Jack Holmes recounts Exeter City’s classy 3-1 triumph over West Ham United U21s in their final group fixture of the 2019/20 EFL Trophy.
Group M leaders Exeter City booked their place in the knockout stages of the EFL Trophy as they defeated third-place West Ham United U21s 3-1 at St James’ Park on Wednesday evening.
A single point would have been enough for Exeter to top the pool and advance to the next round of the cup. Thanks to two goals from Joel Randall and another from Jordan Tillson, that’s exactly what happened.
City looked by far the better side in the early stages of the game, which marked South African goalkeeper Dino Visser’s Grecians debut. Forcing the Hammers defence to drop deeper and deeper, Matt Taylor’s men penned their opponents inside their own territory for much of the opening exchanges.
The deadlock was broken inside ten minutes as Visser fired a long ball straight down the middle, with a flick on from Ben Seymour sending the ball straight to Randall. The midfielder’s brilliant first-time strike flew past Krisztian Hegyi in the Irons net to hand his team the lead.
City continued to dominate thereafter, but fell prey to a quick counterattack from West Ham as Nathan Holland broke free down the left, before getting past two players. However, his lack of control saw the opportunity go begging, and City soon regained control.
A Matt Taylor free kick in the 13th minute lead to mayhem in the West Ham box, but the visitors ultimately cleared the danger. Despite City’s superiority, a rash tackle on Harrison Ashby in the box led to a penalty for the Hammers. Joe Powell calmly stepped up to take it and slid his effort low to Visser’s right, sending him the wrong way for a 1-1 score after 18 minutes.
Encouraged by their equaliser, the Londoners started to look threatening and took the initiative for a short period of the match. Another break upfield was duly dealt with, but Nathan Holland was looking in the mood down the left flank for the Irons.
The contest began to follow a distinct pattern, with the Grecians having the lion’s share of possession and looking the stronger side. However, they had to be wary as West Ham started finding success on the counter, profiting well down their left. The Hammers thought they’d grabbed the game’s third goal moments before the interval, only for the linesman to signal there had been an offside in the build-up.
The opening exchanges of the second half were stop-start in nature, with both teams struggling to string play together. Then, Jack Sparkles danced beyond the appropriately-named Jack Sparkles danced beyond two West Ham defenders and unleashed a fierce rifle on goal, only to see his marvellous attempt rebound off the post and away from the target. City were taking a stranglehold on proceedings.
Either side could have netted in a frantic minute as the match entered the final quarter-hour, Ryan Bowman having his shot palmed away by Hegyi, who initiated another counterattack for the Irons. An outrageous curling effort from Nathan Bowman seemed to be arching in, yet he could only watch on as the ball drifted narrowly wide.
City finally got what their hard work deserved moments later. A Sparkles delivery – swung in from near the corner-flag – landed on the head of Tillson, the 26-year-old nodding home to restore Exeter’s lead.
Taylor saw his recruits put the game to bed in the dying embers of the match when a defensive mix-up left West Ham exposed. A wayward pass from the ‘keeper was chased down by Bowman, and the forward calmly picked out an unmarked Randall, who tapped into a gaping net.
Exeter sit top of the group on nine points, whilst West Ham’s hopes of qualifying for the next round are over. They are behind Newport County on goal-difference, the Welsh outfit’s 7-4 victory at Cheltenham on Tuesday night sealing their progression.
City have a home tie to look forward to in the last-32 and will find out their opponents live on soccer Saturday.
Attendance – 807 (69 away)