The Thursday Preview: Exeter Vs Charlton
The first international break of the new season takes place this weekend, and with England playing on Friday evening fans are being encouraged to attend a local non league game on Saturday afternoon. People living in the central belt and the north west will be spoilt for choice, but what of football fans based in the westcountry where the standard of pyramid teams sometimes isn’t much greater than what you’ll see on the council pitches of Plymouth and Exeter?
Unless you’re in the vicinity of Wordsworth Drive in Taunton to see the Somerset town’s side host Stourport Swifts in a Southern League fixture, then it’s perhaps worth breaking ranks and paying £16 to stand on the Big Bank to catch Charlton’s trip to Exeter if you’re over in the west this weekend. If that feels like cheating, then don’t fret: the Grecians were, of course, in the Conference but three years ago and, at risk of sounding preachy, I can’t think of too many other clubs who I’d rather give my hard-earned money to right now. And that’s coming from a Plymouth fan.
City’s organic progress from non league residents to a (hopefully) stable force in League 1 has been reasonably well documented on these pages, but Saturday’s fixture against what is, essentially, a fading force in decline offers a nice point for comparison. On the one hand, Exeter, the Trust-run outfit, have done the football-club-as-community-vehicle thing better than anybody else, clearing their debts and building up a head of fan-generated steam as they seek to stabilise in the third tier with ambitious young manager Paul Tisdale. Hell, their supporters even paid for their new pitch.
Meanwhile, Charlton, who once possessed a similar reputation to Exeter for a prudent approach built on community values, continue to reel from their top-flight fallout, where they overspent and became bloated with bad investment. Good fees were collected through the summer sales of Nicky Bailey, Frazer Richardson and Jonjo Shelvey, and the wages saved on the departing Lloyd Sam, Deon Burton and Izale McLeod should have gone some way to evening things up financially, but the club still remains deeply in debt and an air of has-beenery lingers over the Valley.
That’s not to say that the Addicks can’t be a force in 2010-11. There have been big changes to the squad this summer, with former Bright Young Thing Phil Parkinson bringing in an entirely new front line. A lot of ‘experienced’ players have come in with, amongst others, Paul Benson, Gary Doherty and Simon Francis signing on the line in SE7. Parkinson, who enjoyed a similarly positive reputation to Paul Tisdale when he was at Colchester, clearly seems to have opted for players with a bit more knowledge of the requirements at League 1 level, and more than a few fans have suggested that the departure of former lynchpin Bailey might actually help their team given that they were quite reliant on him last year.
But, owing to the presence of bigger (or should that be ‘richer’?) clubs, Charlton will do well to match last year’s fourth place finish even if they do have a little more stability in the boardroom. Up until last weekend, results had been very good so my doom mongering may possibly be misplaced; travelling to Exeter with a near fully-fit squad, Addicks supporters will no doubt be optimistic of picking up a point or three. It appears that they’ll travel without captain Christian Dailly (is he still going?), who cracked an eye socket in their Paint Cup win against Dagenham on Tuesday, but Jonathan Fortune is ready to step into the breach after being re-signed on a short-term deal.
The Grecians have similar problems in that key defender Matthew Taylor is struggling with the back injury that has kept him out of the last three matches. In his absence, City’s work-in-progress backline conceded five goals in 2 games but a solid win at Yeovil on Tuesday night has boosted confidence at St James Park (the grammatically incorrect one). Elsewhere, it’s pretty much as you were unless new striker Daniel Nardiello recovers from injury. The Grecians’ first two home matches against Colchester and Bristol Rovers finished in 2-2 draws, and I think there’s a fair chance that this will end similarly. Whatever happens, this one is certainly worth a visit if you’re in the region.