Opened in 2007, the new Wembley stadium is the home of English football. Playing host to England internationals, FA Cup finals, and more importantly play-off finals, of which City have competed in no less than four times.
Following a dramatic 2-2 aggregate draw against Oxford United, the Grecians and the U’s required a penalty shootout to find a winner. Steve Tully scored the decisive spot-kick to send the Grecians to Wembley for the first time in their history. 30,000 City supporters headed to the capital and they were rewarded for their trip within seven minutes of kick-off: Lee Philips headed home Jon Challinor’s perfect cross. Paul Jones then became the first goalkeeper to save a penalty at the new Wembley, keeping out Wayne Curtis’ effort. However, goals in the 42nd and 82nd minutes turned the tie in Morecambe’s favour, meaning that City remained in non-league for another season.
2008 gave City a second chance to escape the Conference, once again through the playoffs. Eclipsing the drama of the previous year’s semi, City scored four goals in the final 20 minutes to keep Torquay United in the fifth tier and set up a Wembley date with Cambridge United. Adam Stansfield lined up for his third consecutive play-off final, his second with Exeter, taking to the field with six others who had played in the 2007 final. Exeter took the lead midway through the first half, Rob Edwards heading in Dean Moxey’s corner on 22 minutes. Despite constant Cambridge pressure, the Grecians hung on and returned to the Football League after a five year absence.
Exeter didn’t reach the play-offs again until 2017, as City’s outstanding form in the second half of the season saw them fly up the table, finishing fifth despite being bottom in November. A two goal lead was given away at Carlisle United in the first leg as the sides drew 3-3. History then repeated itself in the second leg as the Cumbrians scored two late goals to level with Exeter, before Jack Stacey scored a wild 95th minute winner to send the Grecians to Wembley. David Wheeler cancelled out Blackpool’s early opener, but Mark Cullen’s close finish kept City in League Two.
The Grecian’s didn’t have to wait long for another try, finishing in the play-off spots a year later. Lincoln provided the semi-final opposition, and after a goalless draw at Sincil Bank, the sides headed back to Devon with it all to play for. Three superb City goals, including a mazy run and finish from Hiram Boateng and Ryan Harley’s thunderous effort from 30 yards, deemed Lincoln’s late goal to be a mere consolation. The latest final pitted Exeter against Coventry, and unfortunately the Sky Blues’ three second half goals meant they progressed up the EFL.
Up next at St James Park:
City take on Cambridge United on Saturday, January 26 in a 3pm kick-off. Ticket prices are cheaper in advance. Click here to buy online.