Academy graduate Josh Key may have started the season as a kid coming into the squad – but feels he has grown into a man.
The 21-year-old had only appeared three times for Exeter City prior to this season – all in the EFL Trophy – but has become a regular for the Grecians, appearing 45 times, including 37 starts, and kept summer signing Jake Caprice out of the side.
Having expected to be a squad player at best, he has quickly become a regular in the starting line-up and a fan favourite as Exeter City have fought to get promoted out of League Two.
And Key has said that this season has been a great season for him and the fellow academy graduates making their name in the first team and one that he has learnt from, the only thing missing has been the fans.
“I have loved this season and when the fans come back, I will enjoy it even more as we will have something more than just the team to work for as the fans as well,” he said.
“I have learnt a lot mentally in how I hold myself, as sometimes as a young lad coming into the team you feel inadequate, but I am a man now. I have to look after myself and make my own decisions, so it has helped me mature a lot and also made me enjoy the hard times and well as the good times.
“For the academy it has been a great testimony for what we can do and the trust Matt had put to put us in the team. It has been a great season for us young boys and I hope there is more to come and if you are a fan then you should be excited.”
As well as Key, Joel Randall, Matt Jay, Alex Hartridge and Jack Sparkes have cemented their spots in the Grecians side this season, while the likes of Ben Seymour, Harry Kite and Harry Lee have often been involved in matchday squads.
And with fans set to return to stadiums in limited numbers for the play-offs – and in full from next season – Key said he cannot wait for their return, particularly seeing their reaction to the League Cup final which had nearly 8,000 inside Wembley
“I was on Twitter yesterday and couldn’t see the end as to how happy people were to see fans and not have the fake noise in the background,” he said. “People were so happy to play in front of fans again and as much as playing for yourself, the fans are the 12th man to be the support and drive when you don’t have yourself, and it would be so good to have them back in. Fans add adrenaline but we have to learn to find the bits extra without them, but we cannot wait for them to come back.”
Fans could be back inside St James Park on Thursday, May 20, for the first leg of a League Two play-off semi-final, but first, City need to make the top seven, and Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Newport County left their hopes hanging by a thread.
Exeter are 9th, three points behind the 7th placed Exiles, with Salford City in 8th two points above the Grecians, and with three games left, City realistically need to claim maximum points from their game with bottom side Grimsby Town.
The Mariners themselves need to win on Tuesday night with them six points behind 22nd placed Barrow with a far worse goal difference, and Key said that with Paul Hurst’s team needing to win, that may suit City.
“We wanted to win against Newport but they put up a good show,” Key said. “But we need to win it and they need to win as well so both teams will come out ready to go.
“We expect them to go for it. They have had some good results so they may back themselves, but our best beats their best and don’t want I disrespect them, but if we bring our best, we should win,
“But they are fighting to stay up and we cannot think it will be an easy game, but we have to do our thing and hope it will be enough. If we can get the ball and play we are a good team and hope it will be an open game and do the things we are better at.”
While City are one of the top scorers in League Two, they have recorded three successive 0-0 draws, the first time in the league since March 2013 they have had three blanks in a row.
You have to go back to January 2012 for the last time it was four games without a goal for City, and Key added: “We have the players to score the goals so I think we just have to go into the game and the team plan has to be for us to be more clinical.”