The FA Cup returns to St James Park this weekend with the visit of AFC Fylde. The world's oldest competition has given City fans some fantastic memories over the years, with fixtures against Manchester United, Leicester and Newcastle springing to mind.
This week, we look back to January 2016 when the BBC cameras swarmed into Devon’s capital and cup fever hit the City of Exeter- with the visit of Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool.
Jed Penberthy reports on a classic encounter with the six-time European Champions.
Exeter City 2-2 Liverpool
St James Park, Exeter
8th January 2016
Victories over Didcot Town and Port Vale put Exeter City into the hat for the third round of the Cup for the first time since 2005. That year, Alex Inglethorpe’s side held Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United to a 0-0 draw. In 2016, Exeter would host another of England’s elite.
On a blistering cold Friday night, the brilliant Red Legion enticed the worldwide audience with an incredible pre-match display. Whilst an Ancient Grecian Captain overlooked the boggy hallowed turf, a pitch-wide banner draped across the Big Bank quoted:
“What we do today echoes in eternity. Make history.”
Paul Tisdale, fetching a trendy fedora, made two changes from the defeat against Dagenham. Christian Ribeiro and David Noble came into the side. City were winless in four going into the game.
Fixture congestion for the Premier League side forced Jürgen Klopp into wholesale changes, with only Christian Benteke and José Enrique being household names in the visitor’s starting line-up.
Despite the youthful Premier League giants controlling possession, it was the League Two side who snatched the early advantage.
Inside nine minutes David Noble recycled possession in the midfield. Lee Holmes whipped the ball down the right-hand touchline into the path of Jamie Reid. Reid’s stretching cross picked out Tom Nichols free inside the Liverpool box and the youngster slid the ball home to put City one-up.
The lead lasted a mere 3 minutes. The nerves were on show, after a defensive howler between Troy Brown and Jordan Tillson gifted the ball to Jerome Sinclair who could not miss from 12 yards out.
Exeter grew in confidence and started to get a lot of joy down the right-flank. Ribeiro teased the Liverpool defence with a number of balls into the box. David Noble got on the end of one shortly before the half hour mark but fired his effort into the St James Road houses.
Kevin Stewart tried his luck from range for the Red’s, but the ball trickled into Bobby Olejnik’s clasp.
On 40 minutes City thought they had regained the lead. Craig Woodman chipped the ball into Jamie Reid. The striker then laid the ball back out wide to Holmes, whose first time cross was inch perfect for Ribeiro’s head, but the ball whistled past the post.
As the board went up to signal one added first half minute, Christian Ribeiro forced a corner on the right-hand side.
Liverpool had been tentative from the set-piece throughout the first half and continued to leave the posts unmarked. With Ádám Bogdán standing in no-mans-land, Lee Holmes decided to whip one
underneath the Hungarians crossbar. His corner evaded everybody in the Liverpool box and nestled into the net much to the elation and bemusement around St James Park.
After the break Liverpool asserted their dominance. Cameron Brannigan jinked and turned Tillson and floated a ball to the far post for Benteke. The Belgian looked destined to score had Bobby Olejnik not scrambled across his goal and denied the striker with an instinctive save.
Ribeiro glanced another header wide on 57 minutes as Exeter looked to seal passage to the next round. But it wasn’t to be for the Grecians.
On 73 minutes, full back Brad Smith drifted into midfield. The Australian linked with Christian Benteke, and Pedro Chirivella forced the ball out wide. Sheyi Ojo’s cross-come-shot was only half cleared by Troy Brown and Smith- who started the move- finished it, by rifling the ball beyond Olejnik.
Liverpool pressed for a winner and João Teixeira forced Olejnik into a smart stop, and soon after Ojo half-heartedly claimed a penalty.
Ultimately both teams cancelled each other out and Exeter secured a lucrative replay at Anfield. City’s first trip to the Red half of Merseyside in 35 years.
The immediate feeling after the game amongst City fans was that the inexperienced Liverpool line-up were there for the taking and would be made to rue the missed opportunity. Liverpool ran out comfortable 3-0 victors in the replay through goals from Joe Allen, Sheyi Ojo and João Teixeira.
After everything he’s achieved on Merseyside since, it’ll probably be forgotten that Jürgen Klopp’s first taste of FA Cup football was a chilly January trip to Devon-but for one shining moment, Exeter City fans can rejoice in remembering a classic cup encounter under the SJP lights.
Exeter City: Olejnik, Ribeiro (Davies 66), Brown, Moore-Taylor, Woodman, Tillson, Nicholls, Noble (Oakley 62), Holmes (Grant 84), Reid, Nichols
Unused: McAllister, Morrison, Hoskins, Hamon
Liverpool: Bogdan, Randall, Ilori (Maguire 77) Enrique, Smith, Kent (Chirivella 57), Brannagan, Stewart, Teixeira, Sinclair (Ojo 71), Benteke
Unused: Lallana, Leiva, Fulton, Masterson
Referee: Stuart Attwell