Pierce Sweeney netted the winning spot kick as Exeter City reached the Third Round of the Carabao Cup for the first time since 1989, seeing off Stevenage in the process.
City finished all five of their penalties on their way past a resilient Stevenage side, with Will Aimson and Tom Carroll scoring the picks of the bunch.
In normal time, Alex Hartridge opened the scoring in the first half, volleying home from close range, before Jordan Roberts equalised just after the hour mark taking the game the distance.
The result puts City in the hat alongside the Premier League big boys for the first time since the title-winning season under Terry Cooper.
Gary Caldwell made three switches from Saturday’s victory over Reading with Sonny Cox, Vincent Harper, and Reece Cole earning their place in the eleven.
City were seeking passage to the Third Round for the first time since 1989 and they made the dream start after four minutes.
Initially, Cox battled hard to win a corner on the left-hand side. Reece Cole’s floated inswinger met the free head of Alex Hartridge. Boro’s zonal marking only helped with the first block, as Hartridge swept home the rebound to give City an early lead.
That was Alex’s third for City and his first since volleying home against AFC Fylde in the FA Cup in November 2020.
Ryan Trevitt made a rash challenge on 8 minutes and found himself unceremoniously into Andrew Kitchen’s book. From the free kick, Nathan Thompson headed wide as Stevenage looked to respond.
Just a couple of minutes later, City tested the gloves of Kristjan Hegyi. After a training-ground routine free-kick failed to pull off, City recycled the ball to the right flank where Jack Aitchison swung a ball to the back post. Pierce Sweeney rose highest and his on-target nod toward goal was palmed away by the Boro shot-stopper.
After a twenty-minute lull in action, Sweeney soon saw his name scribbled in the ref’s notepad after a hefty challenge on the Stevenage winger. Dan Butler took the set piece, but City were capable in defence and worked it away.
For much of the first-half, the Hertfordshire side saw a lot more of the ball without hurting City too much. Sweeney again was in the heart of the action, bravely putting his head into a Louis Thompson volley, winning the foul and a foot to his forehead for his trouble.
Steve Evan’s team probed, and Elliott List headed over eight minutes before the break. List again jotted down a chance for Stevenage, forcing Vil Sinisalo into his first meaningful save of the game, getting down well to his right-hand side.
Sonny Cox was desperately close to doubling the scoring on the stroke of the break. Tenacious work from Jack Aitchison saw the Scot reach the by-line, his pull-back found the youngster Cox, who could only snatch at the chance.
Straight after the interval, substitute and former City youth graduate Jamie Reid struck the post as the visitors came out the fastest. Dan Sweeney also fired high and wide, showing Boro’s intent.
City’s second-half subs Dion Rankine and Demi Mitchell were also thrust straight into the action, with the former finding the latter from a cross, and Mitchell fired down the keeper’s throat- but from an offside position. Rankine again drove at goal, curling wide seconds later.
The lively Rankine injected some much-needed pace into the game and soon picked out Aitchison on the edge. Jack whipped his effort over the top.
With more action in the first ten minutes of the second period than the majority of the first, Mitchell did expertly to pull back a deep Sweeney cross to Trevitt who miscued a volley.
Moments later Alex Hartridge made a bombing run through the heart of the Stevenage midfield and forced a stop out of Hegyi. The City defenders were setting their sights on goal. Sweeney, who is prone to testing keepers from distance, hit a swerving shot into Hegyi’s grasp from the edge of the box.
The match took a feisty turn on the hour mark. Firstly, Jack Aitchison was rudely hoisted into the advertising hoardings ending his night, before Rankine was wiped out on the near touchline. Yellow cards aplenty were brandished, and both benches received cautions too.
The visitors capitalised on the change of tempo and found themselves level with 21 minutes to play. A decent ball into the middle saw Jordan Roberts flick a header passed the stretching Sinisalo to equalise.
Undeterred, City attacked from kick-off and Rankine flashed a ball across the six-yard area, before Reece Cole, buoyed on by his strike on Saturday, tried from range to no avail. Sweeney then swung in a cross for sub Mitch Beardmore, but the academy lad couldn’t control it.
Vil Sinisalo was called back into action with nine minutes to go, pushing a curling effort back into the mix, before City swept clear. Penalties loomed.
City piled on some late pressure, but despite some dangerous looking balls into the box, Stevenage held out for the draw and took the game to spot kicks.
In front of the Big Bank, Ryan Trevitt stroked the opening penalty into the corner before Jamie Reid smashed in Stevenage’s first.
Calm as you like Tom Carroll rolled his spot kick down the centre- Boro’s scorer on the night Roberts kept the scores level.
City skipper Will Aimson staked his claim for “Penalty of the Round” finding the top corner with ease before the roars of the Big Bank rang out when Vil Sinsalo saved Dan Butler’s effort.
Kyle Taylor ensured it was match-point for the Grecians, narrowly squeezing the ball under Hegyi, but Dan Sweeney made City wait at least a kick later.
And nonchalantly, showing no pressure, and with a cup of his ears in celebration, Pierce Sweeney made no mistake in sending City into round three for the first time since 1989.
Exeter City: Sinisalo, Niskanen (Rankine 46’), Sweeney, Aimson, Hartridge, Jules (Mitchell 46’), Cole (Carroll 76’), Trevitt, Aitchison (Taylor 63’), Harper (Beardmore 75’), Cox
Subs: Woods, Diabate, Borges, Richards,
Stevenage: Hegyi, Butler, N. Thompson ©, Sweeney, Macdonald (Anderson 67’), List (Piergianni 76’), Roberts, Burns, Neal (Hannam 55’), L. Thompson, Alexandrou (Reid 46’)
Subs: Ashby-Hammond, March, Hicks
Referee: Andrew Kitchen
Attendance: 4,006 (91 away)
The draw for the Third Round takes place tomorrow night on Sky Sports after the featured game.