Exeter 2 Colchester 2: Same old, same old

Sunday, 8 August 2010

A demonstration of the distance between Exeter City's attack and midfield

It takes just four minutes for early season optimism to turn into the usual deflation. That's the time from Ryan Harley firing Exeter into the lead to Colchester accelerating a goal ahead. A strange, frantic early start at St. James' Park, but, boy, it's good to be back.

So, slight disappointment tempered by joy as Richard Logan snatched a late equaliser. Which is about fair, just, judging by the ebb and flow of the game. Were we good or bad? Both, probably. Flashes of brilliance combined with some poor play, but many signs of encouragement.

Paul Tisdale gave City league debuts to three players - Nardiello, O'Flynn, and David Noble, while the returning Billy Jones also started - and at times it showed.

Daniel Nardiello showed a very good touch up front, while Jon O'Flynn has good movement, although needs to be coached in the offisde law. There was a lack of understanding between the two strikers, but that's sort of to be expected.

Nardiello's good work led to the early penalty, with City on top in the early stage. He skipped through the box, drew the foul and went over. Clever work and a soft penalty for Colchester to concede. Up stepped Harley to duly stick it in the net and Exeter were one nil up and cruising, and then some.

At this stage, the U's couldn't get a touch on the ball and, without sounding hyperbolic, City looked good enough to dish out a pasting. And then it all fell apart.

With their first proper attack of the game, Colchester worked the ball to the wing, Goldbourne and Billy Jones stood off, Brian Wilson whipped in a delicious cross and Anthony Wordsworth jumped up to plant a free header beyond Paul Jones in the City goal. A textbook move that Jonah could do nothing to keep out and Colchester were level.

And then Colchester well and truly spoilt the opening day party. Matt Taylor tangled with Kayode Odejayi is a nothing incident, but a free kick was awarded and Wordsworth unleashed a low piledriver to make it 2-1 with just two shots of Colchester.

In goal, Jones could have done nothing about the 30-yarder shot, but there were questions over the wall, which disintegrated. Did Jones set it up wrong, or was it just poor defending? Who knows.

City then pushed forward for an equaliser, but were frequently caught out at the back with Duffy and Taylor frequently having to make last-ditch interceptions while Jones pulled off a stunning save to keep Exeter in the game.

Exeter finished the first half on top, but Colchester tightened up a lot in the second half and the game somewhat petered out with chances few and far between, and Colchester seemed to be heading for a functional victory, before Logan popped up to notch an equaliser.

Yeah, Logan was probably offside, but who cares? Colchester's second goal came from a free kick that shouldn't have been given. Horses for courses. Logan nearly won it at the death, but couldn't quite get his header on target, although victory to the Grecians would have been harsh on Colchester.

It's still early days, but there was plenty of promise. When Noble and Harley got going, their passing was a joy and some of Exeter's best moves came from neat passing arrangements through this pair, while Colchester's formation, which was a loose 4-3-3, meant that Tully and Goldbourne were getting acres of space down the flanks.

But John Ward clearly wised up to this, and Colchester's forwards started pressing our wing-backs more, while Noble and Harley weren't given any time on the ball. This meant that Paul Jones, who would always roll or throw, given the chance, couldn't distribute the ball and was forced to kick upfield, where Nardiello and O'Flynn were giving away a serious height advantage to the Colchester centre-backs.

There was also a sense that Harley and Noble, both great creative players with good feet, were occupying far too similar a role, leaving Liam Sercombe to get stretched over the middle. This had the effect of leaving a gap between midfield and attack, and Exeter were losing the second ball as a result.

Again, this may be something that can be ironed out a few games into the season, and not every team will press as well as Colchester, but there may be times when either Noble or Harley need to be sacrificed for Dunne or Cozic to give us more strength and fight in the centre of the park.

Certainly it was no coincidence that Exeter picked up 13 minutes from time when Logan and Jake Thompson came on and Exeter switched to a more orthodox back four, while Thompson, Harley and Noble got closer to the strikers. Logan also gave us more of an aerial threat.

A quick word for Billy Jones, who made me nervous every time the ball went near him yesterday. It's doubtful he'll want to watch the highlights on DVD. He looked more solid in a flat back four but was often caught out and looked nervous in a back three, although his crossing ability hasn't diminished.

We'll give him the benefit of the doubt and say that it might be a mixture of playing in an unfamiliar system and early season nerves, but at the moment he remains somewhat of a weak link at the back. He can improve, hopefully, but it still doesn't change my mind that we need another centre-half.

Overall, though, there was a lot to be impressed and optimistic about, as well as a few areas of worry, and there are much worse teams than a direct Colchester team, who played well on the counter. Once the squad start to gel, it could be interesting. Although we'll have to get that first win under our belt soon, as we're traditionally slow starters.

Next up is Ipswich in the Carling Cup on Tuesday, where we'll do well to get anything out of it. Hopefully we'll use it as an exercise in getting the squad to know each other better ahead of Dagenham away next weekend. Apparently they even have seats there these days.

HaL Man Of The Match: Richard Duffy. If Jones gave me kittens in defence, Duffy had me purring. Calm and controlled and never out of position, we needed his late tackles to keep us in the game. Possibly one of our most important players this season.

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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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