Exeter City were knocked out of the FA Cup by Premier League outfit West Bromwich Albion. The Baggies stormed to a two-goal lead within half an hour and, in truth, could have had a much larger lead were it not for the reactions of Christopher Pym and the offside flag.
Though this result appears to have the bearings of a formality for Alan Pardew’s side, Exeter City rallied in the second half and imposed themselves on a contest that had, in the first forty-five minutes, been disappointingly one-sided.
The Grecians peppered Ben Foster’s goal in the second half in the hope of triggering a famous comeback but ultimately came up short against an experienced side that boasted regular Premier League starters.
West Brom raced into an early lead courtesy of Solomon Rondon, who found the net inside the opening minutes. The forward capitalised on a loose ball, volleying with his first touch, injecting enough power to see it ricochet off the flailing hands of Pym. A moment of top-flight finesse had silenced a typically raucous Big Bank.
The Baggies could and probably should have, doubled their lead minutes later with Pym diving down well to his left, saving a Chris Brunt shot from a matter of yards. The visitors broke with penetration and speed – an ominous sign for an Exeter side who would be chasing the game.
When Kieran Gibbs hobbled off and was replaced by Hal Robson-Kanu, the intent from Alan Pardew was unapologetically obvious: get the game wrapped up before half-time.
“hope of an instant response was shortlived”
But Exeter fought back, refused to buckle and showed promise with patience and purpose when on the ball. It was limited resistance, though, and any hope of an instant response was cruelly quashed when Jay Rodriquez stroked home from point-blank range. A school-boy mix up at the back saw the ball drop to the striker, who nonchalantly slotted it past a helpless Pym.
Moments later, Rondon looked to have smashed in his second, and the Baggies’ third, only for it to be ruled offside. A reprieve, granted, but in the grand scheme, it mattered little.
Pym would again come to City’s rescue, denying James McClean in a stunning reaction save. Pym spared Grecian blushes once more, saving a unconvincing Hal Robson-Kanu penalty.
McClean had charged into the box and was brought down by a desperate Pierce Sweeney. Yet Robson-Kanu’s effort was limp.
St James Park roared as imaginations flirted with the prospect of a historic comeback: the penalty save the catalyst.
“stockley missed a sitter”
If minds were dreaming, then hearts were beating as Jayden Stockley was presented with a gaping goal. Liam McCalinden’s wayward cross was dropped by Ben Foster, with Stockley pouncing, only for the forward to find the post. Had Stockley found the net, the Grecians would have headed in with just a one-goal deficit, quietly believing. Yet Stockley’s miss felt frustratingly fait accompli.
Minutes into the second half, Ahmed Hegazi had the ball in the net following Rondon’s strike hitting the post, but the flag bailed out the home side, keeping the deficit to two.
A Stockley free-kick flashed past the post as the Grecians signalled an intent to claw back this tie.
“tentative signs of a come-back?”
Lee Holmes would be Tisdale’s first tactical switch as he replaced McCalinden, who had made clever runs but lacked service and the final product. His introduction brought instant joy as he danced past Brunt – filling it at left-back for the injured Gibbs – and stung Foster’s palms.
In a bid to shore up the midfield, Tisdale brought on Lloyd James for Hiram Boateng, who had been ineffectual throughout.
Once more, Exeter threatened to pull one back, but Dean Moxey’s shot from inside the area had too much power and elevation, flying over the bar and into the crowd. It was then the turn of Ryan Harley, whose curling effort was collected easily enough by Foster.
“City showed commendable character”
If City were buoyed by their second-half improvement, Robson-Kanu’s one-on-one miss served to remind the Grecians of the danger the visitor’s possessed on the break.
The Grecians showed commendable character in the final stages, demonstrating fight and craft but it was too little, too late. One would be tempted to consider the outcome had Exeter applied themselves as combatively and vigorously from the off, and had Tisdale elected to start the creative Holmes, but any prediction would be conjecture.
Attention now turns to the league, where City have slipped to 7th. Reinforcements are needed in this window and hopefully, Tisdale’s funds will have been increased by today’s ticket sales.
— Attendance: 5,638 inc. 363 away