Exeter City’s under-18s progressed through to round two of the FA Youth Cup following a 3-2 victory over Plymouth Argyle under-18s after extra-time.
Sonny Cox gave City the early breakthrough with a smart finish, but they were pegged back in the 20th minute through Scott Crocker’s penalty following Ellis Johnson’s foul.
The Grecians retook the lead seven minutes into the second half when Toby Neville touched home Jack Veale’s free-kick, however, a late Argyle spot-kick from Charlie Miller levelled matters and sent the tie into extra-time
Both teams grew tired on a cold night at Home Park, but Chad Gribble’s men left the match happier after they netted a third goal in the 103rd minute. Joe Wragg turned in Nelson Iseguan’s low centre to send the Exeter youngsters through to the second round, and knock their Devon rivals out of the competition.
The Grecians got off to a fast start, and after some neat touches early on in the midfield area, Nelson Iseguan flashed a cross across the penalty box inside two minutes to set the tone.
That was just a warning sign for Argyle however, as five minutes later Gribble’s men took the lead with a well-worked opener. Following some tenacious play in midfield, City worked the ball to the left flank. Iseguan drove in a low cross and Cox applied the cool finish past the goalkeeper for 1-0.
The winger was a real menace in the early stages, and he saw a deflected effort roll past the post as City began to take control following the goal.
For all of the visitors’ dominance on the ball however, the Pilgrims found a way back into the contest in the 20th minute, when a hopeful long pass eventually led to Argyle striker, Scott Crocker, running away from the Grecians’ backline. The forward got into the box and drew a foul, before he picked himself up and despatched the penalty to restore parity.
Despite the conceded effort, Gribble’s men were soon back dictating the tempo of the contest, and they were unfortunate not to respond instantly when Toby Neville headed a corner off target.
Exeter’s youngsters continued to look the likelier scorers, and after Jack Veale flashed a free-kick wide in the 31st minute, Sonny Cox created himself a decent opportunity 10 minutes before the interval when his smart turn put himself through on goal, though Cox could only power his strike over the crossbar.
The period before half-time saw Darren Way’s team begin to see more of the ball, and they created a good opportunity to take the lead in the 37th minute. After getting in behind the City defence, a low cross led to William Jenkins-Davies shooting from close range, but Jack Arthur in the Grecians’ goal produced a fine stop to keep the scores level.
The ‘keeper was called into action once again just before the break when he saved from Jeremiah Medine, but the two well-matched teams entered half-time level with everything still to play for.
Both sides searched for an early breakthrough in the opening moments of the second period, with Plymouth slicing the first shot of the half wide.
But in the 52nd minute, City retook the lead after winning free-kick deep on the left side. Veale curled in a wicked cross, and Neville wriggled free of his marker to get to the ball first and touch it home.
Argyle looked for a way to level terms once again, but playing past the Exeter high press was stifling their build-up play. They eventually carved open a half-chance midway through the second half when Miller’s give-and-go ended up with the midfielder shooting wildly over.
The Grecians continued to play some lovely football, and they were unlucky not to add to their two goals when some intricate play down the left between substitute Charlie Hanson and Iseguan led to the latter squaring the ball to Cox 18 yards out. The striker turned to create space but saw his shot blocked and cleared away.
Iseguan and Lovett continued to cause problems down the sides, and the pair failed to capitalise on two breaks forward as City looked to give themselves a cushion.
Ultimately they paid the price for their spurned chances when the Pilgrims won themselves another penalty six minutes from the end. Neville was adjudged to have blocked a cross with his arm, which resulted in Charlie Miller tucking away the resulting spot-kick to bring the teams level once again.
Both teams pushed for a late winner, and Neville again came close to scoring when he connected with a Veale cross in the 87th minute. Crocker almost won it for the home side when he sent a low drive wide of the post deep into injury time. But ultimately, the two sides remained deadlocked and a further 30 minutes of action was required to separate them.
In extra-time, little opportunities opened up as the two teams tired. Veale troubled the Plymouth backline with a wide free-kick, while in the 12th minute of extra time, Iseguan saw a dangerous centre tipped over by the Argyle shot-stopper.
From the resulting corner however, Veale’s cross found Hanson, and the replacement sent a header that crashed against the crossbar.
If that was a lucky escape for the hosts, they weren’t let off a minute later.
Iseguan received the ball down the left, and after turning his man, the wide-man delivered a superb low cross in between the Plymouth ‘keeper and the defence, and with sub Joe Wragg ghosting in at the far stick, the ball was smashed home by the replacement to give Gribble’s men the lead for the third time.
As expected, the Pilgrims started the second half of extra time on the front foot, and they fired a warning to their opponents when Oscar Massey sent a shot into the side netting in the opening two minutes.
A minute later, after a flurry of corners, Arthur kept the Grecians in front with a decent stop. Miller looked to score his second of the night from the edge of the box but the goalie dived low to his right to keep the score at 3-2.
It proved to be a vital save, as a combination of solid defending and good game management kept Argyle relatively quiet for the remainder of the extra-time period.
The Pilgrims tried pushing forward as time ticked down, with Oscar Massey coming the closest to another equaliser when he sent a deflected effort towards goal. While Grecians midfielder Eli Collins could have extended the City lead in the final minute of extra-time when he sent a diving header wide following good work from Iseguan.
But ultimately it didn’t matter, as the full-time whistle sounded moments later, giving City the victory, and sending Chad Gribble and his young squad through to round two of the competition.
Exeter City Under-18s: Jack Arthur, Alfie Pond, Toby Neville, Ellis Johnson, Max Clark, Michael Lilley, Jack Veale, Nelson Iseguan, Jamie Nicholson, Sonny Cox, Frank Lovett
Subs: Andrew Sowden, Zeph Collins, Eli Collins, Charlie Hanson, Joe Wragg, Gabriel Billington