Exeter City 3-1 Colchester United
(After extra-time – Exeter win 3-2 on aggregate)
There had to be a winner in this mid-summer Monday evening showdown. Gallant Colchester ultimately came up short but can take credit for playing their part in this five-goal thriller, at a deserted stadium. Exeter now meet Northampton Town at Wembley next week.
Trailing to Cohen Bramall’s first-leg stunner, last Thursday evening, the Grecians wasted little time in levelling the tie when centre-half, Jake Taylor fired past Dean Gerken after only eleven minutes.
The North Essex outfit took a long time to recover, but with the impressive Ryan Jackson finding space down the right-wing, the U’s began to threaten – without the usual partisan City crowd to deter them. And, the Lukes Norris and Gambin could so easily have put United out of sight with stunning efforts, shortly before the interval, which home keeper, Johnny Maxted did exceptionally well to foil.
As in the opening period, Colchester laboured, straight after the turnaround and City took full advantage and regained the overall lead when starman, Ryan Bowman hit a post, only for on-loan Nottingham Forest schemer, Jayden Richardson, whose daisy cutter completely fooled Gerken and trickled into an empty net. But, McGreal’s side wasn’t finished and super-sub Courtney Senior turned the tie on its head after Maxted’s gaff from Frank Nouble’s towering cross and put the ball on a plate for Senior to again level the tie.
Colchester’s aggregate leveller clearly gave them the momentum and a quiet Kwame Poku sprung into life, with barely a minute left. Latching onto a fine Senior slide-rule pass, all Poku had to do was round Maxted. But, the gloveman atoned his earlier faux-pas and this thrilling contest entered extra-time.
There was little to choose between either side, but with the influential sub and former Orient man, Nigel Atangana, beginning to pull the midfield strings, City slowly pressed home their home advantage. And it was a carefully threaded pass, on the billiard-table of a pitch which completely fooled a tiring Harry Pell. Bowman doesn’t need a second chance and the hitman was away and planted the proverbial arrow past a helpless Gerken, with only nine minutes left of the tie.
City held out, to leave a philosophical McGreal, paying tribute to the winners: “Congratulations to Matt Taylor and his Exeter team. And credit to both sides for two excellent games of football in four days.
“There’s no question that we were the dominant side in the final twenty-five minutes of normal time and we should have been winning that game of football. Kwame (Poku) is such a talent – he had that chance – in front of the live TV cameras. But, I still really fancied our chances going into extra-time.”
He added: “But, we petered out and I’m not sure whether we were looking for offside, or we were just tiring [for their winner]. But, there have been two tremendous, hard-fought games in four days.”
“We could have done better. We were poor in the opening parts of each half, but better in the final twenty-five of both. And, it’s tough on Kwame with that late chance – but there are fine margins in football.”
The former Tranmere, Ipswich and Burnley defender concluded: “And, we stuck three up front, towards the end, taking responsibility and throwing caution to the wind. Credit to them, as we could have gone on and won the game. I’m devastated, but more for the players – it’s a missed opportunity.”
Victorious Exeter boss, Taylor, talking to club’s official website, added: “We prepared well for this contest. I just feel sorry for our fans – not being able to celebrate with them. But, I’m sure they’ll be having a [celebratory] pint somewhere. We are now only one game away [from promotion].”
Exeter City: Jonny Maxted, Pierce Sweeney, Aaron Martin, Nicky Law (Brennan Dickenson 93), Randell Williams, Ryan Bowman, Alex Fisher (Ben Seymour 75), Jayden Richardson, Dean Moxey (Tom Parkes 93), Jake Taylor (Nigel Atangana 82), Archie Collins. Subs not used: Lewis Ward (gk), Jack Sparkes, Matt Jay, Joel Randall, Nicky Ajose
Colchester United: Dean Gerken, Ryan Jackson (Miles Welch-Hayes 99), Cohen Bramall, Luke Prosser, Harry Pell, Luke Norris (Theo Robinson 71), Tom Eastman, Ben Stevenson, (Tom Lapslie 99), Luke Gambin (Courtney Senior 57), Frank Nouble, Kwame Poku (Paris Cowan-Hall 118) Subs not used: Ethan Ross (gk), Omar Sowunmi, Ryan Clampin, Noah Chilvers
Referee: Charles Breakspear
Assistants: John Flynn and Craig Taylor
Fourth Official: John Busby