I’m not sure that I will ever forgive the Grecians for the defeat they inflicted on us in the Wembley Playoff Final of 2008. No doubt the memory of a dire game was made worse by the taunting of their fans after the game and by the fact they were promoted again the following season. We were so much better than them and yet Rob Edwards goal put them back into the league while we struggled in the conference for what seemed an eternity. Some managers talk about fine margins and this was a wonderful example of the concept. Defeat at Wembley always feels terrible but when we were there twice and won twice, all the pain went away. And we won the first ever playoff final at the real Wembley too. A day which I think will never be bettered in my career as a U’s fan.
Exeter have long been associated with style, playing good football and, for twelve years, managed by the King of Cool, Paul Tisdale. They have played entertaining attacking football and have often unearthed outstanding players such as Ollie Watkins who has now played international football. It can be done. Having spent three years in league one, Exeter have teased their fans by appearing in playoff finals in 2017, 2018 and 2020. Indeed they are sitting on the edge of the playoffs this season. Talk to their fans about their chances and they are as pessimistic as they were in 2008. They were so convinced that they would lose that many of them chose to stay at home!
Exeter is a long way from anywhere and it’s the place where you would expect to see our most loyal fans; Chris Vessey, Andy Weston and the late Keith Hood. It is a great place to stay and to be a tourist in, despite the language barrier. Many of the locals would not be out of place amongst the cast of Treasure Island but they are extremely friendly and knowledgeable about the game. Anyway, It’s our turn for glory this season. Now that we are able to put out our first choice team, we are a match for anyone. We are resilient too. We were so good in the early part of the game at Tranmere that I was stunned by the unexpectedness of their goal. I am almost as amazed by the fact that they still had 11 men on the pitch by the end. Paul Lewis seems devoid of sense and yet again weak refereeing meant that our superior skill was offset by a team keen to test the laws as well as his patience. It makes it harder for skillful teams to escape this league but I am sure that we will. The prophets of doom seem to have become very quiet now. We can’t expect to win every game but we have a good chance of finishing as Champions. If we don’t, it will have been a wonderful season anyway. Our team have shown just how much can be achieved by sticking together and working for each other. They are an example to us all.