By the skin of our teeth

Tuesday 25th May 2010 11:42

Harley: top scorer

Harley: top scorer

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FanZoner Neil Pickup reflects on the usual last-day drama for Exeter - and a season that ended in survival at least.

Grecians can now get ready for League One again - can they get goals?

Well, that was fun. Typical City, I suppose you could say. Typically infuriating, inexplicable, intoxicating City. We were seven minutes from booking a return ticket to Macclesfield when Ryan Harley decided that he'd rather spend 2011 playing at Hillsborough than Underhill.

That's now seven out of the last eight seasons in which everything has been settled in the final minutes of the final games of a season. I know - and a quick look at the last few entries in the blog will confirm - that I've expected nothing more than a last-day nailbiter for the last few months.

I can't help but wonder whether I'd end up feeling thoroughly short-changed by a season that petered out into mediocrity in mid-April. It would probably be better for the heart, particularly as all my cricket teams appear to think it's not worth playing a match unless all four results are still possible into the last hour, if not the last over.

So, we've done it: I'm under no illusions that I wouldn't have jumped at the offer of 20th place and skin-of-the-teeth survival - but now, we must look forwards to the second season and the task ahead of us to consolidate and look upwards.

The final part of the season - 13 games with just one defeat - says enough about our back line, determination and goalkeeper (even if he still can't kick properly) for me to be reasonably happy, and happier still if George Friend comes back to the Park on a full-time basis for the new season.

Health

It can't be a coincidence that the ex-Grecian's loan spell from Wolves covered those crucial final 13 matches, and if the man who (I think) holds the record for playing in the top five divisions of the football pyramid in the shortest period of time* can be enticed to sign a permanent deal it could only be good news. The midfield, with James Dunne and Liam Sercombe growing into their roles alongside top scorer Ryan Harley, also appears in fine health.

Unfortunately, the fact that Harley is our top scorer - on just 10 goals - tells us why we were in the relegation mixer until the final whistle on May 8. Adam Stansfield got seven in a season curtailed by the unhappy diagnosis of testicular cancer, but third on the scorers' list was central defensive rock, ever-present player of the season Matt Taylor on five. The next strikers, Stuart Fleetwood and Richard Logan, managed only four.

In fact, our front men only managed 17 goals between them all season: quite simply not enough, particularly given the costs of Fleetwood's loanee wages. Logan's role as near-permanent substitute cannot be underestimated however: the professionalism and commitment required to maintain standards in a bit-part role is commendable.

Few City fans will begrudge a new contract to the man whose goals at Torquay and Rotherham did so much to earn us the place in League One.

So, please, Mr Tisdale - sir - could we have a 20-goal striker next season, and while I know you don't really like wingers, someone who can deliver a final ball rather more often would also be pretty useful. Other than that, keep on doing just what you're doing... and don't you dare go to Southampton until the fixture list has us at St Mary's!

*Exeter in the Conference and League 2, Wolves in the Championship and Premiership, and loan spells at Millwall and Southend in League 1, between May 2008 and December 2009. This is a better stat that "the man who played one Premiership game and got his team fined for it..."