Ryan Bowman, Exeter City’s goalscoring hero from their play-off semi-final victory over Colchester United, is backing his side to banish the memory of their previous Wembley defeats when they face Northampton Town tomorrow evening, writes Gareth Davies.
The Grecians, after defeating their Essex opponents 3-1 at St James Park on Monday, progressed to their third League Two play-off final in four seasons with a 3-2 aggregate triumph.
However, history doesn’t favour Matt Taylor’s side, with the boss himself involved as a player the last time Exeter prevailed at English football’s spiritual home. Twelve years ago, Exeter edged out Cambridge United 1-0 to claim back their Football League place. Since then, though, City have come up short twice under the giant arch with reverses at the hands of both Blackpool and Coventry City.
Speaking to The Indy via video call on Friday morning, Bowman, who was brought to the club in January 2019 to replace the departing Jayden Stockley, was in positive mood looking ahead to the clash.
“We are all looking forward to it and for me personally, I have never played at Wembley,” he said. “I have been involved with squads at previous clubs a couple of times, but I have never been able to get on, so I can’t wait for it. We’re confident, very confident as we’ve played them (Northampton) twice already – they beat us and we beat them. Form does go out the window though with games like this.
“It’s a case of whoever wants it most and performs the best on the day. We’ll be going into the game giving it the best we possibly can.”
In the two defeats against Blackpool and Coventry respectively, City’s best wasn’t ultimately good enough and Bowman revealed that those painful memories of play-off heartbreak are often discussed within the squad – especially those like club captain Jake Taylor and Pierce Sweeney.
However, the 29-year-old is hoping that an old footballing adage will ring true for the Grecians in north London tomorrow evening.
“Hopefully it will be third time lucky and we can’t wait to get there,” he added. “The previous defeats come up quite often in the dressing room and it was a disappointment for them, but I wasn’t here at the time.
“Players like Jake and Sween’s will use it to motivate themselves, but I haven’t been there. We will just take in the occasion give it our all and go one step further on this occasion.”
Whether history will have a bearing on proceedings remains to be seen although Bowman comes into the game on a natural high after brilliantly firing home the winning goal against Colchester.
Keen to reiterate that he was just one of many facets that made up a brilliant overall performance from Exeter, the former Motherwell man did pinpoint Jonny Maxted’s late save from Kwame Poku in normal time, with the aggregate score at 2-2 as a huge point in the match.
“It was a great performance from everyone involved, but we know we haven’t achieved anything yet,” he mused. “We have a massive opportunity ahead of us on Monday and we’re really looking forward to it.
“You couldn’t single anyone out but in saying that, Jonny Maxted made a brilliant save in the 90th minute that was almost as good as a goalscoring moment. Everyone played their part and it was a great performance.”
Talking specifically about his goal, Bowman added. “I don’t score many on my left foot and I couldn’t see the second centre-half behind me so I wasn’t sure if I was offside or not. I had a quick look and the linesman had his flag down so I took a big touch ahead of me. It was a bit of hit and hope as they say, but luckily it went in.”
Exeter failed to muster a single shot on target in a tepid 1-0 first-leg defeat in Essex the previous Thursday, although for the return, Taylor set his side up with much greater attacking purpose. The rewards were reaped almost from the first whistle with Exeter looking a potent threat every time they got near Colchester’s box.
Although just happy to start matches, Bowman did reveal that he preferred playing in a similar system to that adopted on Monday evening.
“Personally, I like someone up there with me like a natural striker. For example, someone like (Alex) Fisher. Whereas Lee Martin, and you can ask this himself, he prefers playing a little bit deeper or on the wing but with Alex, he likes to be a number nine, a proper striker and that takes a bit of the weight off my shoulders if you have someone up front like that.”
If Exeter coming from behind to claim victory on Monday was considered noteworthy, then Northampton’s feats in overturning a
2-0 deficit to beat Cheltenham Town, away from home, means that both teams will go into tomorrow’s match full of confidence.
Keith Curle’s side were good value for their 3-0 victory and despite being helped out by two defensive howlers from Cheltenham, the Cobbler’s will share Exeter’s optimism in claiming the fourth and final promotion place from League Two.
Bowman, therefore, is under no illusions as to what lies in wait from Curle’s men but the 28-year-old is confident that Exeter can start positively and not let Northampton gain a foothold in proceedings.
“In the three-month break, we’ve come back strong,” said the Carlisle-born frontman. “We’ve watched Northampton against Cheltenham so we not what to expect from them. We know their strengths and we can hopefully nullify them early in terms of how go and get at them. We have been working all week on how we are going to go about the game and hopefully we’ll do that on Monday.”