Exeter City are through to the semi final stage of the Leasing.com Trophy after a 3-0 win over Stevenage at St James’ Park.
A brace from Matt Jay and a goal from Nicky Ajose sealed the spot for the Grecians, who are now just one game away from the Wembley showpiece.
Matt Taylor made seven changes to the side that won at Grimsby at the weekend, with a notable name on the team sheet that of goalkeeper Lewis Ward, who started in goal for the first time since injuring his arm at Crewe in October. Named on the bench was Lee Holmes, who would be set for his first appearance of the season if brought on. Meanwhile, Stevenage named a full strength side, remaining unchanged from their 4-0 win over Cambridge at the weekend.
On a bitterly cold night in EX4 there was little action early on as both sides analysed the task ahead of them, but there was plenty of flair on display as Joel Randall produced a lovely step over and nutmeg to beat his man in the area before seeing his heavy touch eventually cleared.
It was over a quarter of a hour before either side registered an effort in the game, with Charlie Lakin drilling one wide for the visitors via a deflection, but City did well to clear the resulting corner.
Brimming with confidence after their weekend win, Stevenage were attacking with intent, but this left them vulnerable at the back and the Grecians almost took the lead on the break with their first effort of the game. Ryan Bowman beat the offside trap, but couldn’t beat Paul Farman as the goalkeeper saved his effort down to his right from close range.
That was merely a let off for Stevenage though, and within minutes City had the lead. After Taylor’s men recycled play on the edge of the area, the ball eventually fell to Jake Taylor, who saw his effort saved by Farman, but Ajose was there in the right place to pounce on the rebound and fire the Grecians ahead.
It wasn’t long before City were in full control of proceedings, doubling their lead before the half hour was up. Randall did all the hard work as he found space in the area, before he found Jay in close proximity. He took a touch before coolly slotting home the second.
City could have been three or four up by the break had Randall and Pierce Sweeney both done better with their efforts.
That wasn’t to matter though as the Grecians took just over two minutes in the second half to put the game to bed. It was Jay again who found the back of the net and it was move that would have made the likes of Pep Guardiola proud. In a slick passing move it was Ajose who set the strike up with an audacious back heel right through the heart of the defence, allowing Jay to fire home.
The home side were in the mood and were looking increasingly dangerous with every attack they made. They were unfortunate not to have gone four-nil up when substitute Ben Seymour headed in Randall’s cross, but the offside flag was raised by the official.
Lee Holmes was introduced to the action in the closing stages, making his first appearance of the season after a long injury lay off, replacing captain Jake Taylor.
Stevenage were now simply playing for pride, with little they could do to handle the calm, collected and professional City. Graham Westley’s side had a couple of half chances as the game ebbed to an end, but in reality they never really looked like scoring, such was the manner of Exeter’s defending. The closest they came was Charlie Carter’s header, which was straight at Ward.
Tom Parkes came close for the hosts late on, but City had to settle for three on a near perfect night.
Exeter City: Ward, Sweeney, Atangana, Bowman (Seymour), Ajose, Parkes, Jay, Richardson (A Martin), Moxey, Taylor (Holmes), Randall.
Subs not used: Maxted, Law, Williams, Collins.
Stevenage: Farman, Wildin, Stokes, Digby, Parrett, Cassidy, Dabo, Nugent (Carter), Lakin, List (Jackson), Leesley (Kennedy).
Subs not used: Bastien, Soares, Taylor, Guthrie.