlister/ Andy Woodman
14..Sub Defender #1: Danny Batth
15..Sub Defender #2: David Coleman
16..Sub Midfield #1: Hogan Ephraim
17..Sub Midfield #2: Jacob Murphy
18..Sub Forward #1: Gary Moore
19..Sub Forward #2: Mike Masters

Left on the bus: Rowan Vine, Will Packwood, Rekeil Pyke
Treatment Room: Kevin Beattie
Taking an early bath: Guy Branston
Post-match entertainment at The Lamb: Roy McDonough

Edit: missed JCR, so another decision to make. Notably, he was eligible for and participated in both ours and Southend's open-top bus parades following promotion to the Championship.
[Post edited 22 Jan 12:48]
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Lockdown loan signing fun
at 23:14 21 Jan 2021

...or conscious after 19 minutes!

You could well be right Daniel, so sorry Durham, might have to drop the interloper :-)
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Lockdown loan signing fun
at 18:56 21 Jan 2021

As he was on loan originally, and sticking with the Big Roy era, Mike Masters - first American to score at Wembley!
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Lockdown loan signing fun
at 14:53 21 Jan 2021

Surely in the spirit of things, it has to be a caretaker?
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Lockdown loan signing fun
at 12:46 21 Jan 2021

Just for a bit of fun, I’ve put those so far nominated into a U’s Loanee XI team-sheet, with Packwood and Pyke on the bench for now 😊.

Colchester United Loanee First XI
1….Goalkeeper: Sam Walker
2….Right Back:
3….Left Back: Luke Garbutt
4….Centre Back: Guy Branston
5….Centre Back:
6….Central Midfield: Tony Kelly
7….Right Midfield/ Wing: Michail Antonio
8….Central Midfield: Fumaca
9….Striker: Graham Barrett
10..Attacking Midfield/ Striker: Jamie Cureton
11..Left Midfield/ Wing: Isaiah Rankin
…………………………………………………………………………….
12..Sub Goalkeeper:
14..Sub Defender #1: Will Packwood
15..Sub Defender #2:
16..Sub Midfield #1:
17..Sub Midfield #2:
18..Sub Forward #1: Rekeil Pyke
19..Sub Forward #2:
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Lockdown loan signing fun
at 23:19 20 Jan 2021

Good call, forgot about Graham Barrett. I’m going to add Guy Branston - a solid but unglamorous player, but without whom we may not have made the play-off final
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Lockdown loan signing fun
at 06:52 20 Jan 2021

Possibly a controversial one, but I thought the same about Isaiah Rankin when he came to us. In his appearances that I saw, his pace and trickery were breathtaking. I was surprised he didn’t go on to play consistently at a much higher level.
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Lockdown loan signing fun
at 00:00 20 Jan 2021

Think some of you are redefining ‘success’ here. As no one has gone there yet, easy suggestion from me will be Jamie Cureton.
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New signing
at 16:00 19 Jan 2021

Whilst not exactly prolific at present, he's scored a fair few over the last couple of seasons at this level, so definitely sounds promising. Curiously, wikipedia lists him as 1.76m tall (about 5'9") and Soccerbase has him at 1.85m (6'1"). If we get a choice, I know which I'd prefer :-)

Most recently on loan at Stevenage (scored on 2nd Jan), so I wonder if in a roundabout sort of way his recall to QPR to come here was connected to Norris going to Stevenage?
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League Two Research Study
at 23:03 18 Jan 2021

Done - good luck with your research.
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Letters from Wiltshire #27
at 22:13 16 Jan 2021

Thanks Pinault, you’re very kind. Likewise I do like Exeter, lovely place!
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Never mind the excuses we need to win today any win will do!
at 16:56 16 Jan 2021

Tough game in very difficult conditions. Certainly an improvement on some recent performances, and whilst we might just have deserved a second with Pell's instinctive flick (who was immense btw), we could just have easily lost it with that late chance for Cambridge.
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Letters from Wiltshire #27
at 12:26 16 Jan 2021

Welcome (finally) to 2021, and hopefully a vaccine-driven start to a much better year for everyone – which as you can guess was going to be my introduction two weeks ago. From a selfish perspective, hopefully an improved year for the U’s as well that sees us cement at the very least a play-off spot, but why stop there – don’t mess around with the lottery of play-offs, go straight for it with automatic promotion (who am I kidding). First up in that quest is a tough match against {Tranmere Rovers} Cambridge United, and no longer with Chuck to help us out. Still, set up for Jevani to put one over on his former club.

Exeter City v Colchester United
Saturday 5th May 2018
Sky Bet League Two (Tier 4)
Attendance 4,615




The opponents for today’s Letters from Wiltshire #27, Exeter City, know all about the lottery of the play-offs, appearing as losing finalists in 2017, (spoiler alert) 2018 and of course 2020. Being a local trip from here, Exeter City also feature prominently in my memorabilia collection, and this isn’t the first blog I’ve written from St James Park. This should have included our three most recent visits, but on 25th January 2020 a trackside fire put paid to my journey at Tiverton, the pandemic prevented a visit for last season’s play-off match, and again for our most recent 6-1 mauling – though in truth I’m glad I wasn’t there for that one.

