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Opposition Lowdown: Gary Caldwell’s Exeter City

Reading will be looking for their third league win in a row this weekend as they make the trip down to Devon to play Exeter City. Join us as we take a closer look at the opposition.

Exeter City v Lincoln City - Sky Bet League One Photo by Andrew Vaughan - CameraSport via Getty Images


Exeter City finished 14th in League One last season, in their first year back in the third tier. They were runners-up in League Two the previous season, ending a 10-year spell in the fourth tier.

The Grecians currently sit in seventh place in the league, having won two, drawn one and lost one game so far. Both of their league wins have come away from home, beating Wycombe Wanderers 0-3 and Carlisle United 0-2. They are also through to the second round of the Carabao Cup, having beaten League Two side Crawley Town in the first round.

The two sides last faced each other back in the 1993/94 season, when Reading completed the double over Exeter, winning 4-6 away from home and then 1-0 at Elm Park in the old-school Division 2.

The boss

Gary Caldwell: Caldwell was appointed Exeter manager last October, taking over from Matt Taylor, who left the club to join Rotherham United. Caldwell had a 14-year professional career as a defender, starting at Newcastle United before also playing for the likes of Hibernian, Celtic and Wigan Athletic, where he became captain.

He ended his playing career at Wigan, before taking up a coaching role with the club. It wasn’t long until he was made manager, taking over from Malkay Mackay in 2015. He won promotion in his first full season as manager, winning the League One title in 2016. He was sacked by Wigan partway through the 2016/17 season and went on to manage both Chesterfield and Partick Thistle.

Blackpool v Wigan Athletic - Sky Bet League One Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images

He then had minor roles at Newcastle United, Manchester City and Hibernian before his move back into first-team management with Exeter. He secured a 14th-place finish in League One in his first season with the club.

The Scotsman likes his teams to play aggressive, front-footed football, while also looking to hand opportunities to younger players.


Exeter saw eight players leave St James Park this summer, with goalkeeper Jamal Blackman, defenders Jack Sparkes, Jonathan Grounds and Jake Caprice, midfielder Kevin McDonald and striker Jevani Brown all leaving on free transfers. Midfielder Archie Collins joined League One rivals Peterborough United, while highly rated right-back Josh Key secured a move to Championship Swansea City.

City have signed six players on permanent deals, with midfielders Reece Cole and Tom Carroll and forward Jack Aitchison all joining on free transfers. They have paid transfer fees for former Reading academy defender Zak Jules, left-back Vincent Harper and winger Ilmari Niskanen who joined from Dundee United. Goalkeeper Viljami Sinisalo (Aston Villa), midfielder Ryan Trevitt (Brentford) and winger Dion Rankine (Chelsea) have also joined on season-long loan deals.

Expected line-up

Sinisalo, Sweeney, Aimson, Hartridge, Rankine, Jules, Trevitt, Cole, Aitchison, Niskanen, Nombe

Key player

Sam Nombe: Forward Nombe joined Exeter in the summer of 2021, signing from MK Dons for an undisclosed fee.

He came through the youth ranks at MK Dons and made his debut for the club in 2017. He then had two separate loan spells at Oxford City and another spell at Maidenhead United. He managed to break into the MK Dons first team in the 2019/20 season, scoring two goals for the club. He had a loan spell with Luton Town in the 2020/21 season, but ended up joining Exeter on a permanent deal the following season.

Portsmouth v Milton Keynes Dons - Sky Bet League One
Sam Nombe, then of MK Dons, in action against Portsmouth
Photo by Robin Jones/Getty Images

Nombe has made 83 appearances for Exeter since his move, scoring 27 goals, including 17 last season, when he finished as The Grecians’ top goalscorer. He is yet to score this season but has been linked with a move away from Exeter and is a rumoured transfer target for Barnsley. Nombe usually plays as a striker and is a counter-attacking threat who is a strong finisher.

One to watch

Zak Jules: Defender Jules joined Exeter this summer, signing for an undisclosed fee from MK Dons, following their relegation to League Two. Jules came through the academy at Reading but never made a first-team appearance for the Royals. While at Reading he had loan spells at Hemel Hempstead, Braintree Town and Motherwell.

Jules left Reading to join Shrewsbury Town in 2017, but he never made a first-team appearance for the club, having to settle for another series of loan moves. Permanent moves to Macclesfield Town and Walsall followed before he signed for MK Dons in 2021, where he had his most settled period to date, playing 73 times and scoring four goals.

The 26-year-old defender has started in three of Exeter’s league games so far this season. He has represented Scotland at every level from under-17 to under-21. Jules is primarily a centre-back but can also play at left-back and is very comfortable on the ball.