The Football League Paper - - NEWS - By Jack Miller

OL­LIE Watkins knows he has a hard task on his hands if he is to im­prove on a break­through 2016 – but that isn’t go­ing to stop the Ex­eter City striker from try­ing.

As Big Ben struck mid­night on De­cem­ber 31, the Ex­eter City academy prod­uct was able to look back on a cal­en­dar year that saw him be­came a main­stay in Paul Tis­dale’s first team.

From March 1, Watkins started 12 of the Gre­cians’ fi­nal 13 league games, com­ing off the bench for half an hour in their last game of the cam­paign against Lu­ton.


Dur­ing that run, Watkins re­paid Tis­dale’s faith in him with eight goals (adding to one he’d scored ear­lier in the sea­son in the FA Cup), and that red-hot form has car­ried over into the first half of this sea­son and he had the same num­ber of league goals to his name head­ing into 2017.

That was largely thanks to a first ca­reer hat-trick in a 4-1 vic­tory at New­port County on New Year’s Eve, one that ar­rived 24 hours af­ter his 21st birth­day.

“Yes, 2016 was a break­through year for me and a first hat-trick was a bril­liant way to fin­ish it,” agreed Watkins, who en­joyed a loan spell at We­ston-su­per-Mare in 2014-15 where he scored 13 league goals.

“Quite frankly I couldn’t have seen my­self where I am now a year ago.

“At the start of the year I was putting too much pres­sure on my­self and not en­joy­ing it as much as I should have, mostly be­cause I wanted to do so well. But I’ve got a lot more games un­der my belt and I’ve got out of that stage where I was putting too much pres­sure on my­self, and hope­fully it is show­ing that I am re­ally en­joy­ing my foot­ball at the mo­ment.

“It will be a hard year to top. In the long run, pro­mo­tion would be amaz­ing and that’s what we’re aim­ing for.

“We want to build up the ta­ble pro­gres­sively and, on a per­sonal note, I would like to score more goals than last sea­son.

“I came into the team dur­ing March and did quite well to fin­ish with nine goals that sea­son, but I’ve got that al­ready this time (aside from his eight league strikes, he also net­ted in the Check­a­trade Tro­phy win against Chelsea U21s) so I’d like to dou­ble that tally by the end. “Get­ting into the play­offs seemed like a long way away a month ago, but even when we were at the bot­tom of the league I still be­lieved we had the squad to do it. “It’s down to us now af­ter the last month we’ve had, and hope­fully at the end of the sea­son we are in the play-offs.” Watkins isn’t alone at be­ing on a good run at St James Park at the mo­ment, with the Gre­cians last tast­ing de­feat on Novem­ber 22, hav­ing climbed out of the rel­e­ga­tion zone to head into this week­end’s ac­tion in 11th and just five points off the play-offs. Watkins is quick to high­light the sup­port of those around him, es­pe­cially when it comes to fel­low striker Liam McAlin­den – with whom he has formed a great un­der­stand­ing since the 23-year-old ar­rived in Ex­eter this sum­mer fol­low­ing his re­lease from Wolves. “Liam is a great player. He knows what I want, and I know what he wants, so we com­ple­ment each other well,” Watkins said. “We’ve now got a good un­der­stand­ing as a whole team of where peo­ple’s strengths are. “Liam and I do that par­tic­u­larly well, and we bounce off each other. He’s set up three of my last five goals, so hope­fully I can re­turn the favour soon.”

PIC­TURES: Ac­tion Images

THREAT: Ol­lie Watkins fires a shot on goal and, in­set, Liam McAlin­den

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