Grecians bow out with heads held high
Exeter City's impressive run in the Under-21 Premier League Cup came to an end as an enthralling St James Park clash with Burnley had to be decided by extra-time. Burnley substitute Nathan Lowe struck the winner early-on in the extra period after it had ended 2-2 at the 90-minute mark.
A dramatic late Tom Nichols equaliser had previously ensured that the game would take at least an additional 30 minutes in order to be settled; the Grecians having hit back twice to level. Midfielder Archie Love twice gave the Clarets the lead, with Jimmy Keohane claiming City’s first reply.
Exeter City’s Under-21s hosted a young Burnley side in the rearranged Barclays Under-21 Premier League Cup quarter-final at St James Park, with a prize of a semi-final trip to Manchester City awaiting the victors.
In a fast-paced opening it was Luke Gallagher, the Burnley winger, who had the game’s first shot on four minutes, and Christy Pym collected comfortably. Jack Errington just got himself in the way of Jamie Reid as the Exeter City man pulled the trigger after a Tom Nichols flick, before Jordan Tillson headed over from the resulting corner. Errington did well to again clear for a corner when under pressure from Reid just minutes later.
With the Grecians looking dangerous on the counter, an eye-catching long-range pass forward from Matt Grimes began a move which culminated in David Wheeler forcing another corner. Nichols might have made a better contact when he found himself in behind the Clarets’ defence on the 20-minute mark, but it was Burnley who took the lead shortly after – Archie Love side-footed low into the corner from the rebound after a smart block just seconds earlier.
They almost went two ahead immediately, as Micah Evans took the ball down Exeter’s left wing and crossed for Jason Gilchrist, but the forward was unable to generate any real power with his effort, Christy Pym tidying up. Love had another rebound to attack in a similar area to that which he scored, but the midfield player could only find the Big Bank with his second effort of the tie.
It was a little too close for comfort as Christy Pym just beat the on-rushing Gilchrist to a ball over the top of the Grecians’ backline just after the half-hour, and there was also a thin line between City equalising moments later – Jimmy Keohane opted to take a touch to steady himself when a bouncing ball fell kindly for him, it inadvertently came off his hand and the attack was brought to a halt. Jake Gosling put a left-footed effort well wide just before half-time.
Half-time: Exeter City U21 0 Burnley U21 1
Tom Nichols headed over from a David Wheeler cross in a decent chance to kick off the half for the Grecians. Burnley goalkeeper Danijel Nizic did very well to clear the ball ahead of Wheeler after the Exeter City man was the benefactor of a very fortunate deflection – there was just an inch between the two in the challenge. Tom Nichols missed a glorious opportunity for the leveller when the ball fell to him in space with only the Australian Nizic to beat.
Jordan Moore-Taylor headed into the arms of Nizic from an Aaron Dawson cross, while Matt Grimes attempted to take a corner on the volley, almost catching out Nizic who had a crowd of bodies to peer through. Jimmy Keohane shot wide win a good position on seventy-five minutes.
Burnley made the game’s first switch when striker Jamie Frost was replaced by Nathan Lowe, and Nizic was booked for some cynical time-wasting right after the change. Pym plucked Nathan Lowe’s side-footed effort out of the air, and from the resultant break, City were level. Jimmy Keohane got it, rolling the ball under Nizic following the pass from Wheeler on the right wing.
With the Grecians now on the ascendancy, Matt Grimes went close as he stretched to meet Jake Gosling’s cross, before Jamie Reid couldn’t connect with another ball in the air. Brad Jackson and Waqas Azam replaced Luke Gallagher and Kyle Brownhill for Burnley, who opted to make use up all of their available substitutions despite the scores being level with the prospect of extra-time.
Jamie Reid wriggled himself some space before curling one wide with Nizic at full stretch with five minutes of normal time to go. Then, out of nowhere, the visitors retook the lead. Picking up Jordan Tillson’s clearance, Archie Love took a touch and fired low through the crowd, and, despite the shot not possessing any real venom, an error from Pym allowed it so slip through his hands and to roll agonisingly into the goal.
With referee Derek Eaton signalling for five minutes of injury-time, a roar of encouragement went up around St James Park as Exeter City’s giant-killing youngsters sought to keep themselves in the tie. And, quite dramatically, moments later they were back on terms for a second time, Tom Nichols’ shot taking a deflection and flying into the top corner of the net. Jamie Reid was booked for scything down Brad Jackson, and Nathan Lowe blasted over in the last action of normal time.
Full-time: Exeter City U21 2 Burnley U21 2
The Clarets retook the lead quickly after the commencing of extra-time, sub Nathan Lowe unleashing a long-range drive which took a bounce in the penalty area that must have deceived Pym. Jimmy Keohane almost benefitted from another deflection but saw the ball go narrowly wide. Jamie Reid took a knock and was replaced by Matt Jay, before David Wheeler produced a sweet shot which flew just wide of Nizic’s right post. Matt Grimes attempted his volley from a corner for a second time but with less success, on this occasion the ball coming back off the wall.
Burnley were now resorting to every trick in the book in order to whittle down the remaining time, and had captain Alex Coleman booked for throwing the ball away as the first half of extra-time came to an end.
Half-time in extra-time: Exeter City U21 2 Burnley U21 3
Aaron Dawson broke through to smack the post after some interplay with Matt Jay, and David Wheeler cut inside to fire over later on. Jordan Moore-Taylor was shown yellow for simulation when he went down in the area, before Waqas Azam and Tom Nichols joined him in the book soon after, Burnley’s Azam for a foul and Nichols for dissent. Despite a late rally from the home side, the Burnley defence held firm to progress.
Full-time in extra-time: Exeter City U21 2 Burnley U21 3
Exeter City U21: Pym; Dawson, Bennett, Moore-Taylor; Wheeler, Grimes, Keohane, Gosling; Reid, Nichols.
Unused subs: Hamon, Wannell, Jagger Cane, Chamberlain.
Burnley U21: Nizic, Errington, Brownhill (Azam), Love, Coleman, Anderson, Evans, Hewitt, Gilchrist, Frost (Lowe), Gallagher (Jackson).
Unused subs: Jakovlevs, Massanka.
Referee: D. Eaton