Regarding last Saturday, we've got plenty of excuses - not only do Exeter have a good record against the top teams ( they've also drawn 1-1 with Norwich, Swindon, Millwall and Pardews lot, and beaten Leeds) but with our last, and only, victory there being 81 years ago ( followed by 4 defeats ) it was always looking to be a tough game. So we endure our 9th 1-1 of the season, our favorite score, and in all of which, bar one, the opposition have scored first ( and even in that one, at the Gills, it was an og ) and in all the eleventh time we have come from behind to gain a draw which is the highest in League One.
So our fighting spirits aren't in question its just our inability to score first or even score, as we've only opened the scoring now 8 times in the last 20 League games after it being 14 times in the first 24 games and 7 in our first 9 barnstorming games. Even looking at our goalscoring you can see the steady decline - 43 goals scored in the first 22 games, 25 in the last 22. And instead of a team that lead the half-time table as recently as the Yeovil game in February we now record the highest drawn second half games of anyone, a total of 26.
So as the dream of an automatic promotion spot fades out of sight perhaps its time for Parky to seriously attend to Plan B. And the question that he has to ask himself is "is it better to play the strongest team over two legs or in a final?" Without a doubt, the strongest team in the Play-offs will be the spanners or Leeds and the choice of who we play and when, is almost entirely in our own hands with the visit of the Lilywhites on Saturday.
We all know who we would rather avoid so the desired scenario involves giving a helping hand to the spanners and insuring that they don't take part in the Play-offs. A tenth 1-1 would do nicely, always assuming that the spanners can win both their remaining games, but that result may see Huddersfield, who are only one point behind us, move above us and perhaps its worth pointing out that perhaps due to the urgency to keep ahead of Pardew, Huddersfield are currently the 2nd best team in results over the last 8 games.
So home game number 23 brings us another team in sickly yellow but unfortunately this time a team more used to winning at the Valley. Its 78 year old Ken Bates and the man above, Simon Grayson, in charge these days and there's nobody in League One more keen to return to the Premiership than Leeds United. After exactly 50 years in top flight football its now been 6 years since they left and for the record they've won the League title 3 times in '69, 74, and '92. But, of course, the number three is not currently a Leeds' fans favorite number as its been three very long years spent now down in Tier Three where they've never ever been before.
In the 21 games played this year Leeds have only managed 7 wins whereas the Addicks have gone one better with 8. After leading the table at the turn of the year neither have set the house on fire since then but Leeds still have the 2nd best away record in league 1 and after only one win in 8 away games in the early part of this year they have now won 2 of their last three at Yeovil and Carlisle although they slipped up bigtime last time away from Elland Rd, losing 3-2 at the Gills, being 3-0 down at one stage.
But they're now back in second place with 4 wins in their last 5 games and overall a recovery from their dismal form seems on the cards after three disastrous months from Jan to March when they were placed 16th, 12th and 17th on results.
Their worst spell was the 4 consecutive defeats in March to Southampton, Millwall, Norwich and Swindon without a single goal scored so although both teams languish in mid-table in form over the last eight games and are currently performing the worst of all of the other top 7 clubs with 12 points out of the last available 24, its Leeds that are currently looking the stronger with 13 goals scored in their last 5 games against the Addicks three.......although Parky will point to only 3 goals conceded in the last 6 against Leeds' 9.
There's Trésor Kandol, who played 13 games last season, but hasn't featured since being sent off in the defeat at Norwich in March and there's also Neil Redfearn, now in charge of Leeds' U18 squad. Redfearn played 30 games for us in our first year in the Premiership, 1998/99 scoring 3 times.
Jermaine Beckford is now on 30 goals for the season but his form has dried up somewhat - although he did score two late goals after coming on last weekend after Mk Dons were reduced in numbers - so its not surprising that he's started the last three games on the bench.
But more dangerous these days seems to be the Argentine, and number 10, Luciano Becchio, above, who is following close behind with 17 goals and has scored in the last 4 games.
Whats Their Secret
Although they have scored first more times than we have ( 26 to 22) its the end of games that they really need watching. Thirteen goals in the last 5 minutes (plus added on time) gives you some idea that they never give up.
On the other hand their form against the other teams in the current top six isn't brilliant with only 1 win ( 1-0 at home to Norwich) to show from the 9 games giving them only 6 points from 27 which means that if they end up in the Play-offs they'll start off with a huge physiological disadvantage because they haven't beaten any of them, yet.....
