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Opposition Lowdown: Relegation Fight Rivals Exeter City

With a nightmare 2023 behind them, Reading will be hoping for a better 2024, kicking off with a home game against Exeter City. Join us as we take a closer look at the opposition.

Exeter City v Shrewsbury Town - Sky Bet League One Photo by James Baylis - AMA/Getty Images

Form

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

The Grecians currently sit one place and three points ahead of Reading in 20th, having won six, drawn five and lost 12 games so far. They have picked up five points in their last five games following one win, two draws and two losses, and ended a 13-game winless streak on Boxing Day when they beat Wycombe Wanderers.

The two sides have faced each other twice already this season with Exeter winning 2-1 at St James Park in the league after goals from Will Aimson and Reece Cole. Reading then demolished the Grecians 0-9 away from home in the Bristol Street Motors Trophy group stage.

The boss

Gary Caldwell: Caldwell was appointed as Exeter manager in October 2022, taking over from Matt Taylor who left the club to join Rotherham United.

Caldwell had a 14-year professional career as a defender, starting his career at Newcastle United, before also playing for the likes of Hibernian, Celtic and Wigan Athletic, where he became captain of the Latics. 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. Caldwell 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.

He then had minor roles at Newcastle, 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.

Expected lineup

Sinisalo, Aimson, Diabate, Hartridge, Rankine, Jules, Carroll, Cole, Aitchison, Niskanen, Cox

Key player

Will Aimson: Defender Aimson signed for Exeter in January 2023, joining from Bolton for an undisclosed fee. He started his youth career at Eastleigh before joining Hull’s youth team setup. He never made a first-team appearance for Hull but did have a series of loan spells, representing the likes of Tamworth, Tranmere and Blackpool.

He made a permanent move to Blackpool in 2016, where he stayed for two and a half years, playing 69 games. Permanent switches to Bury, Plymouth Argyle and Bolton Wanderers followed before Aimson signed for Exeter last year.

The 29-year-old has gone on to make 46 appearances for the Grecians, scoring two goals, including one against Reading earlier on this season in the league. He is predominantly a centre-back, with strong tackling and passing skills, but he can also play in midfield.

One to watch

Viljami Sinisalo: Goalkeeper Sinisalo joined Exeter on a season-long loan deal from Premier League Aston Villa this summer.

He started his career in his homeland of Finland and made his professional debut at hometown club FC Espoo. He joined the Aston Villa academy in 2018 but is yet to make his debut for the club.

Sinisalo has had a number of loan spells, playing for the likes of Ayr United and Burton Albion prior to this season’s loan at Exeter. The 22-year-old has started all but one of Exeter’s 23 league games so far this season and has kept eight clean sheets so far.

Sinisalo has represented Finland at under-17, under-19 and under-21 level and made his full international debut in January 2023. He is a strong shot-stopper and saved a penalty in Exeter’s recent win against Wycombe.