Contrasting ownership and squad structures
4 October ~ This was the season in Devon where roles were finally meant to be reversed. After years of financial mismanagement and on the pitch decline Plymouth Argyle were expected to have the stability and budget to push for promotion from League Two. Meanwhile local rivals Exeter City, after spectacularly collapsing from a nailed-on play-off spot in April were supposed to abandon any dreams of returning to League One after releasing most of their experienced players and turning to graduates from their youth system.
But despite pre-season optimism from south Devon and plenty of worrying in the county's capital city, it's very much as you were, with Plymouth once again struggling for form and consistency, while Exeter's five wins have seen them comfortably occupy a play-off spot for much of the season so far.
Six of the Grecians' matchday squad were academy graduates for their most recent win on the road at Fleetwood, including goalscorer Scot Bennett, with the decision to cut first-team costs and invest in youth paying off. In contrast for their 0-0 draw at bottom club Accrington, Argyle had just two youth-team graduates on the bench, unless you include veteran Paul Wotton and striker Reuben Reid, both in their second spells at the club.
But this contrast in philosophies to player recruitment, combined with the different approaches to ownership – the supporters' trust in Exeter's case and local businessman James Brent for Plymouth – doesn't change the fact that both teams go into the Devon derby with much to prove.
This may sound strange for an Exeter side who have had an assured start to the campaign, already winning as many home games as they managed in the whole of last season, but there's still a degree of scepticism and pessimism around St James Park.
Manager Paul Tisdale may now be in his seventh season with Exeter but his standing with supporters has slipped a little in recent seasons following a relegation and last season's low finish. Chief among criticisms has been his poor record in cup competitions and especially recent local derbies, with Plymouth and Torquay taking four points apiece from the Grecians last season.
Tisdale is still a talented young manager able to squeeze excellent results from an cheap, inexperienced squad but a convincing victory against an Argyle side who haven't won in three games will go some way to winning over doubters and would leave City well positioned and mentally strong enough to cope with a promotion push.
Argyle's manager John Sheridan, meanwhile, has already talked of his side as being "under pressure" and will be desperate to add to a return of just three wins so far. While there's no talk of Brent looking to dispose of his manager. another relegation struggle is unlikely to be viewed favourably at Home Park.
The fixture at Exeter offers not only an opportunity to regain some pride but also finally kick their stuttering season into life. Lose and that becomes four games within a win, a run that pulls Plymouth ever closer to the bottom half of the table. The contrast between the two clubs may be pronounced but both have a lot to prove to their supporters tomorrow. Gary Andrews