This was a night full of drama. Two red cards, two penalties, extra-time and a late winner.
Exeter City secured passage into the third round with a stoic and grafting comeback; City were meek in the first half and went into the break 1-0 down, but an inspirational come-back saw 10 men Exeter draw level and then win the game in extra time, with Jayden Stockley once again scoring at the death, as he did in the first tie between these two sides.
It was nearly a dream start as Liam McAlinden was sent through on goal within a minute of the kick-off; Craig Woodman lofted an innocuous ball over the visitors’ defence, with the forward deftly bringing the ball down and finding himself in acres of space, only to fire straight at Bradley Collins in the Forest net.
City almost delighted the footballing purists five minutes later as a move that started from the back and saw slick movement, presented Jordan Tilison with an opportunity to shoot. Too many touches and not enough conviction saw the chance go begging.
If City were vibrant and confident in the opening minutes, they were anything but in the quarter of an hour that proceeded it. Forest was gifted time and space on the ball, able to implement a possession-based game and stamp their authority on the match.
“The visitors probed”
The visitors continued to probe, with Reece Brown cutting an incisive and creative figure. Indeed, it was his slaloming run that left the City defence trailing in his wake and handed Tomi Gomes a chance at goal, even if the strike was wayward.
The warning signs were there, and when Jordan Moore-Taylor was left backpedalling as Doige ran into the box it was no surprise that the defender brought him down with a tug of the shirt. Despite Cristopher Pym’s best efforts, Doige converted to give the visitors a deserved lead on the half-hour mark – his shot somehow creeping under the body of Pym.
Polar positions in the league and suitably polar performances – Forest Green Rovers played like a team vying for promotion and City looked a team shorn of confidence, however. A surprising and lamentable inversion as the sides headed into the tunnel for half-time.
Though the Grecians passed the ball with a little more purpose in the second half, Paul Tisdale still thought it prudent to bring on Hiram Boateng for Dean Moxey and pack the midfield, reverting to a 4-5-1, with Jayden Stockley up top.
“CITY PLAYED WITH GREATER PURPOSE AFTER THE BREAK”
City began to look a little sharper on and off the ball: Loyd James and Jake Taylor linking up twice to pose a treat, the formation change allowing City’s wingers to stay wide without sacrificing control of the middle.
Yet just as the home side looked to have gained the upper hand, a reckless challenge from Jordan Tilison handed the visitors the momentum. Forest looked to have broken away, but the midfielder – already on a yellow – scythed down the rushing winger in a cynical challenge.
Forest twice appeared certain to net a second goal – Pym first seeing a shot slip from his grasp and loop, thankfully, over the bar and a smart save denied Doige as the striker raced through.
A final throw of the dice saw Tisdale throw all caution to the wind and Ryan Harley and Kyle Edwards came on, setting his side up in a 3-2-3 formation. Edwards brought the spark immediately and his quick feet drew a challenge from Keanu Marsh-Brown inside the area: the referee pointed the spot.
“do or die for city”
Pierce Sweeney – the unlikely taker – slotted home calmly to level the game. A vulnerable midfield two, three at the back, three at the top and ten men: it was do or die for the home side with twenty minutes left on the clock.
Successive corners applied heavy pressure on the City defence, but ultimately, no clear chance presented itself for either side in the final twenty minutes. Extra-time inbound.
A fabulous save from Collins denied the Grecians a goal within the opening minutes of extra time, as Taylor’s header was clawed away. Again, City looked certain to take the lead: this time it was Moore-Taylor who had only to connect with the ball but tripped over his own legs from a few yards out.
If ever there was a perfect model for end-to-end stuff it was this second half of extra-time. A marvellously entertaining spectacle was played out with the game finely poised.
The drama was not over just yet, as Rovers themselves has a man sent off: Emmanual Monthe picking up a second yellow card for a needless shove. This game had it all.
Edwards, who had looked extremely bright since his inclusion, then beguiled his way into the box and carved out a one v one, only to be stopped just as he looked to pull the trigger. Moore-Taylor’s header from the resulting corner shaved the far post.
City’s pressure finally paid off with Stockley’s diving header capping a dramatic night of football and sending the home support into euphoria.
Attendance: 3,923 incl. 203 away.
Exeter City: Pym; Sweeney; Seaborne; Moore-Taylor; Woodman; Moxey; Taylor; Tillison; McAlinden; Stockley
Forest Green Rovers: Collins; Laird; Monthe; Marsh-Brown; Doidge; Brown; Cooper; Whishart; Gomes; Stevens.