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The road to Wembley: Five season-defining matches en route to the capital

22 May 2017

Our breakdown of City's play-off campaign

From bottom in November to a play-off final come May, it's fair to say that the 2016/17 campaign will live long in the memory. Here, we take a look at five season-defining matches during the Grecians' road to Wembley. 

Barnet 1-4 Exeter City (15 October 2016)



Although Exeter City had already registered two victories from their first five encounters away from St James Park, it's their trip to the Hive in mid-October where we shall begin our Wembley run-down.

Having fallen behind to John Akinde's 12th-minute header, City would restore parity on the stroke of half-time when Jake Taylor arrowed in a terrific effort from 25 yards - a strike which would later be named the Grecians' Goal of the Season.

Paul Tisdale's men ran riot after the interval, with Lee Holmes' close-range conversion the first of three second-half strikes. Moments later David Wheeler stole in on the rebound for his first goal of a record-breaking campaign.

Reuben Reid's penalty - his first goal since moving across Devon - was the sting at the tail-end of a half which blunted the Bees.

With the Wembley arch in the backdrop, it was a vintage away performance which propelled City above the jagged line and out of the drop zone. The Grecians' final trip to the capital this season comes in rather different circumstances...


Exeter City 2-0 Mansfield (17 December 2016)



Having taken 21 points from a possible 36 on their travels by mid-December, those of a red and white persuasion were well aware that an upturn in fortunes at the Park could prove the catalyst for a play-off tilt. Mansfield's visit to Devon proved to be that moment.

After starting the game on the front foot, the hosts took a deserved lead midway through the first half when Holmes advanced down the left and pulled back to Ollie Watkins, who guided the ball past Scott Shearer from 10 yards.

Christy Pym made a brave stop to deny Darius Henderson, before Watkins ensured an end to City's wait for a home win; fending off two defenders before sliding past Shearer.

The Grecians had to dig deep at times, but victory over the Stags continued an unbeaten run which would stretch until mid-February.


Portsmouth 0-1 Exeter City (28 January 2017)



Next up is another victory from that 12-game unbeaten run.

With 42 points registered on the road this term there's plenty of choice when it comes to impressive away performances, but the 1-0 win at Fratton Park represented more than just another three points on the board.

City have enjoyed more convincing victories this season, but the grit and determination shown on the South Coast that afternoon will live long in the memory.

Having tamed the Fratton faithful, City took the lead shortly before the hour mark. After the ball rebounded off Danny Rose, it was Wheeler who was quickest off the mark to lash into the roof of the net.

Portsmouth huffed and puffed during the closing stages but the Grecians, marshalled by a centre-back pairing of Jordan Moore-Taylor and Troy Brown, stood firm until the final whistle to lift themselves into seventh place. It proved to be watershed moment as Paul Tisdale's men maintained their play-off position from that point onwards.


Mansfield 1-2 Exeter City (1 April 2017)



City's victory over Mansfield in December - their first home win of the campaign - would be the first of two season-defining encounters with the Nottinghamshire club.

With the Grecians trailing late-on thanks to Mal Benning's first-half strike, it looked as though the visitors would make the return trip south outside of the top seven. City, however, had other ideas.

Ryan Harley triggered the comeback in the 84th minute with a cultured finish from Reid's knock-down before, in the dying embers of the game, Rhys Bennett brought down Reid inside the area.

Reid dusted himself down and converted from the spot to cap off a dramatic turnaround in front a rapturous away following. Those final minutes at the One Call Stadium typified everything that's good about this City side: grit, determination and an ability to produce the goods when it matters most.


Exeter City 3-2 Carlisle (18 May 2017)



Having witnessed Keith Curle's visitors come back from two goals down in both legs of the tie, some fans may have feared the worst with extra-time looming last Thursday evening.

As they have proved so many times this season, however, this City side just don't know when they're beaten. It happened less than a week ago but we've all replayed that moment several times over, whether on our TV screens or in our daydreams.

It's a script that we now know all too well; with seconds left on the clock Jack Stacey picks the ball on the right, cuts inside and finds the far corner in front of a bustling Big Bank. Ecstasy.

The Grecians were bottom of League Two in November, with only Newport and Leyton Orient spending more days in the drop zone this term. On Sunday they travel to Wembley looking to complete a miraculous turnaround.

Click here for play-off final ticket information.


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