Exeter City progressed from the semi-finals of the Devon St Luke’s Bowl with a 4-2 victory over Tavistock AFC at Langsford Park on Wednesday night.
City’s opening goal came just before the interval courtesy of an own goal following a good save from Tavvy’s Josh Oak, however, early in the second half, Ben Cross equalised for the hosts with a header from a corner.
Charlie Hanson’s persistent play saw the forward hand his team the lead in the 50th minute, before Tom Dean’s free-kick and Alfie Cunningham’s 30-yard strike gave the Grecians a more comfortable margin.
Josh Grant’s injury-time penalty came too late in the day to make things interesting, which allowed City’s players to do enough to secure the victory that booked them a spot in May’s final.
There were three alterations from the Under-18s side that faced Plymouth Argyle U18s at the weekend. Joe O’Connor and Charlie Hanson were brought in, while Harry Lee returned in goal against the club he had a loan spell with previously.
A bright start from both sides meant that the tempo was always kept high despite the crisp conditions that surrounded Langsford Park. The early exchanges saw both forward lines find their way into their opponent’s penalty area, however, no real efforts at goal really troubled either goalkeeper.
After counter-attacking from a City free-kick, Tavvy created the clearest opening on 14 minutes when they moved the ball quickly. Tallen Burns marched forward down the left, but his low centre was too far in front of his teammates, and Harry Lee was able to divert the ball away. Home winger, Tiegan Rosenquest, fired over just a minute later.
On the 20 minute mark, Tavistock screamed for a free-kick on the edge of the Grecians’ box, but referee, Devon Campbell, allowed play to continue, before another Rosenquest shot went off-target.
In a fruitful spell for Tavistock, six minutes later, Warren Daw tested Harry Lee with a header from a corner. Lee pushed the initial shot away, before the defender tried his luck with the rebound, which was eventually blocked and cleared.
As the game went past the half-hour mark, the hosts should have taken the lead following a series of threatening headers. The final effort beat Lee, however, the heroics of Joe O’Connor saw the midfielder clear the ball from under his own crossbar.
Grant tried his luck with a volley not long after, however, they created a better opening just a few minutes later when an attack down the left flank saw Burns link up with Daw, with the latter forcing Lee into a decent stop.
Mitch Beardmore’s 39th minute free-kick should have perhaps been headed home by Harrison King, however, the breakthrough should have come a minute before the break when a long direct ball in behind the away defence saw Tavvy’s Liam Prynn run through one-on-one, however, the forward lost his composure and missed the target with his effort.
The home side were made to pay for that miss in first-half injury time when Beardmore’s wicked corner was met by Gabriel Billington. His powerful volley was well stopped by Oak, however, with the ball cannoning back off the post, one Tavvy defender diverted it into the back of his own net to break the deadlock.
The first chance of the second half came from Tavistock, with Grant heading a corner wide. That, however, proved to just be warning sign, with home skipper, Cross, heading home a leveller from a corner in the 48th minute.
While an equaliser might have rattled some, it kickstarted the players in the Exeter ranks, and a response from the visitors was instant. Mitch Beardmore’s strong run saw him poke the ball on halfway into the path of Hanson. The attacker displayed a turn of pace to reach the ball first, before shrugging off a challenge and cutting inside, before slotting the ball into the far corner for 2-1.
With Tavvy doing their upmost to get back into the tie, Rosenquest fired a shot over on 53 minutes, while a minute later, persistence from Prynn saw him steal the ball from Lee, before shooting a lob just wide.
Beardmore’s dangerous delivery on 58 minutes had the Tavistock defence in trouble, while Rosenquest’s cross up the other end had Lee scrambling when it clipped the crossbar.
It was a good spell for Tavvy as Cross tried his luck from another corner, while Rosenquest also went close. In reply, just after the hour mark, City introduced Joe Wragg from the bench, and it almost paid off immediately as the Grecians shot inches past the post with the next attack.
At the midway point of the second period, Exeter doubled their advantage in spectacular fashion. After the Grecians won a free-kick 25-yards out, substitute Dean shaped a wonderful effort over the wall and beyond Oak to make it 3-1.
In the 70th minute, Cunningham outdid his teammates’ strike with a thunderous strike of his own and the goal of the game. The winger picked the ball up in the middle third, turned the defender before he moved forward. The wideman unleashed a long-range bullet into the top corner, to send all 154 people in attendance into shock and awe.
Tavistock tried to up the ante in the last 10 minutes, and they fired just wide as they tried to make the final moments rather interesting. Burns also saw a shot turned away, before Grant was denied by Lee. Deep into injury time, Grant stole a march on the City defence and drew a foul from Pedro Borges in the penalty area. Grant picked himself up and tucked away the spot-kick into the bottom corner to make it 4-2.
However, a combination of decent game management and solid defending resulted in Exeter’s youngsters seeing the rest of the game out, therefore securing their place in the final against Bideford AFC in May.
Tavistock AFC: Josh Oak, Ben Cross, Josh Robins, Dan Evans, Iestyn Harris, Warren Daw, Tallen Burns, Callum Watson, Liam Prynn, Josh Grat, Teigen Rosenquest
Subs: Dave Hallett, Josh Parry, Dan Koita, Louie Mulvany
Exeter City: Harry Lee, Aamir Daniels, Joe O’Connor, Gabriel Billington, Max Edgecombe, Harrison King, Pedro Borges, Mitch Beardmore, Alfie Cunningham, Charlie Hanson, George Spencer
Subs: Andrew Sowden, Toby Nevile, Tom Dean, Joe Wragg
Referee: Devon Campbell
Kevin Nicholson's thoughts
City's Head of Coaching and Player Development Kevin Nicholson said it was "a great experence playing against a strong mens team" as Exeter City progressed to the final of the Devon St Lukes Bowl.