Harley continues to flourish
Just as it seemed Exeter were heading out of the Johnstone`s Paint Trophy Ryan Harley latched on to Jamie Cureton`s flick and calmly slotted the ball past the keeper for his eleventh goal of the season.
He then went on to score the first penalty of the shootout to set City on their way to the area final at the expense of Bristol Rovers.
Harley has been prolific this season from midfield this season, thriving in Paul Tisdale`s dynamic 3-5-2 system.
Illness meant that he could only manage a 20 minute cameo against Plymouth Argyle on Saturday and his absence was notable as City laboured to a 2-0 defeat.
Tuesday nights JPT game with Bristol Rovers saw glimpses of Harley at his best. Playing in a central midfield three with James Dunne and Liam Sercombe allowed Harley to drift all over the pitch, coming short to pick up possession, occasionally drifting out to the left flank and in the last minute of normal time breaking beyond the strikers to great effect.
Harley return an impressive ten goals from midfield last season, most notably scoring both goals in a 2-0 victory over Leeds United last January, he also scored the crucial goal at home to Huddersfield that preserved the Grecians League One status on the final day of the season.
His late strike against Bristol Rovers saw him surpass last seasons` goal tally, something he has been able to achieve for several reasons.
Beside him in midfield, Dunne and Sercombe have been a revelation, their committed ball winning performances allow Harley to enjoy large chunks possession, Harley himself looks a fitter player this season highlighted in Tuesday night's victory when in the last moments of the game he was still willing to make runs in behind the opposition defence.
Competition for places is healthy in the Exeter City midfield, David Noble is coming into form and is pushing hard for a regular starting berth and Paul Tisdale also has Bertrand Cozic to call on should he wish.
A criticism laid at Harley`s door in the past has been that the defensive side of his game lets him down but it`s a tag that Harley seems to have shaken this season. His off the ball work has flourished this season, without the ball he becomes an old fashioned inside centre offering Scott Golbourne some cover at left wing back, and does a lot of good work defending the edge of his own penalty area.
From a fans perspective Harley is a joy to watch when on top of his game, he always wants the ball, is comfortable using both feet and his individual skill and range of passing is a joy to watch.
Harley began his career as a youngster at Bristol City but after being released wound up playing for Western-super-Mare before Exeter City signed him up early in 2008.
Rumours are rife that Harley is to attracting interest from Championship clubs but no formal approach has been reported yet. Aged 25 Harley is in his prime and it won`t be a surprise if there is a chance for him to move in January.
But for now he is an Exeter City player and no doubt an important part of Paul Tisdale`s plans as St James` Park.