Demetri Mitchell smashed Exeter City into the fourth round of the Carabao Cup as the Grecians defeated top tier opposition for the first time since 1980.
City’s first appearance in the third round since 1989 welcomed Premier League side Luton Town to a packed-out St James Park for a Tuesday night clash under the lights and it was Mitchell's 83rd minute strike that secured victory.
Manager Gary Caldwell named five changes from Saturday’s league game at Oxford with Jack Fitzwater, Vincent Harper, Kyle Taylor, Caleb Watts and James Scott coming into the starting XI.
Despite Luton seeing the majority of the ball in the opening minutes, it was City who had the first real chance thanks to Harper’s footwork on the left-hand side of the pitch, teasing a low ball across the Luton box. Luckily for veteran keeper Tim Krul, there were no red and white shirts at his back-post to tap home.
Luton were not messing around, forcing City to sure up their defence. A strong tackle from Fitzwater saw off the first attack of the barrage, before Vil Sinisalo pulled out the heroics to deny Luke Berry’s long-range effort. Sinisalo’s near-post then came to the rescue to deny Cauley Woodrow from close range and put an end to Luton’s opening onslaught.
Scott hit a curling effort as hairs raised and stomachs dropped around SJP. Starting its journey from 30-yards out, the ball sailed through the air before finding its way inches from the top-left stanchion. This moment inspired a phase of City attacks, both of which coming from a bit of Demetri Mitchell magic on the left-wing. The first effort was a low venomous cross, which Krul was able to claim. Mitchell then decided to go himself for the second effort, again curled, this time towards the back-post but Krul managed to smother once more.
Luton then came back and piled on the pressure at the Big Bank end, coming close several times. Elijah Adebayo’s close-range header went just wide and minutes later Alex Hartridge’s sliding challenge denied Luton in City’s box, resulting in a corner. This corner then led to pandemonium in the six-yard box, a game of pinball ensued with every Luton effort being blocked by a strong red and white shirt until Adebayo struck from 8-yards out and Sinisalo was able to parry the ball to safety.
Having narrowly escaped, City attacked. Some beautiful link-up play between Carroll, Scott, and Watts ended with the latter firing from outside the box and onto St James Road. Then, Luton claimed the first yellow of the game as former Man United man, Teden Mengi couldn’t keep up with Harper on the left-wing, resorting to lazily clipping his heels.
City momentarily went down to 10 men as Watts went down injured, leaving them exposed at the back. Thankfully, Harper stepped up and pulled off a crucial tackle in his own box to deny Luton from capitalising. Watts then came back on the pitch and in his last moments before being subbed off for Reece Cole, he helped City to win a free kick in Cole territory. Cole’s unfruitful delivery into the Luton box was the last action of the first-half.
Early into the second-half, a wild miscue from Joe Johnson as he tried to pass back to Krul gave City a corner. Said corner was floated around the box via headers from both attack and defence before being cleared to the feet of Cole on the right-hand side of the pitch. Cole then found Mitchell who span a dark blue shirt and found space on the edge of the box to fire one over the bar and into the Big Bank.
A medley of opportunities for both teams followed in the next twenty minutes: notably, Mitchell being set loose on the right-wing and darting to the byline before firing the ball at Johnson, who couldn’t have known much about it. Johnson’s block fell kindly at the feet of Taylor who had time and space to strike the ball from the edge of the box, just wide of Krul’s right-post.
Luton then made a quadruple change, which sparked the beginning of an uncomfortable period of the game for City supporters. Luton berated the City defence again and again but to no prevail, a mix of valiant City defending and misfortune for the Luton attackers meant the game remained level going into the final ten minutes.
In the 83rd minute, some would say against the run of play, City substitute Yanic Wildschut found Mitchell on the edge of the six-yard box, who pounced: smashing past Krul and home in front of the Big Bank. St James Park exploded as Mitchell put City 1-0 up in the third round of the Carabao Cup.
Exeter continued to pile on the pressure, creating a couple near chances met by roars from the Grecian support. Mitchell received a second yellow in the midst of the chaotic end but he might have just scored the winner to send City through... They couldn’t, could they?
They could. Exeter City held off Luton Town’s last-ditch efforts to equalize, beating top-flight competition for the first time since 1980 and sending themselves through to the fourth round of the Carabao Cup!
The fourth-round draw will take place on Wednesday, September 27.
Exeter City: Sinisalo, Jules, Aimson, Hartridge, Carroll, Mitchell, Scott (Wildschut), Watts (Cole), Taylor (Cox), Fitzwater (Sweeney), Harper (Kite).
Unused subs: Woods, Beardmore, Borges, Richards
Luton Town: Krul, Andersen, Berry, Woodrow (Brown), Adebayo (Morris), Chong (Ogbene), Mengi, Mpanzu, Giles, Johnson (Bell), Doughty (Kabore)
Unused subs: Shea (GK), Burke, Burger, Luker
Referee: James Bell
Attendance: 7360 (708)