The long Good Friday trip

The coaches (sponsored by CAST) are leaving South East London at 7am on Friday. It will be a long haul through bank holiday traffic to see an encounter at St James's Park which features two teams who have eased their relegation fears over the last couple of months. They are both now sitting in relative comfort just below halfway.

When Exeter lost at home to Bristol Rovers at the start of February they were in seventeenth place and just five points above the relegation zone. Four wins and two draws in the following nine games have propelled them to fifteenth place and, more importantly, given them a twelve point advantage over twenty-first placed Port Vale. The run has included home wins against Peterborough and Burton, away wins at Wigan and Shrewsbury and a creditable 2-2 home draw with Bolton.

Our record against The Grecians is pretty good since that Tommy Dowling goal saw them off 1-0 at The Valley in our first League game on Saturday 27th August 1921. In those days fixtures weren't spread out as they are now - in fact they were played in pairs. This meant that we travelled to St James Park the following Saturday where we lost 0-1. It is pleasing to see that both clubs play at the same ground over a hundred years later.

After 1935 we didn't play them for forty five years but our modern day record is very good with nine wins and a draw in thirteen games since 1980, including winning the last six. Earlier this season at The Valley, after going behind early on, we came back to beat them 4-1 with a brace from Alfie May, one from CBT and a rocket from Miles Leaburn. Our last visit to St James Park was in February 2023 when a fantastic volley from Jes Rak-Sakyi and a clinical finish from CBT give us an early 2-0 lead and we hung on to win 2-1. The last time they beat us was in February 2011 in front of a football-for-a-fiver crowd of 24,767 at The Valley. With Ben Hamer in goal they went 3-0 up in the second half before Bradley Wright-Phillips got a late consolation.

They don't score many goals (33 in comparison with Charlton's 58) but their leading goal scorers – Cox and Cole with five each and Aitchison with four will surely fancy a goal or two against our defence which has managed just the one clean sheet since November. We must also hope that Ben Purrington doesn’t arrive at the far post Wembley-style for a tap in.

We sold out our allocation of 1335 tickets with four days to spare so there is plenty of anticipation that Nathan Jones can keep the momentum going and it would be good to avoid finishing lower than the fourteenth place that the 1973/74 squad achieved. It has been a dreadful season but ending up fifteenth or lower would represent our lowest finish for ninety-eight years (21st in The Third Division South in 1925/26). No one wants to see that, especially the 1335 supporters making the long arduous journey.