The ERD did not exist when Exeter travelled to Fratton Park for that fateful Semi-Final in February 2020. Had it existed, most of the report from this latest clash could be lifted and dunked in directly from the game two years ago.
And, despite the venue, the stage of competition, a manager, much of the teams, and other aspects between the two games changing, as much as everything changes… everything remains the same. Pompey staged a last-gasp two-goal turnaround against Exeter City to keep them alive in the EFL Trophy.
Retaining their familiar system, a half-changed Blues side took the field for this one. Notable inclusions were Alex Bass in net, Miguel Azeez partnering Joe Morrell, and John Marquis alongside George Hirst.
Five minutes had passed before Marcus Harness worked some space for himself outside the Grecians box; his subsequent pitching wedge of a ball into the box was guided across goal and into the far corner by George Hirst.
Directly from kick-off, Matt Jay collected the knockdown of a long ball, ghosted between the feeble efforts of Morrell and Azeez, and curled into the far corner before any of the back three stepped out with any conviction.
The first half fell into a lull similar to the second half against Cambridge. Pompey enjoyed quantity of possession to the tune of 73% in the first half, but the quality at the top end was once again lacking, Hirst’s goal the only first half shot on target.
Chances were presenting themselves in greater frequency than the stalemate at the Abbey Stadium however. Marquis had broken away and cut inside to generate a good sight at goal, only to drill his shot straight into a seemingly beaten red shirt; the ball fell to Hirst who miscued and air-volleyed what seemed a certain goal.
Hirst had two more opportunities in the opening 45 to add to his tally, but two weak headers from Lee Brown deliveries were all he could muster.
The second half played out in an entirely different fashion. Exeter were lively, and the visitors were languid. A litany of possession turnovers around the halfway line put end to most of Pompey’s adventures forward, and the midfield presence was not stamping any authority onto wave after wave of Exeter entry into the Blues’ final third.
The pressure eventually yielded a result with 14 minutes to go, when once again, the midfield disappeared. Both Morrell and substitute Louis Thompson were caught out of position and flat-footed when Josh Key scampered infield, and laid across to an onrushing Archie Collins. His effort from twenty yards deflected off Kieron Freeman, and squirmed out of the grasp of Bass, who looked to have had it covered.
And then, it happened again.
Reeco Hackett had Pompey’s first effort of the second half on 86 minutes, when his weak back post header was comfortably gathered by Dawson.
A Ronan Curtis double act was Pompey’s salvation this time. His first goal came in the 89th minute when he glanced home a fine Michael Jacobs free-kick, and the second came with 93 on the clock, lashing home after Hackett’s efforts to generate a shooting lane dropped the ball into the Irishman’s path. Friday night limbs sparked in the away end, and Pompey went through.
The Days Are Numbered
Once again, this tournament has yielded an opportunity for some fringe players to assert their claims for the starting eleven. Ultimately, some of those chances were again not taken up. Marquis and Azeez both had very little presence within the game, and such was their inability to influence the affair, it brings fresh questions into how long both remain at the club.
It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over
Pompey used to be a late-game disasterclass in yesteryear, consistently finding ways to turn victories into draws, draws into defeats.
Yet, this spark of form since the Ipswich defeat has put a little bit of iron will into this side. Finding ways to win is always welcome, and this latest Exeter triumph joins Gillingham, Wimbledon, and Crystal Palace in a growing list of games in which the Blues have found a late winner.
Add into this the resolute stand in the final minutes of the victory at Wycombe, and a side that was once an afterthought in the final 15 minutes, is now a side that is finding a way to get the job done. Even in the Cambridge game, they found one more glorious opportunity right at end, they just didn’t take it.
Alex Bass – 5 – A quiet night overall, but will be bitterly disappointed to have let the ball get through him for the second goal.
Kieron Freeman – 6 – Some firm challenges showed he was up for the fight.
Sean Raggett – 6 – A couple of important blocks.
Connor Ogilvie – 6 – Marshalled his area competently.
Mahlon Romeo – 5 – A very quiet night.
Lee Brown – 6 – Some threatening deliveries not converted by others.
Joe Morrell – 4 – One half of a central midfield double act that had very little presence in the game, and allowed Exeter’s midfield to go right through them.
Miguel Azeez – 4 – The other half of that double act.
Marcus Harness – 7 – A delightful ball for Hirst’s goal, moved around the field menacingly.
John Marquis – 4 – Another poor showing keeps him away from the first team.
George Hirst – 5 – An early goal disguised an otherwise poor performance, passing up several chances.
Ronan Curtis (on in 63rd) – 9 – You get a nine if you score two late goals to turn the game around. Them’s the rules.
Reeco Hackett (on in 63rd) – 6 – Missed a great chance late on, but kept the play alive for the winner.
Louis Thompson (on in 63rd) – 4 – Failed to get into the game.
Michael Jacobs (on in 63rd) – 7 – Fighting for a contract? Spirited showing, great delivery for asisst.
Harry Jewitt-White (on in 88th) – 10 – On the pitch six minutes, Pompey score twice. Need more be said?
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