City through to the Third Round for the first time in a decadeLine-Ups
Exeter City: Olejnik, Woodman, Holmes (Watkins 84’), Davies, Nicholls, Moore-Taylor (capt), Reid (Oakley 88’), Wheeler, Tillson, Grant (Nichols 93’), Brown.
Subs: Morrison, Hamon, Read, Egan.
Goals: Tillson 19’, Watkins 88’
Port Vale: Alnwick, Purkiss, Streete (Hooper 78‘), McGivern, Duffy (capt), Birchall, O'Connor, Dodds (Ikpeazu 52‘), Foley (Kelly 61‘), Leitch-Smith, Grant.
Subs: Neal, Daniel, Yates, Deen-Conteh.
Referee: Trevor Kettle
SUBSTITUTE OLLIE WATKINS secured Exeter City’s place in the third-round draw of the FA Cup with a composed finish two minutes before the end of normal time.
In a game in which the Grecians outclassed their League One opponents, Jordan Tillson had put the hosts ahead after nineteen minutes. City crafted several chances and in truth should have secured their place in Monday night’s FA Cup third-round draw with more time to spare, but it was to be Ollie Watkins that would have the final say, potentially setting up a tie against Premier League opposition in the next round.
With four of Exeter’s recognised central midfielders unavailable for selection and Matt Oakley only deemed fit enough for a place on the bench, it was Alex Nicholls and Jordan Tillson who were tasked with forming a make-shift partnership in the heart of City’s injury-depleted midfield.
David Wheeler’s persistence down the left-hand side earned City the game’s first chance. Wheeler hustled and harried Port Vale full-back Ben Purkiss to open up space for an effort on goal, but his shot was too tame to pose a real threat to Valiants keeper Jak Alnwick.
Exeter took the ascendency during the opening stages, and made their dominance pay in the nineteenth minute. Lee Holmes’ corner from the right-hand side found its way to stand-in midfielder Jordan Tillson, who proceeded to stab the ball past Alnwick from close-range.
The hosts were looking lively, and threatened the Port Vale goal again with another set-piece. This time Jordan Moore-Taylor’s thunderous drive was deflected over the cross-bar by a Valiants defender.
Shortly after, Exeter had the ball in the back of the net. Following Alex Nicholls’ blocked free-kick, Joel Grant fired past Alnwick having been picked out in a crowded area by Tillson, however City were to be denied by the Linesman’s flag for offside.
Port Vale were struggling to deal with the fluidity of City’s front-line, with wingers David Wheeler and Lee Holmes causing a real problem for their opposing full-backs. In the thirty-fourth minute Holmes found Joel Grant unmarked in the box, but his header was well tipped over by Alnwick.
Six minutes later, Wheeler was presented with a great chance to double City’s lead. Former Exeter defender Richard Duffy’s under-hit back pass sent Wheeler clean through on goal, but his lobbed attempt didn’t have the elevation to beat Alnwick.
Port Vale came a whisker away from restoring parity shortly before the half-time interval. In a rare first-half attack from the League One side Chris Birchall’s cross was headed down for AJ Leitch-Smith who proceeded to rattle the frame of Bobby Olejnik’s goal with an outstretched effort.
An impressive first-half performance from the hosts meant that they led by one goal at the half-time interval.
HALF-TIME: EXETER CITY 1-0 PORT VALE
The half-time break did nothing to disrupt Exeter’s dominance as they came agonizingly close to doubling their lead five minutes after the restart. Joel Grant ghosted in at the back-post to meet Nicholls’ cross, but his effort back across the face of goal spun narrowly wide.
Port Vale’s vulnerability from set-pieces was evident yet again just after the hour-mark. Holmes’ corner from the right-hand side found its way to Wheeler, but Remie Streete, a product of the Newcastle United academy, eventually nicked the ball to clear the Valiants’ defensive lines.
By midway through the second-half Exeter’s dominance in the middle of the park had began to slip as the game developed into a frantic end-to-end affair. In one of Exeter’s several breakaways, Chris Birchall, who played alongside David Beckham during a spell playing in the MLS for LA Galaxy, cynically brought down Holmes. Jamie Reid took the resultant free-kick, but his driven effort failed to make it past the wall.
Exeter threatened yet again in the eighty-third minute. Grant threaded the ball through to Reid whose cross was met by Nicholls, but the City midfielder headed wide of goal.
City’s dominance was rewarded five minutes later as they deservedly doubled their lead. Matt Oakley and Ollie Watkins, who were both brought on as second-half substitutes, made an instant impact as they combined to seal Exeter’s place in the third-round draw. Oakley’s ball sent Watkins through one-on-one with the keeper, who displayed composure beyond his years to roll the ball beyond the on-rushing Alnwick.
After five minutes of stoppage time, the referee’s whistle brought an end to a fantastic City performance. A two nil win for the Grecians saw them bridge a gap of twenty-four league places between the two sides, and progress to the third round of the FA Cup in which they could draw Premier League opposition.
FULL-TIME: EXETER CITY 2-0 PORT VALE
Attendance: 3,565 (305 away)
Man of the Match: Lee Holmes