West Ham started with the ball at Saint James’ Park, with play kicking off fast and visitors wasting no time in probing the home team’s defences. City in red and white were quick on their feet, battering away an early onset of offensive plays made by the blue-clad guests. An early chance for West Ham was denied by Archie Collins, who blocked a shot from Anthony Scully from just in the area, and a bombardment of shots Barrett and then Bernado Rosa were defended away in a similar manner.
However, it didn’t take long for the Grecians to respond, getting it up and out of there half and into the oppositions. An early corner taken by Lee Martin led to some excitement, though there was a failure to convert from the reds this time. Chiedozie Ogbene helped maintain the pace, with a shot from outside the box falling safely into the arms of Nathan Trott.
The momentum of the game was brought to a temporary standstill fifteen minutes in when Saint James Park experienced a slight technical difficulty with the floodlights. A large portion of the field lights went down, plunging the pitch into a murky gloom. Referee Brett Huxtable halted play, and the players drifted off the pitch as the matter was resolved. The floodlights were up and running again in a matter of minutes, the original failure attributed to a city-wide power cut, though a further fifteen minutes was given to allow for any further glitches to be dealt with. By this time both teams were on the field again for a second bout of warming up, spirits not dampened by the power cut, unprecedented at Saint James.
With 27 minutes of added time on the clock, play recommenced. Neither team seemed over-affected by the abrupt break in the game, with West Ham slowing down play considerably from the back, making good use of Trott in goals. City wasted no time in pressing the opposition this time round though, and a cross in to Jonathan Forte ends in results as he volleyed it expertly into the goal, well out of Trott’s reach.
Elated by Forte’s goal, City threatened the visitors several more times, with Pierce Sweeney and Martin pushing hard down the right wing. Martin was nearly greeted with success when he took a long shot from the right, with Trott tipping it over the bar. Another near miss from the City side followed just after when Dara O’shea got ahead to the corner Martin’s shot secured, only to follow that shot in overshooting the bar too.
The Grecians weren’t to be denied much longer though, and Forte slotted in a second goal off a cross from Martin. The striker picked up the ball mid-air, taking it on the head and directing it into the back of the net. Now two up the hosts fell back a bit, allowing West Ham some possession at the back, Captain Reece Oxford and Ajibola Alese controlling play from there. The visiting side had opportunity just before half-time to close the gap between the two teams, but a shot from Sean Adarkwa was safely scooped up by City keeper James Hamon, who saw his first real action of the game.
West Ham then attempted some desperate long balls over the defender’s heads, but the line held and no real threat was posed as the City defence parried away each ball as they came. The last bit of excitement in the first half was when Oxford went down with a hand injury, but was back up moments later. The half-time whistle went and both teams filed off to the locker rooms.
The second half began with Exeter in possession, though minutes in City keeper Hamon gave the home fans a scare when he tried to follow a dud ball out of play, only to have Adarkwa take it off him. The defence then managed to recovered the situation, denying Adarkwa the chance at goal.
Jimmy Oates went down right after, and limped off to clapping from the stands as Jack Sparkes replaced him on the field, possibly an odd choice given Sparkes’ position up-field while Oates is a grounded left back player. Yet this interesting choice from manager Matt Taylor appeared to pay off throughout the rest of the match despite its peculiarity.
The home team, having decided to ease up on the attack after halftime, was then plagued by several ambitious West Ham attacks, notably a free kick given when Alfie Lewis went down during a determined dribble. The shot from just outside the box was a worthy effort from Scully, but again Hamon made the save.
West Ham continued to make desperate attempts at goal, but City held them off each time, with Longelo denied by a controversial tackle inside the D, with appeals for a penalty waved away by the referee. The scoreboard almost read 3-0 as Matt Jay hits the crossbar off a header, and then almost 2-1 as fresh substitute Sebastian Neybyla had a crack on goal, tipped clear of the bar by Hamon. Trott was tested once more in goal when Abrahams lets one rip from in the area, and sharp reflexes and quick footwork on Trott’s part keep West Ham in the game.
With the clock running down, play got more and more scruffy and fouls mounted up towards the end. The visiting Captain, Reece Oxford, was handed a Yellow after a tackle, and more fouls followed. As the last three minutes of extra time wound down, Exeter City finished confidently, and were able to walk off the pitch with heads high after the final whistle was blown, Forte’s brace making up the entirety of the scoreboard.
Written by Josh Devaraj.