Exeter City fell to a 3-2 defeat in the first round of the Emirates FA Cup against Blackpool.
Three first-half goals for the Tangerines gave the visitors what proved to be an unassailable lead at St James Park, despite a phenomenal effort from the Grecians in the second-half that left them a goal short of what would have been an incredible second-half comeback.
Matt Taylor made changes to last week’s starting XI in response to the sheer number of injuries the Grecians are struggling with at the moment, and fielded a very youthful bench to complement a side bereft of some key players.
City fell behind almost immediately after the start of play, as a switch of possession found John O’Sullivan on Blackpool’s right-hand side, with his cross nodded in at the back post by Joe Dodoo in what was a nightmare start for City.
They responded well, with two incisive forward passes to Jonathan Forte looking promising but for the linesman’s flag, before a deep cross by Pierce Sweeney was headed by Jayden Stockley into the path of Jordan Tillson, but his effort was mishit and flew wide.
City would go on to dominate the opening stages despite falling behind so early on; Jake Taylor’s cross after 10 minutes from the right-wing only narrowly evaded the efforts of both Stockley and Jonathan Forte.
It was the visitors who were creating the clearer chances, though, and a superb block from Luke Croll was all that prevented Dodoo from a clear shot on goal from the edge of the box.
City were denied an equaliser in the 15th minute as Tillson fed Forte a delicate through-ball, and the striker turned his man well, but Blackpool’s Mafoumbi made a great save to not just to deny the initial shot but to smother the loose ball quickly too.
City were punished for not taking their chances as Mark Cullen headed in from a corner with less than 20 minutes on the clock to double the deficit that City faced.
It got even worse for the Grecians with 24 minutes on the clock as Tillson was dispossessed, and a rapid transition from the visitors saw Dodoo’s shot turned in by Harry Pritchard, sliding in at the back post to give the Grecians a mountain to climb to get back into the game.
The Grecians had an opportunity to get back into it on the brink of half-time as Nicky Law’s corner was met by Luke Croll, but the defender’s header was deflected wide, and Blackpool were able to eventually clear and went into the interval with a comfortable lead.
The visitors started the second-half brightly, and won several corners in succession after an attack that started after O’Shea went down holding his head – the play wasn’t stopped, and Blackpool went on to threaten on several occasions, not least when James Hamon was forced to produce a spectacular save from Callum Guy’s volley.
City had periods of attacking dominance, and Nicky Law’s free-kick in the 61st minute was palmed away by Mafoumbi after a period of incisive attacking play.
Woodman then crossed for Stockley a few minutes later, but the striker was only able to direct his glancing header over the bar.
City were gifted a lifeline with just over 20 minutes left as a driving run from Archie Collins was ended with a cynical foul inside the Blackpool penalty area. Sweeney took it, and though his initial effort was saved, Tillson smacked in the rebound to get City on the scoresheet.
City calls for another penalty with just under 10 minutes to play were waved away as Jake Taylor went down in the box, before a promising move spearheaded by substitute Tristan Abrahams was brought back for a foul in the build-up.
City pressed for another and were nearly rewarded as the ball fell to Stockley just outside the area, but his effort proved little trouble for Mafoumbi, who was able to smother the ball.
The pressure told – a defensive misjudgement among the Blackpool defence saw the ball fall to Tristan Abrahams about 25 yards from goal, and his effort took a mean deflection and looped over Mafoumbi’s dive to reduce the deficit to just one goal.
A superb last-ditch tackle was all that stopped Taylor from one last sight of goal, and in the end the Grecians’ second-half effort was too little, too late, as the defeat saw the Grecians eliminated in the first round of the FA Cup.
Exeter City: Hamon; Sweeney (Oates 73), O’Shea, Croll, Woodman; Taylor, Collins, Tillson, Law; Forte (Abrahams 52), Stockley.
Subs not used: Weale, A Martin, Jay, Dean
Blackpool: Mafoumbi, McLaughlin (Delfouneso 88), Heneghan, Tilt, Turton, Guy, Thompson, O’Sullivan (Nottingham 74), Pritchard, Dodoo, Cullen (Feeney 66).
Substitutes: Boney, Avon, Taylor, Davies
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.