Exeter City: Matt Oakley relishing new centre-back role

By Brent PilnickBBC Sport
Matt Oakley
Oakley has played 86 games for Exeter City since joining in September 2011

Exeter City's Matt Oakley says he is enjoying playing in central defence.

The 37-year-old former Southampton and Leicester player has spent most of his career in the centre of midfield.

"It was probably my decision," Oakley told BBC Sport. "We played in a game at three at the back and it wasn't going to plan so I just ended up taking up a position alongside the centre-half.

"We played very well and from that point he [manager Paul Tisdale] came up with the idea that I can play there."

In the absence of injured first-choice centre-backs Pat Baldwin and Jordan Moore-Taylor, Oakley has teamed up with Danny Butterfield at the back and believes he has slotted well into his new role, which allows him to dictate some of the play and pass out from defence.

Matt Oakley
Won four England Under-21 caps in 1997
Spent 12 years at Southampton after making his debut in 1995
Played in the 2003 FA Cup final
Initially joined Exeter on loan from Leicester City in September 2011
Signed for Exeter permanently in July 2012

"We pass the ball a lot, we've had some success in the last few weeks and we're playing very well," he continued.

"It's a different speed seeing the game from the back. In midfield it's very, very fast, so maybe I just pick things up a little bit quicker.

"I'm able to get myself into a position to receive the ball and I also know what my midfield players want because I played there for 15 or 20 years. I know where to pass the ball and where they want to receive it, so maybe that's given me a little bit of an edge playing at the back."

Oakley will be the only player in to have played in the final of the competition before, having been runner-up when Southampton lost to Arsenal in 2003.

Playing a non-league side in the opening round is a new experience for ex-England Under-21 international Oakley, and one that neither he or his team-mates will take lightly.

"It's been put on TV for the upset that everyone is hoping for, with the underdogs beating the bigger team," he said. "But with it comes a challenge for me and the players and one we're looking forward to."

And Oakley says helping Exeter reach the third or fourth round would be an achievement as great as making the final in 2003.

"It would be on a par," he added. "The fans would love to go to the final, but that isn't going to happen with Exeter.

"Getting to the third or fourth round would be amazing. The financial side that comes with that can take the club onto that next stage, with facilities, a better budget, better players coming in and enabling the young lads to progress."