Grecians?
The nickname for Exeter City is a matter of considerable debate. St James Park is located in the parish of St Sidwells (named after St Sidwella, allegedly a native of Devon who was martyred through beheading by reapers at the behest of her own mother-in-law – nice!). The parish is located outside the city walls, and some believe the nickname is a Homerian classical reference to the Greeks laying siege outside the walls of Troy, and/or that the association more specifically relates to antipathy between city boys and St Sidwells boys during the beating of the bounds.



There are a number of etymological suggestions as well: that it is a corruption of the derogatory term “Greasy ‘Uns” for children from St Sidwells, or perhaps based on the Welsh name for Exeter, Caerwysg. This derived from the Roman fort at Exeter, as Caer = fort and Wysg = Exe, and thus people from Exeter would have been known as ‘Caer Iscuns’ (which at a stretch, if repeated enough times, could morph into ‘Grecians’ over time). A slightly more prosaic explanation could simply be because a jeweller’s shop on Sidwell Street had a clock hanging outside with the name Grecians on its face

It’s not the despair…
I may have mentioned previously, but where possible I always try and do the first and last match of each season, and although this had really been a season to forget, there me and Alfie were driving down to Exeter on a beautifully warm sunny May day. Well, I say a season to forget, but in truth it had been a season that’s difficult to remember, it had been that underwhelming.

An exceptionally poor start to the season saw the U’s down near the relegation zone by the end of September, and knocked out of the League Cup in the first round at home to Aston Villa in front of the Sky Sports cameras (albeit it was a spirited performance). Although our league form rallied somewhat after that, in rapid succession we went out of the FA Cup in the first round at home to non-league Oxford City, and three days later went out of the EFL Trophy at the group stage, losing 2-0 at Southend United of all places.

However, we did seem to be capitalising on our opportunity to ‘concentrate on the league’, and with only one defeat from then through to the new year, we managed to climb into play-off contention. It wasn’t to last though, and a catastrophic dip in form through to mid-March realistically put paid to any lingering hope of the play-offs, even if mathematically it was still possible. Typical U’s, that despair gave way to faint hope after three wins on the bounce: at Stevenage, home to Luton, and at Forest Green Rovers, the latter including one of the fastest goals I’ve seen scored by a U’s player, as Drey Wright poked home a Sammie Szmodics cross after just 16 seconds.



However, as we know, hope is a capricious mistress, and all that good work was undone by three more successive defeats, at home to Accrington Stanley and Notts County, and away at Lincoln City, followed by a drab 0-0 at home to Swindon, ended any lingering dreams of an unlikely and ill-deserved play-off spot. That defeat at Lincoln would also turn out to be 7’ tall Sam Walker’s last game for the U’s, in technically his third spell at the club.

All caught up
And so there we were, me and Alfie driving down the M5 for a meaningless match for the U’s, with nothing to play for but pride. Exeter City, on the other hand, were already guaranteed a play-off place, it just remained to be determined where exactly, and therefore how the draw might favour them. 4th place was obviously the priority, giving them second leg home advantage over whoever finished in the final 7th place slot, so I was expecting a tough match against a team with quite a bit still to play for.

With Sam Walker expecting to leave at the end of the season, John McGreal’s side lined up that day

25..Dillon Barnes
2….Ryan Jackson
22..Kane Vincent-Young
6….Frankie Kent
5….Luke Prosser (captain)
14..Brandon Comley
16..Sean Murray (Tom Lapslie 76’)
10..Sammie Szmodics
11..Ryan Gondoh
20..Courtney Senior (Drey Wright 76’)
19..Mikael Mandron (Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe 46’)



Just to emphasise, it really was a beautiful day, not just warm but for early May actually hot. St James Park was undergoing renovation, with the old open away terrace behind the goal demolished, and a new stand under construction on the railway side of the ground opposite us. There was a decent following from the U’s too, with the drum coming along for the ride as well, and our own Durham making up what must have been nearly 200 of the faithful that afternoon, including Brennan Dickenson taking the opportunity to sit with the fans.

Least said the better to be honest
In truth, considering Exeter had a lot to play for, when combined with the heat on the day, the match started with a distinct lack of any urgency from both sides, and it almost had a pre-season friendly feel to it. Maybe at the back of their minds, Exeter players weren’t subconsciously holding back to a degree, not wanting to risk injury with the play-offs approaching? Maybe for the U’s players, they just didn’t want to crash and burn on the final day, and would be happy to play out a dull 0-0? Who knows, but it took nearly 15 minutes for the first meaningful action of the match.

