City and Carlisle serve up another thriller
Exeter City sealed their place in the Sky Bet League Two play-off final in dramatic circumstances as Jack Stacey scored in stoppage time to give the Grecians a 6-5 aggregate win over Carlisle United.
After the Cumbrian side came back from two goals behind, the City full-back thumped home with his left-foot from the edge of the area to send the Grecians to Wembley.
City manager Paul Tisdale made three changes to the starting line-up at Brunton Park in the first leg. In came Stacey, Lee Holmes and Jordan Tillson for Joel Grant, Lloyd James and Pierce Sweeney.
City started the game as they ended the first leg at away from home by taking the game to Carlisle. Watkins went close to opening the scoring in the second minute when he turned and fired towards goal from a David Wheeler knockdown, but his effort was well blocked by Danny Grainger.
The Grecians were ahead eight minutes later, though, when Ryan Harley took the ball down superbly in the centre circle and sprayed a pass out to Wheeler. The City forward then used his pace to get the ball past full-back Grainger before cutting a pass back for Watkins to hit a shot that deflected its way into the bottom corner.
City then kept pushing forward and Tom Miller had to put a last-ditch tackle in on the edge of the box to prevent Holmes getting in on goal. Then Holmes did have an effort on target, following good work from Watkins, but his effort was saved and then gathered at the second attempt by Gillespie with Wheeler looking to pounce on any error.
Carlisle briefly came back into the match just past the half hour mark as Jordan Moore-Taylor slid into a challenge in the box to stop Nicky Adams firing at goal. Jamie Devitt then had a shot blocked before Adams skied an effort into the Big Bank following an inviting cross.
However, the half ended with City back on top as Watkins played a ball right across the face of goal. Unfortunately, for City, nobody was there to tap home.
Carlisle created the first meaningful chance of the second half as Adams hit a low shot that was well held by Olejnik. However, back came City as Holmes sent in a dangerous cross that Michael Raynes had to head behind. Gillespie then produced a finger-tip save to deny Watkins after the player had charged down a Carlisle defender to get in on goal.
Ten minutes later, City almost doubled their lead through Wheeler, who had been played in well by Watkins, but the City forward saw his effort blocked well.
Man of the match, Watkins went close again for City but was denied by a fingertip save by Gillespie in the United goal. The City forward had done brilliantly to nick the ball away from the Carlisle defence.
City then went even closer, through, substitute Joel Grant as he took the ball all the way from the halfway line, beating three defenders before Gillespie did well to dive at his feet and save.
The home side then doubled their lead through Watkins as he picked up the ball in the right side of the box and curled an effort into the top corner.
Carlisle, who have done so on numerous times this season, battled back moments later as Jason Kennedy bundled the ball home from close-range following a goalmouth scramble from a corner.
And, it wasn’t much longer before the Cumbrians found themselves level as John O’Sullivan headed home at the far post. At that stage it looked like the tie would be heading for extra-time but Stacey had other ideas.
He received the ball on the edge of the area and thumped home to book City’s place at Wembley just seconds from time with his first goal for the club.
Exeter City (4-4-2): Olejnik; Woodman, Moore-Taylor, Brown, Stacey; Taylor, Tillson, Harley, Holmes (Grant, 59); Wheeler, Watkins. Subs not used: Pym, James, McAlinden, Croll, Sweeney, Reid.
Carlisle United (4-4-2): Gillespie; T Miller, Liddle, Raynes (Kennedy, 75), Grainger; Bailey, Joyce, Devitt (S Miller, 57), Lambe (O’Sullivan, 63); Proctor, Adams. Subs not used: Crocombe, Kennedy, Gillesphey, Ibehre, Waring.
Booked: Grainger, O’Sullivan
Attendance: 7,450 (592)