Another day, another defeat, and another game without a goal – Gary Caldwell called it deja vu, the calls for his departure grew ever more vocal. City once again dominated possession against Port Vale last week but a failure to create, and convert, chances once again cost them dear as Vale managed to do once what City failed to do – and currently it looks like if City concede then the referee may as well end things.
A sickness bug meant City were unable to fill the bench last week, so at least hopefully this will have subsided in time for Saturday, although City supporters are urging that this doesn’t mean a return of playing Cheick Diabate up front. Reece Cole was possibly one of those who made the bench despite suffering from the illness, perhaps this explains why he didn’t feature having been arguably City’s best player in their previous fixture against Shrewsbury. One enforced change comes in defence, Will Aimson’s red card against Port Vale will presumably reopen the door to Alex Hartridge, who was dropped to the bench for the last two matches.
Ironically, given City’s woeful form in front of goal all season, they will come up against a player who came through their ranks but was deemed not good enough nearly a decade ago but has undergone a huge redemption arc. Stevenage, who three years ago should have been relegated to non-league but for the financial woes that sank Bury and Macclesfield, have been the surprise package in their first season back in the third tier, and Jamie Reid has been a huge influence in this, with 17 goals in all competitions so far (City have 19 in all competitions as a whole!).
Steve Evans may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but one thing is for sure and that is his ability to get the best out of his teams even at the expense of the aesthetics of the game. Boro go into Saturday’s game sitting proudly in third place in the table, level on points with Bolton in second. One thing that may be in City’s favour is that Stevenage were involved in a marathon FA Cup replay at Port Vale on Tuesday, eventually coming through on penalties – and City will look to exploit any tiredness in their hosts’ legs on Saturday.
The sides did actually meet already this season in the EFL Cup, with City prevailing at the Park on penalties after a 1-1 draw – Hartridge’s early goal cancelled out in the second half by Jordan Roberts. City’s 21/22 promotion season saw them take four points from Stevenage – the corresponding fixture finished 2-2, City leading twice through Nombe and Jay only to be pegged back both times by Elliott List. A Sam Stubbs double either side of an equaliser from Luke Norris gave City a 2-1 win at the Park – extending City’s strong league head to head lead to 13-5, with ten matches finishing level.
The match officials for this game will be:-
Referee: Ross Joyce
Assistant Referees: Paul Lister-Flynn and Damith Bandara
Fourth Official : David Harrison
He’s not taken charge of an Exeter City game since Bradford City away in February 2022 in which Exeter won 1-0 throigh a Kieran Phillips goal.
Pre-match interviews with Gary Caldwell and Pierce Sweeney …