Slopping defending from Frankie Kent allowed Liam McAlinden to nip in on the left, loft the ball over the advancing Dillon Barnes and run on to his own ball for what really should have been an open goal – only he chose to cross the ball instead of score, and Robbie Simpson shanked his chance up and over the bar. It was a considerable let-off for the U’s, and should have been a wake-up call, but we hit the snooze button and slumbered on.

Dillon Barnes, who wasn’t to be honest filling me with confidence, did reasonably well diving full-length to keep out a curling long-range shot from Ryan Harley, but it was the sort of regulation save you would expect any ‘keeper to make. It was his dithering with ball in hand that was bothering me most – often racing out looking for the early throw to put the U’s on a counter-attack, but then failing to decide which of the options presented to him to take.

Barnes was beaten late on in the first half, from a looping Simpson header that just evaded him and nestled in the bottom corner, but we were saved by the lineman flagging for offside. We were more or less in line with it, and I’ll be honest it looked very close, but to be fair the Exeter players didn’t protest too much, so I guess it was the correct call. Our only meaningful contribution all half had been a tame effort from Ryan Gondoh (making his full debut) which goalkeeper Christy Pym watched go safely outside the post.

Into the second half, and still no one appeared to really want to give it a go, until we were thrown a very unlikely life-line. Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe had replaced Mikael Mandron at half-time, and was proving to be a bit of a livewire in the box. Going down under a clumsy challenge from Sweeney, the referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Sammie Szmodics claimed the chance for himself, but I really wish he hadn’t. Pym dived to his right, but Sammie’s effort was weak and straight down the middle, and gave Pym the chance to clear it with his trailing foot.

https://flic.kr/p/2kofvs7
My video of that penalty

That just about summed up our day to be honest, and barely ten or so minutes later we were to pay for the miss. Having already hit the post from a Dean Moxey effort, Sweeney then did well down the Exeter right, sending an inviting cross into the box. Frankie Kent looked in two minds, perhaps expecting Barnes to come out and claim it. Barnes stayed rooted to his line presumably expecting Kent to deal with it, and Simpson took full advantage to run in between and head home easily. It was no more than we deserved to be honest.

McGreal changed things around a few minutes later, bringing on Lapslie and Wright for Murray and Senior in a double substitution, and it did at least inject a bit of urgency into the U’s. A speculative (mishit or deflected possibly?) cross from Ogedi-Uzokwe looked to be sneaking under the crossbar, which required Pym to palm it over the bar, and a half-chance for Prosser required a defter touch than he had to successfully lob Pym in the dying seconds – that one finished on the roof of the net.

And that was that, bowing out of our 2017/18 campaign with a whimper in 13th place and our worst league finish for 23 years…

Exeter 1 (Robbie Simpson 71’) Colchester United 0

With their victory, Exeter claimed top slot in the play-offs, and after a comfortable 0-0 away at Lincoln, and then a resounding 3-1 victory in the second leg, went on to play Coventry City in the final in front of over 50,000 fans. Coventry had finished 6th, five points behind Exeter, but it didn’t show as they comfortably beat the Grecians 3-1 in the final – the Exeter consolation coming in the last minute of the game.

Sam Walker did indeed leave in the summer for a bench-warming appointment at Championship side Reading. Over the following two seasons he made just 14 appearances for the Royals, half of which were as the ‘rotation’ goalkeeper for cup matches. However, just before Christmas he joined Blackpool on a one-week emergency loan after Blackpool’s goalkeeper Chris Maxwell tested positive for coronavirus, and this was extended by another seven days on 30th December, so he’ll be playing in their match at Bristol Rovers today (alongside Luke Garbutt as it happens).

If you can bring yourself, here are the Exeter City highlights from YouTube.



Up the U’s
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Happy League 2020/21 Week 19 (of 34) - Deadline Saturday 16th January 12.30
at 12:16 16 Jan 2021

WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS v WEST BROMWICH ALBION (12.30) 3-1
LEEDS UNITED v BRIGHTON & HOVE ALBION 2-0
LEICESTER CITY v SOUTHAMPTON (20.00) 1-0
BRISTOL CITY v PRESTON NORTH END 2-1
CARDIFF CITY v NORWICH CITY 1-2
COVENTRY CITY v SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY POSTPONED
QUEENS PARK RANGERS v WYCOMBE WANDERERS POSTPONED
ACCRINGTON STANLEY v GILLINGHAM 2-0
ROCHDALE v WIGAN ATHLETIC 1-1
BARROW v SCUNTHORPE UNITED 2-1
COLCHESTER UNITED v CAMBRIDGE UNITED 1-2
HARROGATE TOWN v EXETER CITY POSTPONED
STEVENAGE v TRANMERE ROVERS 0-1
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Leeds 1971 and 2021
at 19:14 10 Jan 2021

It'll be no consolation, but I got bored after about 50 minutes and switched channels...
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Norris out, Robinson in?
at 19:05 10 Jan 2021

Though to be fair, if he can stay fit, I'd be more than happy to see him back here on loan (with Ipswich continuing to pick up the bulk of his salary naturally).
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