It is not uncommon for an experienced player to struggle to find the motivation and perform in a reserve game against a bunch of kids.

But given a rare start for Exeter City in their EFL Trophy match against West Bromwich Albion’s Under 23 side on Tuesday, Nicky Ajose might just have done enough to thrust himself back into the thoughts of Grecians boss Matt Taylor.

Since arriving at St James Park in the summer of 2019, things have not gone to plan for the former Manchester United youngster, who has made a career out of scoring goals for the likes of Bury, Peterborough United, Swindon Town and Charlton Athletic.

Nicky Ajose of Exeter City during the Papa Johns Trophy Group Match between Exeter City and West Bromwich Albion u21s at St James Park, Exeter on 17 November. Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

And it seemed his days in Devon were numbered when he couldn’t even get on the bench in the early part of the campaign with Taylor publicly stating he was behind Ryan Bowman, Matt Jay, Alex Fisher and Ben Seymour in the pecking order.

Rumours were rife that he was on his way out of St James Park and on the transfer list – Taylor admitting he had told two members of his squad their days were numbered with City. But while the manager never publicly named the two players concerned, it led to many to assume that Ajose was one of them.

If he was, and it was a move designed to kick-start his career, then Taylor has got the response he wanted as the 29-year-old made the most of a rare start against the Baggies on Tuesday with an excellent all-round display that will put him in contention for today’s home League Two clash with Oldham Athletic.

“The way people move on the pitch and apply themselves, the way they run, the way they react and the things they do in possession can sometimes be irrelevant of the opposition,” Taylor said. “Our habits were outstanding on Tuesday, they really were.

Exeter City manager Matt Taylor on the touchline during the Skybet League Two Match between Bradford City and Exeter City at Valley Parade, Bradford on November 14 - PHOTO: Steve Bond/PPAUK
Exeter City manager Matt Taylor on the touchline during the Skybet League Two Match between Bradford City and Exeter City at Valley Parade, Bradford on November 14 – PHOTO: Steve Bond/PPAUK

“That was one of the reasons why we won the game so comfortably – our habits and fundamental basics of our game were of a far higher level than West Brom and some of the senior ones were a part of that.

“With the injuries the way they are, the squad the way it is and the games we have coming, everyone has to be ready and some of those players that played on Tuesday will be starting again this weekend.”

Nicky Ajose of Exeter City looks dejected during the Papa Johns Trophy Group Match between Exeter City and West Bromwich Albion u21s at St James Park, Exeter on 17 November. Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK
Nicky Ajose of Exeter City looks dejected during the Papa Johns Trophy Group Match between Exeter City and West Bromwich Albion u21s at St James Park, Exeter on 17 November. Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

With the unfortunate Seymour pulling up with a hamstring injury whilst scoring Exeter’s second goal on Tuesday – and Fisher also struggling with hamstring issues – then maybe now is the time for Ajose to get his chance.

His quality is undoubted, as his goal-laden career has proven, and in recent weeks, Taylor has felt more than most the frustrations of a succession of missed opportunities from his team in front of goal.

“I think we saw for 50 minutes how effective Ben was when he plays on the shoulder, he competes well and gets to the ball first in the box,” Taylor said.

“He showed that in abundance on Tuesday night and that is why it is so disappointing that he picked up that injury. He has been unlucky now with a hamstring injury and a quad strain earlier on in the season, which has limited his opportunities. But with him out and Fish still questionable in terms of his hamstring injury, then Nicky is next in line in relation to that.

“He will take confidence from his performances against Swindon and West Brom on Tuesday and the way he’s training and hopefully, he can affect things for us.

“He is probably playing slightly deeper than maybe he is renowned for and then we have the likes of MJ, Nicky Law and Nicky Ajose that fall into that bracket of playing behind a frontman.”

The last time Ajose played a full 90 minutes for the Grecians in a league game came on February 15. He didn’t score in a 5-1 victory, but the opposition that day? Oldham Athletic.





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