Exmouth Town - Review of the 2019/20 season cut short by the Coronavirus pandemic

PUBLISHED: 12:13 26 April 2020 | UPDATED: 12:13 26 April 2020

Exmouth Town defend a corner in the Boxing Day game against Buckland Athletic. Picture: GERRY HUNT

Exmouth Town defend a corner in the Boxing Day game against Buckland Athletic. Picture: GERRY HUNT

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The 2019/20 season saw Exmouth Town step into what was largely unknown territory, writes John Dibsdall.

The Exmouth Town flag that can be seen at home and away games. Picture MARTIN COOKThe Exmouth Town flag that can be seen at home and away games. Picture MARTIN COOK

Having secured promotion from the South West Peninsula League Exmouth Town started the season in the Toolstation Western League Premier Division for the first time since November 2005 when they had resigned from that League.

Whilst Town were well aware of the strengths of fellow Devon sides Plymouth Parkway and Tavistock the vast majority of the sides were new to Town and would pose new challenges with new grounds to visit and unfamiliar faces both in the line-ups and dug outs.

Manager Kevin Hill had retained the majority of his successful squad, the one exception being Nathan Cooper, who had signed for Buckland Athletic.

Hill had, however, recruited the experienced central defender Tom Gardner from Tiverton Town (Gardner returning to Town after an absence of 14 years), James Richards, an attacking full back, who had plenty of experience of Western League football with Buckland Athletic and Adam Bilcock, a central midfield player who had also played at Tiverton Town and Barnstaple Town.

Exmouth Town players celebrate one of their seven goals in the win over Chipping Sodbury Town. Picture: ROB CHIDGEYExmouth Town players celebrate one of their seven goals in the win over Chipping Sodbury Town. Picture: ROB CHIDGEY

Town made the perfect start to the season with a 4-1 home win over Bridport and then defeated Barnstaple Town 2-0 in the FA Cup. This was followed by a trip to Bitton and the first real test as the Bristol based side had finished third in the league in the previous campaign having drawn the last match of the season with Willand Rovers, a point that secured the title for the Devon side whilst a win would have won the League for Bitton.

A goal from Ace High midway through the first half was sufficient to give Town a well-deserved victory and the belief that they would be able to compete at this level. A trip to title favourites Plymouth Parkway brought a narrow 1-0 defeat although Town’s second half performance gave clear evidence that they were in this league on merit before Town were involved in seven cup matches in four different competitions.

Two of those were against Southern League Premier side Yate Town with Town drawing 2-2 away before winning the replay 2-0 in front of nearly 500 supporters. Town had success in the FA Vase with wins over Brislington and Cadbury Heath but a 4-2 defeat at Highworth Town ended their FA Cup dreams.

After a 4-1 win at Almondsbury in the Les Phillips (League) Cup Town had a 1-0 victory over Cullompton Rangers in the St Lukes Bowl and a 2-0 victory over Portland United in the FA Vase.

Exmouth Town player Scott Merrick. Picture: ROB CHIDGEYExmouth Town player Scott Merrick. Picture: ROB CHIDGEY

When they were finally back to League action Town recorded four successive wins before a trip to Keynsham and their artificial pitch brought a 1-0 defeat.

Town then were undefeated in twelve league games that also included cup wins over Honiton (5-1 in the Bowl) and Plymouth Parkway (4-1 in the League Cup) but also an exit from the Vase to Tavistock.

The League run was ended on another artificial pitch at Roman Glass St George followed by a 3-1 defeat to Bridgwater in the League Cup quarter-final. Despite suffering two further League defeats there were also three wins with Town ending the reduced League programme with a 7-1 win over Chipping Sodbury.

When the season came to an unfortunate end Town lay fifth in the League but with four games in hand and just one point behind Hallen they could reasonably be expected to finish at least fourth.

Former Town player Nathan Cooper (in Buckland Athletic’s yellow kit) tangles with Karl Rickard (left) and Aarron Denny during the Boxing Day game at Southern Road. Picture: GERRY HUNTFormer Town player Nathan Cooper (in Buckland Athletic’s yellow kit) tangles with Karl Rickard (left) and Aarron Denny during the Boxing Day game at Southern Road. Picture: GERRY HUNT

Indeed, if the final league positions were decided on a “points per game” basis then Town would have finished fourth behind Tavistock in third, Plymouth Parkway second with Bradford Town top.

With games to play against those sides Town would undoubtedly have had a say in the final positions and, whilst I personally feel it would be unlikely, they could even have finished the campaign as champions.

Town’s record in the league was P25 W18 D2 L5 goals for 64 against 26.

Their home record was W11 D2 goals for 39 against 8 and away W7 L5 goals for 25 against 18.

