A late header from Gary Warren proved to be the winner as an Exeter City under-23s side overcame Doncaster Rovers under-23s at St James Park on Tuesday night.
Manager Dan Green started five players who have senior appearances for the Grecians in Jordan Tillson, Tom Parkes, Jayden Richardson, Ben Seymour and captain Alex Hartridge. Warren made a matchday squad for the first time since returning from injury, as he was named on the City bench.
The visitors started brightly, and Max Watters broke down the Doncaster right-hand side with five minutes on the clock and did well to turn inside Tom Parkes, but his cross into the penalty area was wayward and eventually cleared by Jordan Tillson.
The midfielder would be involved in an incisive move down the other end just moments later, as Joel Randall capitalised on an error from the Doncaster defence to sprint clear and find Tillson, who sought to return the ball back to the striker before referee Scott Jackson blew for a foul in the build-up. Jayden Richardson was the next City man to threaten, but his shot from the edge of the box after nine minutes rolled wide.
Tillson was proving a real threat from deep and had the best chance of the opening exchanges as Randall’s cutback from the byline picked him out, but he got under the shot and it flew over the bar.
Aggressive goalkeeping from Niall Clayton prevented Randall from opening the scoring ten minutes before half-time as the striker burst through on goal, before a combination of Cameron John and the onrushing Clayton did just enough to prevent City’s attack from getting the shot off. It was very much a case of the defences being on top as the teams went in for half-time.
Immediately into the second period and City’s strikers nearly combined for the opening goal – Tillson battled well to win the ball before feeding Jayden Richardson, who burst through the Doncaster defence before running into bodies – the loose ball fell for Randall, but his cross for Ben Seymour was overhit and Doncaster were let off the hook.
It took until 55 minutes before the visitors threatened for the first time in the second half, as a run from Danny Amos culminated in a fierce drive from the left-back that Dino Visser saw fly over his crossbar.
Richardson, Randall and Seymour combined again to create a carbon-copy opening of their earlier chance; Richardson flew down the left-wing, but Randall’s cross looking for Seymour was ultimately wayward and the chance was spurned.
The Grecians were presented with a great chance to open the scoring on 77 minutes as Randall broke at speed, and played in Theo Simpson, but the young striker was only able to shoot straight at Doncaster goalkeeper Clayton who pulled off a good save from close range.
Dino Visser pulled off a great save in the 85th-minute, diving athletically to his right-hand side to deny Watters late, before City broke and it was Seymour’s turn to sting the palms of Clayton with a shot aimed towards the near post, but the Rovers goalkeeper got down low and made the save.
City finally reaped dividends for their second-half pressure as Gary Warren headed in with a powerful header from a Joel Randall corner in the 89th-minute to put City ahead late, but it was down to Visser to secure all three points in City’s second group stage fixture in the Premier League Cup as the goalkeeper made a great save as the last action of the game to dive low to his right-hand side to deny the visitors an equaliser from a corner.
Warren’s goal is the first Doncaster have conceded in the tournament this season as the Grecians top their group after their two fixtures.
Exeter City: Visser, Tillson, Parkes (Warren 72), Richardson, Randall, Kite, Key, Hartridge ©, Seymour, Dyer, Dean (Simpson 65). Subs not used: Arthur, Smerdon, Chrisene.
DONCASTER ROVERS: Clayton, Walker, Amos, John (Horton 61), Blaney ©, Prior, Watters, Greaves, Myring (Gibbons 45), Longbottom, Steels (McGowan 45).
Subs not used: Bottomley, Boocock.