What's been said about Portsmouth, Millwall, Ipswich and Barnsley linked Matt Jay and why clubs are keeping an eye on Exeter's captain
It’s official – Exeter’s Matt Jay is the first player to be linked with a move to Pompey since the closure of the transfer window.
Twenty-seven days have passed since the summer deadline for new arrivals expired, with Danny Cowley completing his 14th and last piece of business with the loan signing of Mahlon Romeo with 15 minutes to spare.
And with 98 days between now and the opening of the January 2022 window, it appears the Grecians’ attacking midfielder could be the first of many touted as potential Blues targets going into the second half of the season.
The Jay link originates from our friends at Football League World, who claim Pompey are one of 20 clubs – including Ipswich, Barnsley and Millwall – to have watched the diminutive forward this season.
But apart from a few stats – 20 goals last season and five to his name already this term - what do we know about the attacking midfielder?
Well, it’s clear the 25-year-old is highly-rated at St James Park.
Emerging through the youth ranks at Exeter, the Torbay-born ace made his League debut for the Grecians at the age of 17 during the 2013-14 season when he was still a second-year scholar.
He was awarded his first professional deal a month later and was quickly earning praise from then manager Paul Tisdale.
Following Jay’s league debut against Southend, Tisdale said: ‘I made the decision to play Matt Jay and I thought he was wonderful.
‘He was probably our best player in the first half and he got his selection on back of performances in training and under-21 games.’
Since then his influence and importance to the League Two side has steadily increased.
Following loans spells at non-league Hayes & Yeading and Truro during the 2015-16 season, he’s made 129 appearances for the club and scored 38 goals.
He was also named Exeter’s new captain in the summer following Jake Taylor’s departure.
And he’s picked up where he left off last season – a campaign that ended with 20 goals and seven League Two assists.
Indeed, already this term, Jay has scored five times in 11 appearances to put Exeter in the early promotion picture.
With a rising profile already in the Exeter ranks, there’s no denying Jay’s reputation grew on a larger and wider scale during the 2020-21 season.
Playing a bit-part role during the 2019-20 campaign, which saw him record nine league starts and four goals, he was transformed when last season began in September.
Indeed, he finished the campaign with 20 goals and seven League Two assists to his name.
As a result, Jay was awarded a place in two separate League Two Teams of the Year and picked up Exeter’s Player of the Year and Player's Player of the Year awards.
Manager Matt Taylor put the player’s transformation down to his commitment during lockdown.
Speaking to the BBC before Jay won the League Two Player of the Month award for March, the Exeter boss said: ‘During the first part of lockdown we gave them individual programmes. You saw who came back fit and in a position where they'd actually done the programme at home.
‘MJ did that programme, but did more, he came back a different animal.
‘He came back being able to cover the ground in a lot less time, his stride pattern was different and he looked a slightly different athlete.
‘He's never going to be the tall profile or the bigger profile simply due to his size, but the fact that the distance he covers and the amount of sprints he does in a game has increased from recent seasons has added to his ability to be there and thereabouts when it matters in and around the 18-yard box.’
On the back of his 2020-21 heroics, Jay was made Exeter captain.
Explaining his decision, Taylor told the club’s website back in July: ‘Last season he was player of the season by an absolute mile and he is a huge influence in the changing room as well. I feel he can handle the role well.
‘This is also a result of his upbringing. What a great character he is, and credit has to go to his family for that.’
Taylor also said that he would build the team around him – further recognition of Jay’s growing importance to the Grecians.
But the manager also warned that he was expecting offers to come in for his new star man.
When asked if he expected any St James Park departures ahead of the summer, Taylor told Devon Live: ‘The only one I expect concrete interest in is Matt Jay.
‘He scored 20 goals and was by far the most consistent.
‘He was our best player and that shows with the end of season awards.
‘He deserves not only recognition, but what he means to me and if he stays here next season, then I will be building a team around MJ.’
The concrete interest Taylor anticipated never materialised during the summer as the 25-year-old remained at St James Park.
That’s been to Exeter’s benefit, with Jay their current top scorer with five goals.
But his continued consistency is now drawing a host of admirers.
Those looking to take advantage, though, will no doubt need to dig deep into their pockets.
The attacking midfielder signed a new Grecians deal in January and is contracted to the League Two club until June 2023.
And with Taylor among his chief admirers, Jay won’t come cheap.
‘He’s a top finisher - the best at our football club and there is more to come from him because he is constantly learning what is needed from him,’ said Taylor back in January.
‘I’m pleased we’ve tied him down because there was interest.’
There’s also the player’s wishes to take into consideration – a player, of course, who has the red and white of Exeter coursing through his veins.
After being named club captain, Jay said: ‘It is a real honour for me, and my family.
‘I’m really pleased and excited for the journey. Hopefully I can bring good things to the club and it feels like the next step in my Exeter City career.
‘I can’t wait to put my own stamp on things.’