City's memorable cup-run came to an end as they lost 3-2 at home to Middlesbrough.
Following a night of stunning goals, it was a Middlesbrough penalty that separated the sides and put an end to City’s inspiring cup-run in which they beat first-tier opposition for the first time since 1981.
This fixture proved to be a classic cup-tie. City took the lead thanks to a Ryan Trevitt volley and went into the half-time break ahead. Then, in what seemed to be a game of two halves, Middlesbrough turned up the tempo in the second half, quickly scoring two through Morgan Rogers and Sam Silvera. Trevitt stepped up again and equalised with a screamer from outside the box to give City fans hope before giving away a penalty at the other end that ultimately sealed the game for Middlesbrough.
St James Park played host to the fourth round of the League Cup for the first time since 1989 when they forced a replay against second-tier side Sunderland. This time out, in the event of a draw, the game would go straight to a penalty to shoot-out to decide who goes into the hat. The Grecian supporters packed out SJP for an occasion that could see Exeter City book a ticket to the quarter-finals of the League Cup for the first time in their history.
Manager Gary Caldwell named three changes from Saturday’s game with Zak Jules, Jack Fitzwater and Kyle Taylor being rotated into the starting XI. Reece Cole and Jack Aitchison missed the game due to injury and Pierce Sweeney was suspended due to accumulation of yellow cards.
City’s Taylor kicked off to a roar from SJP, which had become a cauldron of noise for this Halloween fixture, and City quickly lobbed it forward to Admiral Muskwe who was in an offside position - an unfruitful start but a clear statement of intent from the Grecians who were up for the occasion. Despite their initial attack, the game quickly became back–and-forth, with Middlesbrough seeing the better of the chances and committing men forward – underestimating the City counterattack and specifically the Trevitt’s right boot.
Muskwe did well to win a throw-in on the right of the pitch, ten yards ahead of the halfway line. City displayed great urgency to get the dead ball into the hands of Demetri Mitchell who took the throw quickly to the feet of Taylor. Taylor found some space on the wing and played the ball to Trevitt, about knee height. Trevitt, full of confidence from his goal at the weekend, volleyed on the half-turn: the ball looped over Tom Glover and in off the underside of the bar at the far-post. Elation at SJP as Exeter City found themselves one step closer to history.
City carried their momentum forward and created some more chances but to no avail. Middlesbrough had the better of the chances over the following fifteen minutes, including a hairy moment where Emmanuel Latte Lath and Isiah Jones broke through concluding with an overhit pass and a City goal kick. Middlesbrough’s best moment came through some misfortune for City as Mitchell was forced off due to an injury and replaced by Vincent Harper.
City looked like they could score another as substitute Harper began took take his influence on the game: twisting and turning on the right -side of the pitch, Harper delivered a high-ball into the Middlesbrough box and following some aerial pinball in the box, Middlesborough were able to launch a threatening counterattack. Faced by a swarm of pacey Smoggies, Will Aimson remained composed and diffused the situation with a sliding challenge. The teams went in at the half-time interval with City ahead and SJP beginning to believe.
Middlesbrough came out with a vengeance and quickly showed the Grecians they were in for a difficult second half. Following a sustained period of pressure, Jack Fitzwater was caught in possession on the edge of the City box by Rogers and went down. Rogers capitalised on Fitzwater being momentarily taken out of the game by turning and shooting. The shot was a brilliant one, curling over Vil Sinisalo and into the top-right corner as Middlesbrough quicky found their equaliser. Fitzwater received some treatment and was thankfully able to continue.
Fifty-minutes in and back on level-terms, City remained under pressure. Whatever Middlesbrough manager, Michael Carrick had said at half-time had made a difference as his side came out looking like a new team. Silvera found himself on Harper’s side of the pitch as he cut inside to beat his man, hitting a low, curling shot to put Middlesbrough ahead and deflate the atmosphere in SJP.
The next period was thoroughly unenjoyable for City supporters. The only moments when City got a break from the relentless attack was when one of their players went down to receive treatment. City were in desperate need of some inspiration, and it just happened to come from that man again, Ryan Trevitt. City’s number 8 picked the ball up 20-yards out and released a strike that deflected off a Middlesbrough defender and beat Glover infront of the Big Bank. A superb game for the neutrals and an even more thrilling one for City supporters.
The game continued to be a rollercoaster of emotion for both sides as Glover’s discomposure nearly led to James Scott tapping the ball in from one yard out and Middlesbrough’s wingers gave City’s defence a more-than-difficult time on the edge of the box, coming close on several occasions. Sinisalo kept City in the game on multiple occasions, once with a diving, one-handed save and the other coming out on top of a one-on-one.
Disaster struck City with ten minutes to go as Trevitt tugged on a Middlesbrough shirt in the box as the ball was in the air. Latte Lath dispatched the penalty and City found themselves behind again with not a lot of time to turn it around. The clock began to run down as Middlesbrough fell victim to their own game-management with the fourth official indicating nine minutes of added time, there was still hope around SJP but it was fading.
City fans thought for a second that James Scott was about to certify himself as a club legend as he spotted Glover off his line. Scott took aim from an outrageous distance and fired, beating the keeper but also the far post and the score remained 3-2 to Middlesbrough with 3 minutes of added time to go. So close, yet so far. Unfortunately, that was the tale of the evening as City failed to come out on top in a thrilling game.
City fought to the very end and most importantly, they made the Grecian supporters believe. Following a run of poor results, the City players rewarded the loyalty of fans with a night they won’t forget any time soon. Although they were unable to book a ticket into the quarter-final, they showed very promising signs of what is to come from this club.
City have the opportunity to kick-start a new cup-run on Saturday 4th November as they face Wigan at home in the first round of the FA Cup.
Exeter City: Sinisalo, Mitchell (Harper 33’), Aimson (C), Fitzwater (Diabate 60’), Hartridge, Jules, Kite, Taylor (Richards 79’), Trevitt, Scott, Muskwe (Wildschut 60’)
Unused subs: Macdonald, Dean, Richards, Cunningham.
Middlesbrough: Glover (GK), Barlaser, Fry (C), Hackney, Latte Lath, Rogers, Dijksteel, McNair, Silvera, Bangura.
Subs: Jones, Van De Berg, Clarke, Gilbert, Howson, Coburn, Coulson, Crooks, Engel.
Referee: Graham Scott
Attendance: 7601 (1031 away)