Sam Nombe’s brilliant brace saw off Sutton United in an open affair at St James Park.
Two second half goals from the striker were the difference as he opened his account in red and white, though the visitors from London made life difficult for much of the afternoon.
Donovan Wilson hit the underside of the bar and George Ray desperately had to clear off the line as the U’s were made to rue their missed chances.
Harry Kite, Matt Jay and Timothee Dieng all went close for the Grecians, but the day belonged to Sam Nombe.
Matt Taylor stayed unchanged from the 4-0 victory over Scunthorpe the week prior. One change on the bench saw Colin Daniel feature instead of Jonathan Grounds.
Sutton had the better of the opening stages. Ben Goodcliffe went closest from one of the plethora of early corners, but George Ray was able to flick away the danger.
Cameron Dawson was forced into a desperate save on 17 minutes. David Ajiboye plucked the ball out of mid-air and Dawson, who was seemingly in no-mans-land, scrambled across to deny the Sutton man rolling the ball home.
The visitors clearly came to play on the front foot. Enzio Boldewijn skied high as the U’s gained the upper hand.
The team in green struck the woodwork midway through the first half. Yet another United corner caused issues and Dawson was relieved that Joe Kizzi’s header flicked off the post.
Exeter tried to grow into the game. Jake Caprice had his first foray down the channel and laid off Alex Hartridge to swing into the far post. Dean Bouzanis was called into his first action of the day.
From the counter, Richie Bennett then rose highest from an Ajiboye cross to head over.
Tim Dieng tried to spark City into life. The Frenchman nicked the ball from Kizzi around thirty yards out. A delicate nutmeg on the next defender allowed Dieng to only strike high from range.
Unbelievably City didn’t take the lead from the next attack.
Caprice got joy down the left and delivered a low ball into the middle. The half clearance found Harry Kite, who shot was blocked. The ball fell back to him, and he squared it to Matt Jay. The skippers shot was miraculously denied on the line and Kite again was stopped by the London side’s desperation.
Spurred on by their last ditch defending, Sutton cleared the resulting corner. As they came over the half-way line Bennett played in former-Grecian Donovan Wilson, who fired at goal.
His effort crashed off the underside of the bar and to some, goal line technology was needed. Hawkeye was absent and referee Scott Oldham arrowed his decision to the Grecians.
Into the second half and corners kept coming for Sutton. Louis John meeting the first delivery but directing it wide.
Sam Nombe was quiet in attack for much of the game, but his defensive capabilities were on show as he cleared off the line. Caprice soon fired at goal, but the effort was simple for the ‘keeper.
On 65 minutes, Sutton United squandered a glorious opportunity to take the lead. Richie Bennett found himself with the goal at his mercy but George Ray, we don’t know how much he meant it, but George Ray got a touch and diverted the ball over.
And Exeter made them pay through Sam Nombe, with his first goal for Exeter City!
Kyle Taylor stole the ball in midfield and played it to his doppelganger in MJ. The captain put Nombe through and after a bit of trickery to get away from his marker, slid the ball under the keeper via a heavy deflection.
City in full swing earned another chance. Owura Edwards-Owura caused havoc after his introduction and found Jevani Brown on the angle. Brown’s shot ricocheted up, but comfortably, into Bouzanis’ hands. Jay similarly was halted by the Sutton shot stopper as the Grecians dominated.
And Nombe made the points safe with five minutes left. Louis John tripped on the halfway line which allowed Jay to thread through the City number 10 through. Any one of three City players could have been squared to but Nombe took his destiny into his own hands. He rounded the keeper with ease and rolled into an empty net- before wheeling away in front of a jubilant Big Bank.
As we moved into injury time Exeter had two clear shouts for a penalty. Edwards-Owura was bundled over in the area and though over 4,000 City fans claimed the foul, the one man who mattered disagreed- and Scott Oldham waved away the protests. Just seconds later, Josh Key was apparently tripped in the area but again no decision for the home side.
City eased to a relieving final whistle and set up a mouth-watering encounter with Hartlepool United next week.
Exeter City: Dawson, Key, Sweeney (Edwards-Owura 63), Ray, Hartridge, Caprice, Dieng (Atangana 76), Kite (Taylor 55), Jay ©, Brown, Nombe
Subs: Lee, Daniel, Seymour, Amond
Sutton United: Bouzanis, Goodliffe, John, Ajiboye, Eastmond ©, Sho-Silva (Wilson 22), Boldewijn Randall 76), Kizzi, Milsom, Bennett, Smith (Beautyman 79)
Subs: House, Wyatt, Rowe, Beautyman, Dundas
Referee: Scott Oldham
Attendance: 4,511 (215 away)