A quick thought on strikers

Sunday, 16 May 2010

One slightly surprising and not entirely healthy statistic from this season concerns our strikers and goals. Or lack of them. Of the ten strikers (eleven if you include Ben Watson) we've used this season gone, between them they managed to muster 23 goals. Or, if you like, an average of 2.3 goals per striker this season.

Adam Stansfield, who missed the run-in in terrible circumstances (get well soon Stanno) was our highest scoring striker with seven goals, plus one in the cup. Barry Corr, who missed 12 games through suspension, was one behind with six. Ryan Harley, a midfielder, was our top scorer with ten goals. Central defender Matt Taylor netted five (plus two in the cup).

In some respects, having a 20-goal striker for a season isn't necessarily a must for a good season. In the Conference, Exeter reached the playoffs when Billy Jones, a left-back, was top scorer with ten goals. If the whole team chips in, then this shouldn't be a problem.

Yet it's probably the only area of the pitch currently where Exeter City desperately need to strengthen this summer. At the back, an extra player wouldn't go amiss, yet a back four of Tully, Taylor, Duffy and Goldborne is solid for this level.

In the middle, Harley pulls the strings, while Dunne and Sercombe battle and there's still David Noble and youth prospect Elliot Frear to come into contention. Another wide player might be nice, but again there's a decent core here.

Which just leaves the strikers, most of whom, with the exception of Stanno, have been found wanting.

Stuart Fleetwood has been the biggest disappointment. Last season, he arrived on a short end-of-season loan and netted three goals in nine starts. This season he managed four in 27 appearances, 11 of which were from the bench.

Fleetwood's reputation was still high at the start of this season, following that extraordinary season in the Conference with Forest Green Rovers, where he scored 28 and earned himself a move to Charlton.

But the Addicks clearly didn't fancy him that much and successive loans failed to yield much. This season, then, was one where he had to prove he could cut it at League One level or, probably, fall back to non-league. He has failed, although his four goals have all been important.

So much was promised, but an inability to fit in with the system Exeter played plus spurning several decent opportunities led him to be demoted to the bench behind fellow loanee Ryan Taylor. He should have been our main striker.

Taylor, R, actually acquitted himself pretty well during his short-spell in the Westcountry - witness his glorious hold-up work and cut back for James Dunne's goal at Swindon - but failed to find the net. I wouldn't be averse to see him return and try to develop as there's raw talent there, but can we really afford another non-scoring striker.

Of the rest, Corr never got a good run of games going due to an inability to stay on the pitch, and only seemed to fancy scoring against MK: Dons (never a bad thing, mind).

Richard Logan, meanwhile, has largely been used as an impact sub, James Norwood is too young and inexperienced, Marcus Stewart is too old and can only be used sparingly, Ben Watson is forever injured, Craig McAllister has spent much of the season out on loan before being released and Marcus Haber was largely anonymous during his short loan spell with his.

Which just leaves Adam Stansfield as our only genuine starting striker currently. Last season, he was magnificent, leading the line and harrying defenders into mistakes, along with some well-taken goals, but then his season was cruelly cut short by bowel cancer.

Stanno has now had the operation but there's no telling when, if at all, we'll see him in an Exeter shirt again or if he'll be the same player. We can only hope he comes back even stronger than before. Adam is at the heartbeat of everything Exeter do well.

So, with McAllister and Corr released and Haber, Fleetwood and Ryan Taylor back at their parent clubs, and question marks over whether Marcus Stewart will play another season (and surely he can't start as many games as he has this season), currently our fit and available strikers reads as the following:

Watson (assuming he's fit again and hasn't tripped over his own shoelaces)

Watson and Norwood are both unknown quantities still and have the potential to come good (and there's certainly potential in there).

Logan, meanwhile, is one of the most technically gifted players at the club and deserves the chance to stake a claim for a starting spot or, at the very least, revel in the role of impact sub.

But we definitely need another striker or two. At least one big, strong player who can win headers and hold the ball up with be ideal. Other than that, a player who can at least reach double figures for the season, even if that double figure is ten. Anything more is a bonus.

Who these strikers will be is another matter. I'd quite fancy a look at Darlington's Purcell, who is available. Pipe dreams would be Paul Benson from the Daggers and Simeon Jackson from Gillingham, but we definitely can't afford these, alas.

It's not too much to ask for, just a small request. Although if France can win a World Cup with misfiring strikers, perhaps there's hope yet.


Happy As Larry

This is an Exeter City fan blog by Gary Andrews, covering news, views and action from the real St. James' Park.

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