Randall on using new-found confidence from Weston and taking it to Exeter
- Credit: PA
It has been some 17 months for Joel Randall.
Not only is he playing games, but he is a regular on the left wing for Exeter City, a far cry from being sent out on loan to five different clubs in three seasons.
But, ever since being recalled from his loan spell with Weston in November 2019, due to an injury crisis, he has gone from strength to strength and shown how much of a valuable member he is to the League Two Grecians.
After being loaned out to Weymouth on his return from The Seagulls, Randall ended the 2019-20 season with his first two appearances in the Football League and ended the campaign with two goals from seven matches in all competitions.
But it was only a sign of things to come as Randall was able to show what a talented footballer he is under Exeter manager Matt Taylor.
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He bagged eight goals in his first 18 games of the current campaign, hitting double figures when he scored against Tranmere Rovers last month, but sadly in the build-up to that 10th goal of the season, from 30 matches, Randall suffered a calf injury which has ruled him out for the rest of the season.
But his good form hasn’t been overlooked.
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Back in January he was linked with a move to Charlton Athletic, who reportedly had a £300,000 bid turned down, as well as Scottish giants Celtic and Championship promotion hopefuls Swansea City.
“When I left Weston, I took the confidence back into Exeter and I played in a couple of Leasing.com Trophy games," Randall said.
"I got to play Portsmouth in the semi-finals and that was another good experience again being around the Exeter team, the players and getting comfortable in and around them because I was training with them, but I'd never played with them yet.
“I came off the bench twice towards the end of the season in the league and then in pre-season I thought there was a great opportunity there, with a lot of players leaving the club.
“Again, I saw the opportunity and thankfully the manager put his faith in me and hopefully it's paid off. I have felt really good, obviously it's a step up from the loan levels I was playing at.
“I think I have taken to it really well and as much as the interest was great to see in January, and it made me feel great, I have still got a lot to learn.
“I am not the finished article, I still have got a lot of things to improve on, so I am looking forward to seeing what lies ahead.”
Exeter’s academy has boasted a wealth of talent, with four players from their latest line-up, including former Weston loanees Archie Collins and Matt Jay, their top goalscorer this season, in their game against Mansfield Town, all coming through the youth system.
And according to transfer market the Devon club, out of sides in League Two, are the fifth youngest on the list, alongside Carlisle United, averaging at 24 years and nine months.
But there are three former players who model what the club is all about and have set foundations for future players, including Randall, Swansea’s Matty Grimes, Chelsea's Wales international Ethan Ampadu and Aston Villa and England’s Ollie Watkins.
“It's said all the time about how good the academy is and two of them are playing international football and 'Grimesy' is doing really well near the top of the Championship,” added Randall.
“The academy is great, they have produced some great players and I think this season is the most under-23s they have had in the squad at one time.
“There have been so many players breaking through this season. All of them have done so well, not just me, but the likes of Josh Key, Archie Collins has been there for a while, Alex Hartridge, Jack Sparkes, Ben Seymour, they all have come through this season and have done really well.
"It's great playing with them in the first-team environment in League Two and we have obviously grown up through the years together.
“It's great for us and for the academy to have so many boys out on the pitch and hopefully one day we can follow in Ethan and Ollie's footsteps.”
Despite the injury, Randall bears no ill will and insists promotion is still the target.
And Exeter have eight games left to make the dream into a reality, as they currently sit in eighth place, three points behind Newport County in the final play-off place.
But for Randall it’s a campaign he will never forget and one he has had to overcome so many obstacles after his loan spells.
His strength of character has seen him break down those walls to achieve so much, but whatever happens come the end of the season, Randall insists it will be one he will always look back on with fond memories.
“It's been amazing, it's been a dream to be fair,” he said.
“At the start of the season, I wouldn't have said I would be as successful as I have been.
“I hoped that things would happen the way they have but before now I had doubted it at times when I have been out on loan sitting on benches and not coming on or getting 5-10 minutes at the end.
“It did seem a long way off, but I had to work hard and go through those times and I think they have made me stronger and made me want it more to be successful.
“As much as they weren't good at the time it's made me the player and person I am today. I am thankful I had to go through those tough times and when I have been on loan, I wouldn't have thought I would come back and do this straight away in my first season, I am just taking it in my stride, but I am loving every second.
“I am obviously gutted because at the point I got injured I would have hoped to score more goals, get more assists and help the team push on, but when I put it into perspective I had a great first season, it's gone unbelievable.
“I’ve had some great experiences, I learned more again, I have improved I feel and just for the Exeter boys and staff it's been a great season for me and one I will never forget, it's been a dream.”