With City back in the Football League, it was difficult to know what to expect from the Grecians’ first season back where they felt they belonged. It was a surprisingly quiet summer on the transfer front as Paul Tisdale mainly kept faith with the players who had got City promoted, with a couple of surprise releases particularly with respect to Wayne Carlisle, who’d played an important role in the promotion charge. The highest profile signing of the summer was Marcus Stewart, once hot property in the Premier League but now in the twilight of his career. Other signings included a couple of players with big reputations in non-league in Manny Panther and Craig McAllister.
After a creditable 1-1 draw away to big-spending Darlington on the opening day – Dan Seaborne scoring City’s first goal of the new era, it would prove to be a difficult start with two wins and two draws from their first nine matches in all competitions, while Wolves pounced to sign George Friend. What was to come, though, was a run of five wins and a draw from City’s next six matches to push City up the table to be amongst the pace-setters. Then came a midweek visit from Chesterfield, and City seemingly used up a whole season’s quota of serious errors in one match (cue the goals accompanied by the Benny Hill theme tune on the local news) in a 6-1 hammering. Worse was still to come just 11 days later – City had been handed an FA Cup trip to Curzon Ashton, a side that frankly up until then nobody outside that part of Manchester had ever heard of. In a humiliating display Tisdale’s side found themselves 3-0 down, a late rally to 3-2 not enough to stave off embarrassment.
With the obligatory defeat at Aldershot and a pair of draws to follow, it seemed like City’s optimism had evaporated and a season of struggle was thought to be ahead. This was exacerbated at 0-1 down against Lincoln, but a late rally for a 2-1 win, followed by a 4-1 thrashing of fellow promotion hopefuls Rochdale, gave rise to renewed optimism, only for a run of one win in seven, including for the first time in Tisdale’s spell in charge successive league defeats, suggested yet another false dawn. However, after the 2-1 defeat to Chesterfield at the end of January, City would lose only two more matches all season. This run took City from being outside contenders for the playoffs into a race for automatic promotion – surely something beyond the wildest dreams of City’s supporters in pre-season. Going into the final home match of the season against Morecambe City knew a victory would guarantee a spot in League One. So, naturally, City froze on the big occasion and could only draw 2-2, meaning City had to head to Rotherham (well, Sheffield!) on the final day still in search of a victory.
All those who were there that day will remember the euphoria that greeted the team when Richard Logan, whose goal in the playoff semi at Torquay the previous season would prove decisive, popped up to score in front of the away hordes (2,700 made the trip). Loanee Stuart Fleetwood should have wrapped things up from the spot but fluffed his lines, but it didn’t matter, City were promoted as runners-up for their second straight promotion, and Paul Tisdale would go down in folklore (for most at least) amongst the greatest of City managers.
The third part in this series covering League can be found at http://www.exeweb.com/2016/02/23/tisdales-500-the-nosebleed-years/