Grecians into the quarter-final with win over Rovers
It was another famous night for the youngsters of Exeter City as they secured a place in the quarter-final of the Under-21 Premier League Cup.
City claimed another scalp and dominated the fixture throughout and were desperately unlucky to be the team trailing as Jordan Preston headed Rovers into the lead late in the first-half.
But quick-fire goals after the interval by Scot Bennett and Jimmy Keohane gave the Grecians the lead they deserved and a place in the last eight of the nationwide competition – and potentially a glamour-tie in the next round.
No less than ten of the starting XI for City had experience in a matchday squad for the first-team, including captain for the night Bennett who has 88 first-team games under his belt.
Jordan Moore-Taylor was a late omission from the squad through illness, and the three overage players for City being David Wheeler, Jimmy Keohane and captain Bennett.
The Grecians started much the bright, with the visitors really struggling to string together any flowing moves. Exeter could have taken a lead when Wheeler nutmegged his man and only a recovery tackle by Aaron Tumwa denied an opener.
Matt Jay was almost laid in by Tom Nichols too after Wheeler rose brilliantly to nod in the striker, but the flag had gone up for offside. Even Bennett was getting in on the action as he stormed out from the back and set himself up for a volley, which goalkeeper David Raya collected.
On a rare foray, Rovers could have taken the lead as a ball flashed across goal was almost turned in by Connor Mahoney, but just skimmed off the midfielder’s studs.
Aaron Dawson, storming forward from the back, delivered a perfect cross for Jake Gosling who was arriving late, but Raya pulled off an unthinkable save to keep it out. Another great ball from the right-back nearly found Keohane, who just couldn’t prod in.
Wheeler had a left-footed effort after coming in off the line which cleared the bar, and on two occasions Rovers had to defend with blocks and last-ditch tackles to deny City.
So it came as a stomach punch when the opener fell the visitors’ way, as a Raheem Hanley cross from deep found the head of Preston, who guided a header past Christy Pym.
The goal seemed to lift the spirits of Blackburn, who tested the palms of the City stopper again soon after from a narrow angle
City did find their feet again in the half after looking a touch shellshocked, but were trailing at the break.
Half-time: Exeter City U21 0 Blackburn Rovers U21 1
The Grecians knew that if they played in the second half anything like the first, then they had a chance of getting their way back into the tie.
And, within minutes of the restart, they had indeed turned a deficit into a lead with two quick-fire goals.
The first came as Keohane swung over a vicious corner from the left which was touched back across goal for Bennett to hammer in under the bar.
And then minutes later it was Keohane that got his name on the scoresheet. Gosling and Dawson linked up down the right and the full-back’s cross had City players queuing up to hammer in – and the Irish midfielder was the one to accept.
It could and perhaps should have been three when Wheeler and Keohane won the ball back on the left byline, and the latter teed up Gosling to shoot – it needed an acrobatic stop by Raya again to prevent a bigger lead being opened.
And when Keohane’s low cross was just touched out of Nichols’ reach, Jay twisted and turned and fired a shot which Raya, again, did brilliantly to punch clear.
City did have to be alert, despite dominating the ball, as headers by Jordan Preston and Mahoney tested Pym as the half progressed.
But City continued to dominate possession and chances and the introduction of Jamie Reid and Jacob Jagger Cane helped Exeter to keep the ball upfield.
So Exeter controlled the remainder of the game and saw out a famous win, that sets up a quarter-final tie for the Grecians.
Full-time: Exeter City U21 2 Blackburn Rovers U21 1
Exeter City U21: Pym; Dawson, Tillson, Bennett (c), Wannell; Wheeler, Grimes, Keohane, Gosling; Jay, Nichols.
Subs: Hamon, Riley-Lowe, Reid, Jagger Cane, Chamberlain.
Blackburn Rovers U21: Raya, Fernandez Molina, Hanley, Jorge, Daley, Tumwa, Mahoney, O'Sullivan, Preston, Payne, Bauress.
Subs: Junior, Urwin, Pero, Levelle, Pierce.
Referee: R. Hulme