21 November 2014

Harley returns as Exeter reunion continues

Exeter City announced yesterday that fan favourite Ryan Harley is to return after a three-year absence - the second member of the famous 'class of 2010-11' to rejoin this season following David Noble. The duo were pivotal to the Grecians' rise to their joint-highest league finish in 2011, so could the reunion signal a return to those heady days?

First and foremost, the timing of Harley's arrival is significant. Whilst he is one of the most talented players to have represented City in modern times, the last three years have been a struggle. Games have been hard to come by for the 29 year-old, firstly at Brighton and more recently for Mark Cooper's Swindon. He's yet to make a first-team appearance this season so the reintroduction will be gradual. Return to full match fitness could take four or five weeks, by which time Matt Grimes is likely to be close to his expected City departure. Swansea and Nottingham Forest are rumoured to be among the clubs interested in the England under-20 starlet.

In a season that started so poorly with a PFA embargo, an injury crisis and a Brazil hangover, momentum has been slowly building and Harley's return will add to that. City have been boosted by the excellent performances of Christian Ribeiro and Liam Sercombe since their returns from injury and a push for the play-offs is by no means out of reach. This is echoed by Paul Tisdale, who when asked where Exeter will finish at an East Devon Grecians event last month said, "If we have 1 – 3 players injured we’ll be in the play-offs."

With Harley back, Grimes probable departure will not be the big blow it would have been and the hefty transfer fee likely to come in January will be a huge boost to the club, both in terms of rectifying the financial shortfall and potentially allowing Tis to add another player or two to the squad in January. The Trust ownership model relies on lucrative FA Cup runs or youth players being sold on, so it isn't a coincidence that City have struggled both on and off the field without a notable financial injection.

Whether or not Harley and Noble can go on to replicate their former glories with the Grecians remains to be seen, but the mood resonating from both the club and supporters is a far cry from the start of the season when both league and financial futures were being questioned. There are still areas that need to be addressed - defence is an area that surely needs an addition in January - though I wouldn't at all be surprised to see Tis guide City to another play-offs in May and, dare I say it, a promotion showdown with Argyle at Wembley?