FT: Plymouth Parkway 1 (Williams 90+2) Exeter City 2 (Key 63, Randall 66)
Just over 48 hours after being pipped for the Western League title, Parkway travelled to the Devon FA HQ in Newton Abbot looking to retain the Devon St Lukes Challenge Cup which they won last season beating Southern League Bideford 4-1. At the request of Exeter City and sportingly agreed by Parkway, the game was brought forward by 24 hours due to the Exeter U18’s playing in the EFL Alliance Cup Final against Wigan Athletic on the original scheduled date. The Exeter side contained the nucleus of their U23 side, several having played for their first team along with experienced first team players Aaron Martin and Luke Kroll, others having had loan spells with National League South non-league clubs along with some of their U18 squad. The U23 side had won their Checkatrade Trophy group containing Bristol Rovers, Yeovil Town and West Ham United U21’s earlier in the season being beaten by Peterborough United in the next round. Parkway made 2 changes from last Saturday’s game with Nick Milton replacing Sam Hillson in defence and Jordan Annear starting up front in place of Adam Carter. With a sizeable contingent of Parkway supporters in the lively crowd, the game got off to a fast start with Rob Farkins picking up an early booking for a clumsy challenge. Parkway forced an early corner which came to nothing after good play between Mikey Williams and Jordan Trott. Exeter quickly got into their stride with sharp passing and quick movement through midfield with Parkway forced on to the defensive but competing well with chances for either side at a premium. Exeter’s Max Smallcombe shot wide from distance on 11 minutes as they continued to dominate possession with Parkway working hard, closing down in midfield and defending solidly. Parkway were being forced to play on the counter as Exeter’s sharp first time passing and at times direct approach denied Parkway too many opportunities to get forward and support lone striker Annear. Despite having the majority of possession, Exeter were unable to carve out many clear cut chances as Parkway continued to defend well with Shane Krac, Christian Pople and Teigan Rosenquest competing strongly in midfield to break up play. Parkway’s best chance of a goal looked likely to come from a set piece and a free kick from deep by Trott saw Annear head on to Krac whose snap shot was deflected for a corner. With Parkway getting into the game more, Joel Randall was shown a yellow card with the resultant free kick being easily defended by Exeter. Play continued to be fairly even with neither keeper being unduly tested and defences generally remaining on top. On 34 minutes good link up play between Krac and Rosenquest on the left set up Annear who was quickly closed down and unable to get his shot away. In a decent spell for Parkway in which Exeter came under some pressure, a neat exchange between Williams and Krac saw the latter shoot narrowly wide. A quick Exeter break along the left on 40 minutes saw a fierce angled drive from 20 yards by Ben Seymour well tipped over by Kyle Moore with the resultant corner being cleared to safety. As half time approached Martin and Trott were both shown yellow cards for a minor altercation after a couple of robust challenges. A well contested half with Exeter starting the brighter but Parkway responding well, working hard and having spells in the ascendancy against their technically proficient opponents with few clear chances for either side. Exeter started the second half on the offensive continuing their direct approach with a series of long diagonal balls with Parkway still managing to hold firm. Parkway were unable to retain possession for any length of time but continued to compete well in midfield restricting their opponents to the occasional long range effort. Smallcombe received a yellow card on 58 minutes as Exeter increased the pressure almost taking the lead on 61 minutes. A near post header from Nathan Clements from a corner on the right was superbly blocked by Moore low down to his left. Exeter pressure finally paid off on 63 minutes when a close range goalbound header by Martin from a corner on the left forced an instinctive save from Moore with Josh Key tapping home the loose rebound. A couple of minutes later Exeter forged further ahead when a quick break down the left from the impressive Randall saw him cleverly evade a couple of challenges, cut inside and shoot left footed across Moore low into the far corner for a quality finish. With tiredness beginning to creep in for Parkway and the superior fitness of the professionals beginning to tell, Martin fired a free kick just wide on 68 minutes. Parkway again responded well with Williams shooting just over on 70 minutes. Parkway introduced Carter to join Annear up front replacing the hard working Rosenquest who had put in a wholehearted display. With Exeter seemingly content to manage the game out, Parkway pushed forward forcing a couple of corners with Krac having a shot well saved low down by James Hamon on 74 minutes. Exeter then made their only substitution with Nelson Isegvan replacing Alex Moyse. Parkway continued to try and work an opening with Exeter holding firm and looking to exploit the space in behind the Parkway midfield. As the game entered the last 5 minutes and Parkway frustration grew, they received a plethora of yellow cards with the combative Ryan Lane being booked for a rash challenge and Aaron Bentley, Milton and Krac all being carded seemingly for dissent. On 88 minutes with Parkway throwing more players forward leaving space at the back, Exeter created a 3 on 1 situation but a combination of superb defending by Milton and a smart save by Moore denied the Grecians a third goal. Continuing on the attack and displaying desire and determination, Parkway pulled a goal back on 92 minutes that their endeavours deserved. Annear was put clear on the right and clever play saw him deliver a quality cross into the danger area with the stadium announcer crediting the goal to Annear but Williams subsequently claiming the goal after touching the ball home from close range. Parkway went for broke immediately with the experienced Stewart Yetton replacing Lane. The game ended in dramatic fashion late into stoppage time with Parkway having a strong claim for a penalty turned down after Bentley, in full flight, appeared to be clipped just inside the angle of the 18 yard box with Football League referee Brett Huxtable waving play on and hastily blowing for full time shortly afterwards. An absorbing, highly competitive game of few clear chances with Parkway certainly not being disgraced or overawed by their more experienced, understandably fitter and ultimately more streetwise professional opponents. Exeter’s quality second goal was arguably the difference between the two sides. Parkway now have a 6 day break for rest and recuperation before embarking on the 200 or so mile round trip to Sherborne through the Bank Holiday Monday traffic for their final game of the season to contest the final of the Les Phillips League Cup with league champions Willand Rovers. With both winning their home league matches against each other, a tough, exciting game is in prospect and whatever the outcome Parkway can reflect on what has been a very successful campaign in their first season at a higher level.