Exmouth Town at home to Barnstaple in a FA Cup game. Ref exsp 33 19TI 0237. Picture: Terry IfeExmouth Town at home to Barnstaple in a FA Cup game. Ref exsp 33 19TI 0237. Picture: Terry Ife

In their six home cup ties Town won them all scoring 18 goals and conceding just four.

Their away cup record was P8 W4 D1 L3 with 18 goals scored and 18 conceded. When the season finished, they also had an outstanding St Lukes Bowl quarter-final tie away to Willand Rovers with the winners due to travel to Bovey Tracey.

It is possible that this competition could be concluded, perhaps as a pre-season tournament, but that is a decision for the Devon FA.

Their home record in all competitions of P19 W 17 D2 with no defeats and a record of 57 goals scored with just 12 conceded shows how Southern Road has indeed become a ‘fortress’.

Jordan Harris led the way in the goal scoring charts with 23 league goals from only 21 starts and nine cup goals from 12 appearances. Aarron Denny and Ben Steer had seven league gaols apiece with Denny also scoring seven cup goals.

In all Town had seventeen different scorers with Harris being the second highest scorer in League games behind Adam Carter of Parkway.

In considering a goal of the season then the 40-yard effort from Harris at Chipping Sodbury has to be up there and also the 25-yard ‘rocket’ from Denny at Highworth Town, although that unfortunately came too late to have any influence on the game.

Denny was the only ever-present featuring in all 25 league games with Dave Rowe missing just one and Tom Gardner and Ace High two. Rowe led the way in Cup games missing just one with Denny, Harris and High missing two.

During the course of the season 32 players were used in the 39 games played with the Manager taking the opportunity to give some of the young reserve squad a taste of first team football.

Jamie Vaughan-Ryall started against Honiton Town in the St Lukes Bowl, having previously made substitute appearances and Finn Slack also made his first team debut in the starting line-up against Honiton. Other players to make appearances as a substitute during the season were Tom Bray, Scott Townsend, Josh Gresham and Josh Shaw.

In a previous review, I had commented that I believe our FA Cup win over Yate Town was the outstanding performance of the season. I know some feel the draw at Yate was better and indeed to go to a club playing two divisions higher and come away with a draw is a splendid achievement.

That game was played between two evenly matched sides that could have gone either way whereas in the replay we were the dominant side throughout and once we had taken the lead there was only going to be one winner.

I have mentioned our away win at Bitton and we completed the double with a 2-0 home win thanks to a brace of goals from Callum Shipton.

Bitton have since gone on to reach the semi-finals of the FA Vase and hopefully that competition will be completed. Another side in the semis is Corinthian FC from Kent who Town beat 4-0 in the fourth round in the 2016/2017 season.

The first half demolition of Buckland Athletic on Boxing Day and the three goals in five minutes against Tavistock are also among the highlights of games at Southern Road. The 4-1 victory over Plymouth Parkway in the Les Phillips Cup was also very satisfying whilst the last gasp win at Street, scoring five goals at Cadbury Heath both in the Vase and the League and the 2-1 win at Shepton Mallet in the League Cup made those journeys worthwhile.

The support Town have received this season has been exceptional.

The average home league attendance was 181, bettered only by Plymouth Parkway (237) and Bridgwater (210). Parkway had the highest league attendance of the season with their Boxing Day clash against Tavistock being played in front of 564 spectators.

A total of 347 watched the Bridport versus Bridgwater clash on a Sunday morning as part of the ground hop weekend.

In the afternoon 315 watched our 2-0 success at Wellington boosted by around 60 travelling Town supporters many of whom had also travelled to Plymouth to be part of a 308 crowd for the league game back in August, the fourth highest attendance in the League. Town have regularly had thirty/forty attending away games and nearly 100 travelled to Highworth where the away support outnumbered the home fans.

To put our 181 average home attendance into perspective Keynsham were fourth with 147 and Bradford Town fifth with 141.

The policy of admitting children under the age of 16 free, the initiatives of bringing families to games, the building of relationships with Exeter City and their fans and the free admission for serving Armed Forces personnel, have all helped to sustain the level of support.

This coming season Town will also be supporting the Western League initiative of offering NHS staff free entry to league matches in recognition of their exceptional work and sacrifice during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Further evidence of the interest generated this season for the club is the formation of the Exmouth Town Supporters Club representing the official arm of the supporters group better known as the Mufftown Casuals.

Their primary aim is to help to improve the social environment and facilities within the Club.

With 300 people on the Facebook group and already over 40 members joining ETSC since its formation in just over a month the future is very positive and that membership will grow, once we are over the current problems.

Back in July 2019, if you had asked me for my thoughts on the coming season, I would have hoped for a top eight league finish and some success in the cup competitions.

Those hopes and more have been realised. What the future holds is clearly uncertain in these terribly difficult times and whilst the season has been declared ‘null and void’ it should not detract from the pleasure and satisfaction of seeing Town compete successfully in the Western League Premier Division once again.


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