Records are there to be broken, or so Exeter City manager Matt Taylor believes.
The Grecians are 14 games unbeaten in the Sky Bet League Two – breaking a Club record last weekend as Taylor’s side edged Oldham Athletic 2-1 – whilst they also boast the longest undefeated streak in English football in all competitions.
Nevertheless, the 39-year-old insisted that now the pressure is off, his players aren’t getting too carried away with themselves.
“Hopefully that record will stand the rigours of time,” he said. “There’s no reason why we can’t break that record, although we probably won’t be able to do it again this season. The Club, in all competitions, is a 100-year-old record so that goes down in the history books. I think it was 1986 for the actual League run.
“Both are good reflections on this group of players and the form we’ve been in. If anything, now we’ve broken the record, the pressure has been off. We’ve not spoken about the records – we’ve always focused on what’s next and the game that’s next, the opposition and the preparation. We’ve got to stay free from distractions.”
A slice of luck but a large helping of hard work has elevated Taylor’s side to the position they find themselves in now. The Grecians moved into the automatic promotion places with victory over the Latics; one better than the Devon Club were in this time last year.
“We’re starting to understand what it takes to be successful at this level,” he explained. “We’re not ahead of any other Club at this level of football. In each of those games, the margins have been so tight. We understand, first and foremost, that it could have gone either way – we could’ve lost some of those games.
“It can change in an instant, so we’ve got to be ready for what’s next.”
In the throes of the historic streak, the Grecians found themselves stuck in a rut of four straight stalemates between September and October – results which felt like losses to the boss.
“Mindset and feeling are everything in football, but when you’re consistently drawing, all of a sudden, it doesn’t seem valuable. Now, you look at the League table and we’ve only lost one game. The eight draws are valuable points; it’s eight more points than what we might have had. We knew at the time that we were closer to turning those draws into wins.
“We could easily get beaten this weekend but as soon as you get beaten, you put that behind yourselves and you look at what’s next. The fact that we’ve got so many games in quick succession means the focus is a simple one for the players: to remain ready to influence each and every game.”
The departure of some of the Grecians’ more senior figures in the summer could have spelled disaster for Taylor, but the Exeter boss knew the protocol and began rebuilding his team ahead of the 2021/22 season.
“We had to recruit strongly in the off-season. At the end of last season, we lost a lot of good players who have influenced our performances over recent years. We put in a lot of work and our head of recruitment, Marcus Flitcroft, will take a lot of credit in relation to that. We felt we put a team together full of potential.”
Instead, he turned to Exeter’s young and upcoming talent.
A Club which prides itself on the development of academy players, one notable example is top scorer Matt Jay – the midfielder who came through the ranks at St James Park, making his debut in 2013.
“The January window appears which we always look at with a little bit of dread at Exeter City, because our young players are always in demand,” Taylor continued. “The hardest part of being the manager at Exeter City is that at the end of every season, you lose your best players. That can also be a blessing where you’re not going into the next season with a disgruntled or disappointed group of players.
“As much as I’ll moan about losing my best players at the end of each and every season, it means you can quickly put the previous season behind you and look forward to the next season and build again. It means you’ve got to build once a year, every year, which is strange for a football manager to say but that’s the world we live in down in Exeter.
“Even before my time, it’s part of the remit of any manager at Exeter City to give the young players the opportunity. At least 50% if not 60% of my current squad is made up of academy products. It means there’s a connection between the Club and the fans.”
For Taylor, the opportunity arose to take his first steps into management on the back of a Play-Off Final defeat at Wembley Stadium.
Replacing long-serving boss Paul Tisdsale, Exeter have a somewhat unwanted record under the arches of coming so close but so far, but it was the new boss’ job to pick the Club up and dust themselves off from defeat to Coventry City.
But he highlighted the role his staff have played in getting him through some difficult moments, including a loss of his own at Wembley, as the Grecians missed out on promotion to Northampton Town in 2019/20.
“There’s nothing more heart-breaking than going to Wembley and getting beaten. We’ve done that three times in the last five years.
“You want to go and hide away from football and not think about football to get over it, but you can’t do that as a manager. You’ve got to do your released and retained lists, you’ve got to sort out contracts for next season and you’ve got to plan the squad for next season.
“Certainly, at Exeter City, you’ve got to get yourself through it and take the right breaks – mentally and physically – when you can. It’s brutal to go through and really tough to come back from, but somehow, this Club keep on doing it.”
He added: “If we can avoid Wembley this season, it would be an added bonus!”