Exeter City 2 AFC Wimbledon 1

Game five of my personal pre-season and it threw up one of those moments my non-football friends hold up as an example of the madness of following my team around the country… I missed our only goal as I was returning from the gents at the time. So just to pre-warn you, there will be a Jon Main goal shaped hole in this report unless someone posts a shaky mobile phone clip on youtube within the next hour or so…

While we are on the subject of poor match reports, I was in a bit of a distracted mood yesterday as my on-off move to the States looks back on again as of the end of this season. Naturally this, on the whole, is a good thing; but there are large parts of my life in England that I’ll miss. My family and friends, obviously, but watching the Dons will be irreplaceable. I could go and watch my new local side New England Revolution during the summer (I commented before on how watching them play in the vast Gillette Stadium reminds me of the early years of sub 6,000 crowds at Selhurst – although that’s not really a good thing). The big problem is the Revolution won’t be my team, and neither will the Bruins, Celtics or Patriots… I suppose I am fortunate in that friends of mine in New Hampshire share the sort of relationships I have with the Dons with their own beloved Red Sox, meaning at least there are people there who understand my own obsession.

It was my first visit to Exeter for fifteen years (and my first ever for football reasons…), and being Cheapo Cheaperson himself I booked the early train to save money – meaning I had at least four hours to explore the place before the next Dons fans showed up. I actually lived in Devon for a couple of years myself back during my Failed University Experiment and loved the place, albeit I lived in Plymouth and therefore I’m undoubtedly offending both our hosts and Janners by comparing the two cities…

I got to see slightly more of the city than most Dons fans as my train stopped at Exeter St Davids, a twenty-minute walk further down the road… I really should check the location of the stations I’m going to before I book in future… I would be rubbish if I lived outside London – think how many stations we have…

As for the game itself, well a few pre-game pints meant I arrived , ironically, a few seconds late. We had been allocated the normal away seating section and not the terrace, presumably to cut down on stewarding costs, and we actually did a pretty good job of filling it with around 200 Dons in attendance. Well I say 200, there were at least a couple of Dons who initially found themselves in the home terrace – flag emblazoned with AFC Wimbledon – Wearside and all… and despite seemingly going unnoticed by the home fans, were eventually marched round to watch from behind pillars and the low roof like the rest of us had to…

Exeter look like they might be preparing for the away end to have some kind of work done to it, certainly they now have the room to increase it in size or at least steward it a little easier. From my vantage point high in the stand I couldn’t help noticing the state of the pitch, which seemed to be scorched in places, but still thick enough to hold the ball up when played on the deck. Having said that, we will play on surfaces that are far from the lush bowling green that is the Kingsmeadow pitch in the coming few months…

The game had barely settled before after a promising Dons opening, Exeter took the lead. This was particularly frustrating as the Dons were looking promising, like they were really going to make a game of it, then capitulated to a piece of defending which… well, I suppose the nicest thing I can say about it is at least it was made in a meaningless warm-up rather than when points were at stake. The finish from Nardiello was tidy enough, but it’s fair to say he would have been closed down a bit quicker most times in a League One fixture, as Dons defenders stared at each other like quizzical puppies.

But the Dons were not only holding their own, but providing the sort of test I’m sure Exeter boss Paul Tisdale must have hoped we would. Of course, now I would normally describe how Jon Main equalised, but all I have to say on the subject is that due to the strange acoustics of the old stand we were housed in, the only sound that could be heard in the gents were Terry Brown and Simon Bassey barking out instructions. I say I was in the Gents when we scored (what was the Gents like? Dated, as you would expect, but with a great view over the terraced houses behind…), but I was actually climbing the steps back to the away section, which made it even more frustrating… I could actually join in with the end of the celebrations…

In terms of our line-up, It was pretty much first choice with a couple of exceptions – despite Christian Jolley’s decent form Blackman will be preferred at left back if fit, and Steven Gregory should be preferred to Sammy Moore, despite a standout performance from the former Dover man. Ryan Jackson’s continuing improvement has perhaps put a question mark against who will start up front with Main and Kedwell… Jackson acts as a winger when in this position, and worked extremely well with Sam Hatton again yesterday. On the other flank, Jon Main is more effective playing almost on Kedwells shoulder, something that encourages Jolley to get forward with regularity.

Which is why we seem to be putting a lot more crosses in than the same stage last season… and the balls themselves are of a much better quality too. Which when you have the presence of a Lee Minshull getting forward with regularity, bodes well for the season. Minshull was actually the only player replaced, allowing the remaining nine outfield players to pick up an invaluable 90 minutes. Exeter on the other hand, with their season kicking off on Saturday, were able to refresh in several positions. Which showed, and had it not been for a couple of near misses and one outstanding save from Seb Brown could have made the scoreline look a bit more convincing. Not that it would have been fair on the Dons however, who had great second half chances through Main and Kedwell to level up.

The goal itself was a bit unfortunate really, the ball took a deflection off an unnamed Dons player (i.e. he was on the opposite side of the stadium…) and fell to Jamie Cureton, who was never going to miss and gave Brown no chance by despatching into the roof of the net. The two managers shard a word after the goal, as they did on the final whistle, and the hope is that the reward for Exeter’s generosity in staging this game is it has prepared them for their season as much as it will have helped our squad.

Terry now gets a full week on the training pitch with the boys, followed by the Arsenal game, followed by another full week working with the boys (although there is a friendly game scheduled for next Tuesday at Godalming which could be invaluable for anyone coming back from injury…). The Arsenal game is really a godsend at this late stage of preparation. The Arsenal boys are just going to want to come and pass the ball around, which will suit us as that’s pretty much what Terry will be looking for our boys to do as well. Effectively its a way of keeping key players match fitness topped up, while reducing the risk that anyone would pick up a dreaded last-minute injury – which we could have faced if we had played an overenthusiastic Conference South team. And none of this is to say the Arsenal game is not going to be watchable – far from it! I know some fans are planning on making that their only pre-season game, and they couldn’t have picked a better one.

Plus after thirteen games with only one fixture played, heres hoping the chosen eleven, whoever they may be, are geared up to rip the Sandgrounders apart on opening day…


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