And in those top six games they've lost 5 times with 4 of them being to the spanners and Swindon plus another at Norwich and 3 draws against Huddersfield twice and ourselves at Elland Rd. In contrast, the Addicks also have only one win over the same 5 teams (2-1 at home to Huddersfield ) although we've only lost 2 and have accumulated 9 points.
And another thing that Leeds are bad at was demonstrated at their last away game at Priestlands. Only 4 teams (Norwich, the spanners, MK and the Addicks ) have overcome a half-time deficit to win more than once. Norwich have done it 4 times while the other three have done it twice, the Addicks away at Orient and Southend. But Leeds have failed to win even once while losing at half-time. OK, they have been losing at the break fewer times than most but of the seven times they have been losing they have lost 6 of them.
Having laid our Colchester ghost to bed two weeks ago there's now only Millwall with a better record at the Valley than Leeds United. Twenty-three league visits and we've only won 7 of them. They've also won the last 4 here ( including that miserable 1-6 hammering in Apr 2003) and also 5 out of the last 6. And if you ignore the 1987 Play-offs and that wonderful 1-0 victory at Sainburys you have to go back to January the year before for our last home win over them by 4-0 in our promotion season.
What are They Saying?
Leeds man Simon Grayson after the 4-1 win over MK Dons last weekend, "We pressured them, forced them into mistakes and opened the game up for ourselves and we then took advantage of that and we could have scored more today. It's rare for a team to go down to eight men and was strange to see, but I think we had the game won well by then anyway."
And it seems that Leeds must have learnt from their previous weeks game, because the Gill's manager Mark Stimson had this to say after their 3-2 win: "We faced a really good side in Leeds United and we had to go for it from the beginning and try and put them under pressure. We did that and we got our rewards."
Both Fraser Richardson and Nicky Bailey have been named in the Professional Footballers' Association League One team of the year and Fraser will be keen to celebrate with a game against his old mates from Elland Rd whilst moving in the other direction it seems that all the rumours were correct and JonJo is off to Anfield during the summer and he was missing from the squad at Exeter for the first time in eleven games.
Parky will probably start with Darren Randolph for the 8th sucessive game but there's reports that Sam Sodje's knee will keep him out so Llera will probably keep his place after coming on for the last half-hour at Exeter.
The problem for Parky is what formation to play and his decision could be crucial. Basically its a choice between two wingers with Bailey in the middle to two strikers and Bailey on the left. Kyel Reid now has 4 goals to his name, one less than Akpo and has scored them playing just 13 less minutes, and you have to commit the sacrilege of wondering whether he would have done better with the two chances offered to Nicky Bailey against Norwich. With his goals split at 2 each in starting appearances and sub games its a difficult choice for Parky.
Akpo has a run of 8 non-scoring games now and was missing at Exeter through injury and Deon Burton hasn't scored in nine games played since his penalty against Walsall in early February. David Mooney, meanwhile, is on 5 goals, the same as Scotty, but with 460 more minutes under his belt and we're left with the intriging fact that since Forster's arrival seven games ago, no other striker has scored and we haven't managed more than one goal a game.
But if Parky does decide on playing two up front, one player he doesn't have to worry about is defender Patrick Kisnorbo, named in the best squad as central defender with Norwich's Doherty, as he injured his achilles tendon in March and has been out since then.
So will it be a return to our early season 4-5-1 with a winger that's scoring goals or a staid 4-4-2 in the hope that two up front can conjure up something. Its time for us to see just how good Parky is for this is the game that could decide our season but it must be added that we played with 5 in midfield against Southampton and lost 0-1 and 4-4-2 against Norwich with exactly the same result.
Randolph; Richardson, Dailly, Sodje, Borrowdale; Sam, Semedo, Racon, Bailey, Reid; Forster
There's a lot at stake here and ninety minutes full of nerves and a foretaste, for the Addicks anyway, of what the Play-offs will definitely be like. But Leeds have a good record at the Valley and will be reluctant to let slip their one point advantage over the spanners. Furthermore, this situation will be new to the Addicks squad whereas - just like the Addicks when they had to get a point at Stamford Bridge in 1988 to avoid the Play-offs - Leeds have been here before and have suffered the Play-offs for the last two years and know exactly what they have to lose and know that they just cannot afford to drop any points in the remaining games.
That may work in a favour, but they'll not behave as casual as Norwich appeared to be two weeks ago and all told I cannot see any joy arriving for the Addicks. Addicks 0 Leeds 2.