NICKY Law says unsung hero Nigel Atangana has given Exeter City the “steel” they need to seal promotion from League Two.
Released by Cheltenham after stints at Portsmouth and Leyton Orient, Atangana hardly had Grecian supporters clamouring for replica shirts when he signed up in May.
But the 30-year-old Frenchman’s dogged midfield ratting has impressed both fans and team-mates at St James Park – and helped transform a side that limped into ninth place last season into title contenders.
“This club has always had a reputation for playing good football,” says winger Law, now in his second season at Exeter following a move from Bradford City.
“We definitely did that last year, but we fell a little bit short in other areas. So the manager (Matt Taylor) added a little bit more steel, a little bit more physicality to the team and it’s made a big difference.
“Tom Parkes has been quality. Nigel Atangana has a great presence about him and does a lot of the dirty work in the middle of the park. He’s been around this division and knows what it takes to grind out results.
“That bit of nous and aggression is something we maybe lacked last year, but Nigel has given us those qualities in abundance.
“We feel we’ve got a squad with a bit of everything now – good technical ball players and people who can stand up to physical opponents. There’s no reason why we can’t finish the job.”
Atangana and Parkes were among ten players rested in midweek as Taylor chose to deploy the youngsters against Portsmouth in the Leasing.com Trophy semi-final.
The Grecians went 2-1 up in the 89th minute but were dramatically beaten by two stoppage time goals at Fratton Park.
“To lose like that was desperately disappointing,” said Law, who started the game following a two-week injury layoff.
“The manager stuck with a lot of the young boys who’d got us that far and we’d actually anticipated Portsmouth doing the same. So we were pretty surprised when we got the team sheet an hour before kick-off and they’d named practically their full team!
“But the lads stood up to it brilliantly and we were really unlucky on the night. Fratton Park is probably the most difficult place you can go to outside of the Championship, and we knew they hadn’t lost there all year.
“We were minutes away from being the first team to do it, so those young boys can look back on it with a lot of pride. I hope it was a great experience for them.”
Now 31, Law has experience in spades. The former Sheffield United trainee is a veteran of 473 career games and spent three years playing for Glasgow giants Rangers before joining Bradford in 2016. You can experience your own taste of the big time by trying out real money slot machines.
Exeter, then, might have been a case of ‘after the Lord Mayor’s show’, but Law is loving the change of pace.
“Playing for Bradford and Rangers, the expectation was huge,” he says. “They were massive clubs, with a huge fanbase. Big crowds, home and away.
“But, as good as those clubs are to play for, they can also be the most difficult. Every single game has to be a win, otherwise it’s a disaster. The aftermath of a defeat could be tough.
“Here, it’s a lot more relaxed. It’s a family-run club. The supporters volunteer, they’re in the training ground every day. They’re doing the food, cleaning the kit – you’re a lot closer to the fans, there’s just a really good feel around the place.
“And I don’t think many people expected us to be where we are now when the season started, which is a big help.
“Within the group, though, our aim was always promotion. We had great confidence in our own ability. Anything less would be a failure but we’ve got 12 games to go and we’re in a great position to push on.”