It was a successful afternoon in Devon for The Imps as they put Exeter City to the sword in a dominant performance at St James' Park.
Two goals late in the first half from Lee Frecklington and John Akinde were to round out a fantastic first 45 minutes before the unfortunate Troy Brown was to put past his own ‘keeper following a low driven Harry Toffolo cross early in the second half, as The Imps ran out winners.
The early pressure came from the visiting side, with The Imps forcing a corner in front of the home supporters. Bruno Andrade and John Akinde proving to be a thorn in the side of the Grecians, and the latter almost profited after a smartly worked short corner routine. Tom Pett took control and played the ball to create space for Michael O’Connor to cross, the ball dropped inside the area which almost forced an opportunity for Akinde but the home side managed to clear via the boot of Aaron Martin.
The Imps continued to be in the ascendancy, positive in possession and after a good move and link up play down the right found Neal Eardley, the full back’s cross found Akinde and his header was to go back across the goal of Christy Pym and crept just wide of the goal.
It was a competitive game with both sides showing their quality in and out of possession, however, clear cut chances in front of goal were still at a premium.
Set pieces were proving to be the more likely route to the deadlock being broken, O’Connor struck a low shot from just outside the area which was blocked then Hiram Boateng had a chance at the other end but his effort had a similar end product.
The home supporters turned up the volume, urging their charges forward but they found Jason Shackell and Michael Bostwick in the way, both central defenders dominating their own penalty area when crosses were played in from wide positions. Harry Toffolo fired in a teasing free kick from the right flank which almost fell to the feet of Akinde deep inside the box but Troy Brown was there to clear as The Imps once kept the home side on their heels.
Exeter were to test the reflexes of Grant Smith just after the half hour mark as their Norwich City loanee, Trastan Abrahams fired a low shot on target which needed Smith to get right behind. Abrahams then tried his luck from a little further out, Bostwick taking the sting out of it before Pierce Sweeney had a go from range but his curled effort wasn’t measured enough as it looped over the top.
The Imps forced two quick corners in possession as half time approached and the hosts brought every player back to defend, they managed to clear for a third corner as the away side piled on the pressure. The Grecians were managing the threat as Eardley again put in a wicked cross which Brown and Sweeney did very well to deal with as Tom Pett lurked just behind them. However, the continued pressure told and in some style with just two minutes to half time, Akinde took the ball down the left and FRECKLINGTON made a burst into the area, Akinde looked up and squared it perfectly for the captain to force home from close range.
The elation of the first goal was to be doubled before the half time whistle blew, this time AKINDE did it all himself, he showed persistence after initially seeming to lose the ball around 30 yards from goal, winning back possession then showing a cool head to fake a shot, which fooled his marker and leaving him with Christy Pym to beat and he did so with aplomb, sliding the ball past the ‘keeper and into the goal.
Dean Moxey smashed a half volley towards goal with Smith diving full length to his left, but it went agonisingly wide from a Grecians point of view. It was the last action of a breathless final few minutes of the first half.
Exeter City 0 The Imps 2
Both sides made positives starts to the second half as the ball went end to end quickly, the Grecians were pushing hard to get themselves a route back into the game but The Imps were astute in dealing with it and looking to break into the spaces left by the advancing home side.
Matt Taylor introduced two substitutes with just seven minutes of the game, Chiedozie Ogbene immediately getting into the action showing quick feet down the left but there was little opportunity afforded by the visiting back four.
The Imps though were in the mood and were looking to extend their lead and they didn’t disappoint. Bruno Andrade was to cushion a cross field ball from Eardley on the left, then feed Toffolo who was overlapping and the full back’s low centre was turned into his own goal by Troy Brown, who didn’t know whether to stick or twist with Akinde in very close proximity.
Danny Cowley’s men were keeping the pressure on, showing no signs of letting up and hungry for more, winning corners and dominating possession and the 355 travelling supporters were in fine voice.
Jayden Stockley had been relatively quiet in the game to this point but from a Exeter corner, he headed a looping ball which landed on the roof of the net, it didn’t trouble Smith but it was to give The Imps a little reminder of his threat.
As Exeter were struggling to make inroads as the half went on with Michael Bostwick and Jason Shackell marshalling things at the back for the visitors, leaving no sniff of an opportunity. The Grecians’ frustrations grew as City continued to stay resolute and disciplined with Andrade and Toffolo proving to be an almost constant threat down the left flank.
The Imps almost got a fourth and a second for Akinde when the striker won possession back before playing the ball into Pett who returned the ball to Akinde, he smashed his shot low, it beat Pym but cannoned off the upright and to safety. It was to be the last action for the striker who was substituted to a standing ovation by the travelling Imps, Matt Rhead coming on to replace him. There was a debut substitute appearance for Kellan Gordan, Andrade leaving the field to a similar ovation to that of Akinde.
Exeter couldn't force a consolation goal as The Imps organisation kept them out despite the home side trying their best to give their supporters something to cheer, but it was the travelling supporters who were jubilant come the final whistle.
Exeter City 0 The Imps 3
1 Christy PYM
2 Pierce SWEENEY
5 Aaron MARTIN
8 Nicky LAW
10 Lee HOLMES
11 Jayden STOCKLEY
19 Tristan ABRAHAMS
21 Dean MOXEY
25 Jake TAYLOR
39 Troy BROWN
44 Hiram BOATENG
13 James HAMON
3 Craig WOODMAN
4 Dara O’SHEA
6 Jordan TILLSON
7 Lee MARTIN (52’ for Holmes)
17 Matt JAY (84’ for Law)
24 Chiedozie OGBENE (52’ for Abrahams)
Booking: Stockley 13’ Taylor 22’ Martin 45’ L.Martin 74’ Boateng 90’
21 Grant SMITH
4 Michael O’CONNOR
5 Jason SHACKELL
7 Tom PETT
8 Lee FRECKLINGTON
11 Bruno ANDRADE
14 Harry TOFFOLO
16 Michael BOSTWICK
23 Neal EARDLEY
26 Harry ANDERSON
29 John AKINDE
24 Sam SLOWCOMBE
2 Kellan GORDON (84’ for Andrade)
6 Scott WHARTON
9 Matt RHEAD (80’ for Akinde)
12 Ellis CHAPMAN (90’ for O’Connor)
15 James WHARTON
17 Shay McCARTAN
Booking: Andrade 23’
Goal: Frecklington 43’ Akinde 45’ Brown (o.g) 56’
Referee: Kevin Johnson
Assistants: Ben Cobb & Ron Ganfield
4th Official: Mark Russell
Attendance: 4,067 (355 Imps’ supporters)