A Jonathan Forte brace was the difference as Exeter City enjoyed a comfortable 2-0 win over a West Ham United under-21 side in the Checkatrade Trophy
The Grecians raced into the lead when Forte volleyed in on 20 minutes, before he added a second with an exquisite header just after the half hour mark.
As expected, City boss Matt Taylor made widespread changes from the side that started Saturday's win over Cheltenham Town, with Lee Martin and Pierce Sweeney – who captained the side on the night - the only players to retain their places in a youthful, attacking side. There were three previously uncapped players named on the Grecians’ bench – Felix Norman, James Dodd and Jordan Dyer.
The visitors started brightly, with Anthony Scully’s incisive run after seven minutes creating a very dangerous opening that the Grecians did well to defend, with Pierce Sweeney making two important blocks at the heart of the City backline.
City responded, with a long ball from Sweeney finding Tristan Abrahams in space down the right-hand flank, and he did well to win a corner. From it, Matt Jay flicked his header just wide of the West Ham goal. It sparked the start of a good period for City, as moments later Lee Martin’s cross was met by Chiedozie Ogbene, whose effort was blocked from close range.
Referee Brett Huxtable was forced to stop the game in unusual circumstances with just 17 minutes gone as the floodlights went out on the main stand at St James Park, as part of a city-wide issue. The game resumed at 20:30.
The stoppage did little to stem the attacking tide, and City eventually took the lead after 21 minutes as Matt Jay’s cross from wide on the left-hand side was converted from close range by Jonathan Forte for the opening goal of the game.
City threatened to double their lead immediately after, with West Ham goalkeeper Nathan Trott forced to tip a deflected Lee Martin cross over his own bar, before Dara O’Shea was gifted a great chance to double the Grecians’ lead from the resulting Archie Collins’ corner. His powerfully met header flew overnthe West Ham goal.
City were not to be denied a second goal, however, and it was two of the more experienced players who combined: Lee Martin toyed with his defender down the City left, before delivering a cross that Forte met with a sumptuous header that Trott could only watch sail past him into the far corner. City had dominated since the restart and a second goal was no less than they deserved.
The Londoners came to life having gone 2-0 down and had their best chance of the game to that point, with Sean Adarkwa finding himself one-on-one with James Hamon from close range, but the City goalkeeper made a superb save to maintain the home side’s two-goal cushion. It would prove to be the visitors’ best chance of the half, and City went into the break with Forte’s brace the difference.
City nearly gifted the Hammers a way back into the game at the start of the second-half with Hamon caught out by a ball that just held up, though Adarkwa couldn’t make the most of what was a golden opportunity and the chance was spurned.
The visitors were on top in the opening exchanges of the second-half, with Alfie Lewis winning a free-kick after a driving run at the heart of the City back line, though Hamon was on hand to palm away Scully’s effort from the following free-kick.
There was a special moment for James Dodd as he came on for his City debut after 58 minutes, replacing the excellent Lee Martin. Dodd, a midfielder who has come through the City academy set-up, signed a professional deal last season whilst still with the under-18s.
The visitors showed greater attacking intent throughout the second-half, and only a superb challenge from Luke Croll on Emmanuel Longelo prevented the West Ham man from having a clear shot at goal from a favourable angle. West Ham’s attacks left them vulnerable at the other end, and City would have had another goal just after the hour mark, but for the upright – this time it was Matt Jay who was unlucky not to score as his looping header hit the crossbar.
Forte was unlucky not to secure his hat trick with just over 15 minutes to play; his effort from a difficult volley was well saved by Trott in the Hammers’ goal with a spectacular dive to his right-hand side.
The Grecians were comfortable in possession and managed a potentially difficult final stretch with a maturity that belied the ages of many of the younger players; the defensive unit remained compact and the whole side retained the ball superbly.
Attendance: 1,114 (142 away).
Exeter City: Hamon, Sweeney © (Croll 45), O’Shea, L Martin (Dodd 59), Forte, Jay, Oates (Sparkes 49), Abrahams, Ogbene, Collins, Dean.
Subs not used: Norman (GK), Tillson, Dyer, Boateng.
West Ham: Trott, Oxford ©, Scully (Spyrides 70), Akinola, Johnson, Longelo, Lewis, Alese, Rosa (Nebyla), Barrett (Hannam 54), Adarkwa.
Subs not used: Jinadu, Stroud, Nebyla, Okotcha.
Up next at St James Park:
City take on Tranmere Rovers on Saturday, March 2 in a 3pm kick-off. Ticket prices are cheaper in advance. Click here to buy online.