Some thoughts on the upcoming season by our guest writer, Frazer Lloyd-Davies.
Yet again all three South West clubs, Exeter City, Plymouth Argyle and Torquay United find themselves in the same division as one another after varied, and mixed seasons for all three clubs last time out. Whilst Exeter City and Plymouth Argyle struggled at the bottom of their respective leagues, with Exeter eventually suffering relegation, Torquay United went on to make the Play Offs with a Semi Final against Cheltenham Town. Although it ultimately ended in disappointment for the Gulls, it was evident who ‘The Best in the West’ were; Torquay to their credit had played some great football and were watching their club grow, whilst fans of Exeter and Plymouth had to endure a miserable few months on the pitch.
With the League Two campaign kicking off this weekend, plenty has happened at each club since last season, so what now for the three teams? As a Plymouth Argyle fan, I have tried to take a somewhat impartial look at the season ahead for all three, and how they may compare over the new season.
Whenever you are relegated from a division all eyes from the league below focus upon you. Inevitably you become a big fish in a smaller pond and teams who want a scalp often target these clubs for impressive points. It will be no different for Exeter City this season, although in Torquay United and Plymouth Argyle they also have two clubs who would love to reaffirm some dominance over their Devon rivals. Whilst fans of some teams may look towards Exeter as a ‘smaller’ club they are well respected within the Football League, having being lead in an efficient manner under the Trust and with the impressive guidance of club manager Paul Tisdale.
They have signed well this summer with the experienced arrivals of Matt Oakley, Jamie Cureton and Tommy Doherty and many clubs will expect them to prove difficult opposition. Cureton of course returns to the Grecians from Leyton Orient having spent the end of last season at St James Park on loan. If rumours are to be believed Cureton turned down the opportunity to sign for Plymouth Argyle this summer which if true will please many in red and white as they try to remain the more dominant of the two, after a rare few years on top.
This year, Exeter City’s biggest challenge is to live up to the level of expectation that will be put upon them having played in League One last time around. Longest serving player Steve Tully has made it very clear that the club targets promotion which will put more pressure on the squad to perform, and my only pressing concern for Exeter is that they may not be of the standard some expect them to be at.
With survival looking likely for large parts of the previous campaign it was a horrendous turn of form that saw Exeter City relegated from League One which suggests that confidence will play a big part in the squad’s future fortunes. Whilst I believe the new signings to be impressive they will certainly not set the league alight and with very strong teams now throughout the division I am not sure they have the extra quality needed to get promoted at the first time of asking.
Consistency will be the key for Exeter if they are to achieve promotion this season. On paper many would largely agree there are seven better teams in the division, however with that being said, Exeter have been here and done it before. If they can keep themselves to themselves, churn out results no matter how unspectacular I wouldn’t be overly surprised at a Play Off spot. All in all though I largely expect a much more mediocre mid-table performance.
Plymouth Argyle & Torquay United
Strangely enough, both Plymouth Argyle and Torquay United have also made it clear thatpromotion is the aim for the up and coming season, although a lot like Exeter City I believe a lack of real star quality may result in disappointment come the end. After plenty of turmoil Plymouth Argyle are finally on the straight and narrow under the guidance of new club owner James Brent and Torquay United approach the season after two years of Play Off places but arguably neither have improved the squad to the standard of some in the division. Torquay’s squad should admittedly allow them to compete for a Play Off position although they are by no means capable of matching the likes of Fleetwood Town and Rotherham United, who I largely expect to dominate League Two.
Plymouth Argyle have signed Rhys Griffiths who joins the Pilgrims with the most impressive goal scoring tally in the Football League, but even the most diehard Argyle fan has had to raise questions as to the standard of the opposition in Wales. After a turbulent time off the pitch a mid-table finish would be to the delight of many Argyle supporters and with money apparently available to spend a late flurry of transfer activity could boost their chances.
Local pride would in many cases provide the Pilgrims with a happy season, and whilst it isn’t impossible to see Plymouth finishing above both Exeter and Torquay, it is certainly a difficult task. Overall, both clubs seem to be be talking the talk but especially in the case of Plymouth Argyle are failing to provide any convincing evidence that they can actually walk the walk that goes with it and end the season promoted.
Perhaps I am being too critical of Torquay United here though, as many would argue that their recent success has marked them out as a strong team in the division. However, they certainly haven’t made massive strides forward since last year. Striker Billy Bodin, who has joined from Swindon Town, will give Torquay more firepower up front and manager Martin Ling has won promotion before with Leyton Orient in 2006, putting experience on his side. As the season climaxes though, I remain unsure on whether they’ll have that little extra needed to improve on the previous two seasons. Like Exeter City, a Play Off place wouldn’t be overly surprising, and whilst I expect them to perform better than the Grecians, top half beckons in my opinion in what has become a much stronger league than the year just gone.
How They Compare
Irritatingly, Plymouth Argyle are the weakest of an average bunch. Whilst being the largest of the three clubs by a considerable margin it is evident that the problems of the previous era are still limiting their options when looking to grow and progress. They certainly will not be relegated this season, and will at times look to play passing football but without a few big signings in the next few weeks and January transfer window will struggle to meet the promotion target set by the club’s hierarchy.
Exeter City will largely be the same I feel although it must be said that it is very credible indeed that their rivals in Plymouth look to their Trust and ownership with eyes of envy and admiration. They will no doubt be safe this season – relegation is out of the question, as is lower half I expect but it may take an inspired signing or two to move the Grecians closer to the Play Off positions.
Torquay United are again in a similar position in my view, although without doubt are the strongest of the three. They have the best squad, an experienced manager and the last two seasons on their side. Whilst I feel they may have stood still somewhat, good form and a bit of luck could easily confirm yet another date in the Play Off positions.
All in all it sounds like I am sitting on the fence but in actual fact I feel that there is very little between the three clubs. When they play one another the home crowd will play a pivotal role and players will have to be on their best behaviour to avoid putting any unnecessary pressure on their team mates through needless red cards. They should by all means end the season near one another and this will no doubt result in a very exciting season for West Country football fans.
One thing is definitely for sure, it hasn’t been this competitive for years.
Frazer has a twitter account if you want to follow his musing. https://twitter.com/FrazerLloydDespite being an Argyle fan he does seem okay!