Quite a game for the fans to come back to, what did the manager make of it?
I thought it was a good game, which had everything: goals, incidents and goals from the first few minutes to the last few, so there was always something happening. We were excellent today, particularly first half. I thought we should have been out of sight by half-time, hitting the crossbar, having shots cleared off the line. We hurt them in every which way possible, after a poor start. The reaction to that was really good. We didn’t start the second half particularly well again. It’s difficult to wrestle that momentum back and Exeter had nothing to lose at that point, so they were coming on really, really strong. The three goals that we’ve given up today were really poor, which is unlike us. It’s not a worry, but it’s something we need to go through in detail and work out how they’ve managed to score such poor goals and at poor times as well. When we scored the fourth, you think that’s it now and then we give up a really, really poor goal. I knew there were seven added minutes going up too. But the reaction to that again was good. I don’t just mean because Boylo (Will Boyle) made a mistake for the goal and then scored our fifth, I mean the reaction of the group. They said ‘okay, park it up and we have to move on’. I’d like to think of all the games we’ve had this season, that’s been the most entertaining and luckily the supporters were in.
Was the first half performance the best you’ve played in a half this season?
Yes and you have to bear in mind the opposition we are playing against. They are third in the reason, had one defeat in 17 in all competitions and they are on a real high, so when you take that into the thinking as well, along with some of the play and some of the chances, with some really good football. In the second half we didn’t really get going in terms of our football, but no two halves of football are the same and at that point it’s more of a protection mode, subliminally. We are asking the lads to go and get the next goal and kick on, but human instinct is to protect what you’ve got. Yes, it is the best half this season.
Do you think having the fans in affected the game at all?
It could have. The players are giving everything, both sets of players. It’s still quiet and it’s not a normal crowd, but nothing is normal at the minute. It was great to have them in and I know the players appreciated it.
When you go to bed tonight, will you be thinking about the five goals you scored, or the three you conceded?
Both. The forward play was really, really good. I’ll go through the goals against with the team and the detail within it, because it wasn’t like us and we can’t be giving three goals up. They have quality players and Nicky Law’s finish at the end, yes we’ve made a mistake, but you have to give credit for the ability of the player scoring the goal. For the first one I didn’t actually see it, but overall as we always do, we’ll go through it. It’s not a case of just winning and moving on. What did we do well? The diags worked really well in the first half, which was something we had worked on, so that was pleasing.
Both yourselves and Exeter made the play-offs last season and suffered disappointments. What’s the key to you both being up there again this season?
I’d like to say the managers! It’s not easy. Look at Oxford in the league above. They are in the bottom four and Karl Robinson is a good manager. There are lots of examples for and against. We did quite a bit of work. I am not sure what Exeter did because their defeat was probably even more devastating than ours because it was in the final and it was 4-0. But their reaction shows and they have brought a lot of young players into it. Maybe that’s helped them. We tried to use it as fuel and it was a bitter disappointment, it’s hard to take and hard to swallow. So when you do win games like today, enjoy it for 10 or 15 minutes and then crack on. We’ve not done anything mind blowing, but we have a good group, who are honest enough to go ‘yes, we messed that up. How can we rectify it by hard work and remembering it’ and that’s exactly what they’ve done.
You have said you’re not bothered about where you are in the table, you are more worried about points. To have two points per game at this stage is quite a record. You must be delighted with the way it’s going at the moment
If you maintain that for the rest of the season, whoever does that, you’ll win the league. That’s not just us, that’s just what happens. It’s not me saying I think we’ll win the league or promoted. It’s sincere, we break it down into halves and I don’t just roll it out, say it to you because I say the same to the players. We won the first half 3-1, be aware they could win the second half 3-1, so keep pushing and pushing. The authenticity and honesty within the group, they know where they are at. We are a small club in the league and I don’t care what people say. We have an honest bunch of players and it gives you half a chance.
We you able to enjoy the first half as manager, that first half performance?
Yes. That’s why were are all in it. We want to play good football and be free and expansive. No two halves are the same so the second half was different in terms of an actual football match. Credit to Exeter for that because they wrestled the momentum away from us. That’s why we play the way we do. It’s results over performances all day long, but if you can win in a certain way then it’s pleasing. I am not sure I enjoy it in terms of just sitting back during the game, but you know the lads are playing well. In the moment maybe not, but at half-time and the end of the game you think ‘yes, that was good’.
How good was Liam Sercombe in that first half?
We got him because of circumstances in terms of the pandemic, but he loves football, comes in, trains and he’s not a moment’s problem. The lads all look up to him as well. He is really quiet and doesn’t say a lot, but he leads by example in terms of putting in performances like that. His quality for the goal, landing on second balls, that’s an intelligence of knowing where the ball might be and anticipating. I thought he was excellent.
Has he been even better than you thought he’d be?
I don’t think so. I signed him because I thought he was a really good player. We watched quite a bit of Sercs last year. He is Bristol based and he wanted to stay with his family at the age of his career he is, but he’s not just come for a jolly up. He wants to achieve something. Some players, when they are more interested in where they live than minutes, but you can see from his performances that’s not the case. He is not here to have a swansong. He wants to impact the team and he has done.
Did you mention the fans much to the players before the game?
I didn’t need to. Just coming out for the warm-up, it was nice to hear a bit of people milling around. It’s not the same and the supporters probably found it strange. It was an entertaining game. I told them if you do start well, they’ll come with you and today is the one day they will come with you and I think they did.
After the setback early on, how pleased were you with the response and to play that well?
It was the reaction to three or four bits of adversity, whether it’s the first minute or the 88th, the reaction of the players was good. It’s pleasing. You can’t stop the opposition all the time and people will make mistakes, that’s human nature, but to have the clarity to go again and stick to how we work, that was pleasing.