The scale of Exeter City manager Matt Taylor’s rebuilding job after suffering play-off heartache was laid bare this week with nine departures from St James Park, writes Gareth Davies.
As Taylor eluded to in his post-match press conference after the 4-0 drubbing by Northampton Town at Wembley on Monday, all his out of contract players have left the Grecians as well as loan star Jayden Richardson, who has returned to his parent club Nottingham Forest.
The most notable names on Exeter’s non-retained list are Aaron Martin, Lee Martin and Dean Moxey. The former scored in the home play-off win against Colchester United, while Lee Martin missed out on that match due to injury and could only take a place on the subs’ bench at Wembley.
For Moxey, though, his career wearing red and white ended in the most disappointing of fashions after he was sent-off for a crude lunge, born out of frustration, on the Cobblers’ Ryan Watson, which unsurprisingly resulted in referee Michael Salisbury reaching for his top pocket and brandishing red.
Along with both Martin’s and Moxey, substitute for the Wembley debacle Brennan Dickenson, Gary Warren, Craig Woodman and Jared Thompson have also left the Devon outfit.
After the news of those leaving was officially confirmed, Taylor tried to put a brave face on a tough week with admirable honesty.
“It is a difficult situation when you tell players that they have not got a future at the football club and they are getting released,” he began. “The only saving grace is that we were as honest as we possibly could have been with the whole group beforehand. We did that in April/May before they came back to training. The situation was what it was and anyone out of contract knew they wouldn’t be getting a new deal.”
Although the play-offs would end in an all too familiar way for Exeter with defeat at Wembley, Taylor, who was bitterly upset with the lack of fight shown by his team against Northampton, did praise those players who played on despite knowing they weren’t getting a new deal.
“That attitude can’t be underestimated with players putting themselves forward,” Taylor added. “I have to be really grateful for the fact they came back and the club should be really grateful that they came back as well.”
Some supporters have suggested that the club were perhaps a little hasty in telling players they could go so early, although in any normal season, the timing would have been correct.
Given the unprecedented situation brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, Exeter had to plan for every eventuality and one of those would have been that the season was declared null and void with no play-offs.
The fact the end of season games did take place, albeit behind closed doors, left the club in an uncomfortable, but totally understandable position.
What would have happened if Exeter had banished their Wembley hoodoo is anyone’s guess although a U-turn from the club in terms of players’ contracts would have been unlikely.
When Taylor took over from Paul Tisdale after Wembley failure number two, he had a huge job on his hands. After a year of consolidation in 2018-19, Exeter were very much a force to be reckoned with last term before coming up short again. Taylor knows what it takes to build a side from scratch and supporters will be hoping that past experiences can be drawn upon for a positive outlook going forward, even if the outlook currently appears gloomy.