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          Exeter's rock at the back is winning plaudits

          Rising star in 'The 72': Alex Hartridge

          2021/10/13 15:51
          Alex Lawes
          E0

          With an average rating of 7.35 according to WhoScored.com, Alex Hartridge is the highest-rated player below the age of 25 in League Two.


          Despite making his Exeter debut in December 2018 and going on to play 29 times for The Grecians last season, it is this year where Hartridge has made an impressive breakthrough beginning to the campaign. The 22-year-old centre-half has been a mainstay since the Grecians' third match of the season - the Devonshire side's struggles in front of goal counterbalanced by a watertight defensive unit.

          Truro and back, Truro and back, Truro and back…

          Hartridge has had five separate loan spells at Truro City as well as three temporary moves to Bath City. Exeter’s use of relatively nearby smaller clubs has helped his development enormously with Truro gaining a west-country reputation after already providing a platform for Luke Jephcott of Plymouth Argyle in recent years.

          It means that from the age of 18 to 20, Hartridge managed to play 67 league matches in a senior and competitive environment – two of which came for Exeter in the 2018-19 season. The Grecians have kept Hartridge on the periphery of their own first-team squad up until last year when the 6ft 1 inch Torquay-born centre-back broke into the side on a regular basis.

          Breaking through

          Exeter missed out on the top seven and the play-off places of League Two last season on the final day of the campaign. It could be coincidental but Hartridge was brought into the side for the final six matches in the run-in, with the first three of those six matches being goalless draws. 

          He was more in and out of the side than he would’ve preferred, but it was a gradual progression into being a key man. Exeter had been high-scoring for the first-half of the season before they tried to shut down their system in order to grind out more points to finish towards the top end of the table. That has arguably gone too far this season with seven draws in their opening 11 matches this season.

          ©Getty / MI News

          The centre-back has formed part of a back three alongside Pierce Sweeney and George Ray. They have been impressive throughout the campaign defensively and a lack of cutting edge and inability to ‘go for the win’ has more far more of an issue so far this season.

          Deceptive characteristics

          At just 6ft 1", it comes as something of a surprise that Hartridge’s key characteristic is his strong aerial ability and his desire to defend - both Hartridge and his defensive sidekick Ray ranking in the 'Top 10' for most clearances in League Two so far this season.

          Manager Matt Taylor has praised Hartridge publicly in the past: 

          “He’s keeping other experienced players out of the team, but he’s got an ability about him, he’s dynamic, he’s strong, he wants to head the ball, he just wants to defend.”

          He has played all nine games in which he has been fully fit and available for in the league this season and his consistency will be key to maintaining his place, as Hartridge himself acknowledges… “I cannot take my foot off the gas. It’s my shirt at the moment but I have to keep it that way.”

          England
          Alex Hartridge
          NameAlex Hartridge
          Born1999-03-09(22 -yrs-old)
          Nationality
          England
          England
          PositionDefender
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