29th September 2004
Football League (LDV) Trophy
Oxford United (a)
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Date:Wed Sep 29 19:45:00 BST 2004
Venue:The Kassam Stadium
GRECIANS HIT THE SPOT
Oxford United 2 Exeter City 2
(AET, City win 3-1 on pens)
Exeter City sprang a shock last night after sending Oxford United crashing out of the LDV Vans Trophy in a dramatic penalty shootout.
Goalkeeper James Bittner went from villain to hero after producing two match-winning saves in the nail-biting spot kicks - despite scoring an own goal deep into stoppage time to take the tie into extra time.
However, the former Chippenham Town shot stopper shrugged off the setback to make two heroic stops in the shoot-out from Craig Davies and Jamie Hand as City booked their place in the second round of the tournament.
Barry McConnell eased City's nerves by smashing home the first spot kick before Steve Basham levelled matters for the hosts.
However, the ghosts of Gravesend - the Kent side knocked the Grecians out of the FA Cup last season on spot kicks - looked to be coming back to haunt Exeter City when Danny Clay watched in despair as his spot kick was saved.
But after Matt Robinson sliced his effort over the bar and Davies sent his penalty straight at Bittner, the Grecians were in full command with both Andy Taylor and Marcus Martin converting with clinical precision.
Bittner then duly covered himself in glory by smothering Hand's penalty and sending the Grecians into the second round.
It was just deserts for City, who dominated the contest throughout 90 minutes after serving up their best performance of the season, only to have victory snatched away in controversial fashion during the dying seconds.
Bittner, who had been brought into the side in place of Martin Rice in a new-look City line-up, appeared to have been fouled by Steve Basham as he flicked the ball out for a corner.
However, referee Keith Woolmer, who also failed to realise that injury time had elapsed, ignored the claims and from the resulting corner Oxford pounced to seemingly alter the course of this cup encounter.
Tom Winters whipped over the cross and Hand crashed a header against the post only for the rebound to cannon into the net via Bittner's chest.
While Oxford United fielded virtually a full-strength side - they made just two changes from the side that beat Bury at the weekend - Dolan opted to ring the changes by introducing some of the young guns.
And the Conference side proceeded to outplay, outfight and outmanoeuvre their hosts for almost the entire match.
That said, City suffered a blow inside three minutes when Tom Winters collected a pass from ex-Birmingham City hitman Tommy Mooney and drilled a fierce effort past Bittner into the bottom left corner.
Though they had to soak up some early pressure, City looked lively going forward and an exquisite back flick from the revitalised Jake Edwards almost released McConell before the former Yeovil Town striker pounced with a deserved equaliser.
The awesome Clay clipped a tremendous cross towards the back post, Sean Canham rose imperiously to cushion a header into the path of Edwards, who struck from close range.
The jeers at the interval from the home fans owed as much to Exeter's invention, creativity and dogged work-rate as it did to Oxford's lack of fluency and rhythm.
A similar pattern emerged after the break with City dominating the match with a neat pass and move game that forced their League Two hosts into chasing shadows for long periods.
City's fierce grip on the match was rewarded when Alex Jeannin unleashed a thunderbolt 25-yard free-kick that whizzed past the helpless Tardif to hand them a deserved lead.
That fury of home supporters was almost compounded when McConnell looped over a deep cross, Flack nodded intelligently back across goal and Afful incredibly steered his header wide from just six yards out.
But in a cruel climax to the normal time, Oxford pounced with a late goal they scarcely deserved to herald the onset of extra-time.
Having stamped their authority on the opening 90 minutes, City had to weather some heavy pressure during the extra period as Oxford, buoyed by their last-gasp leveller, tried to turn the screw and finally kill off their industrious visitors.
Steve Basham rifled past the post and Hackett watched his goalbound shot deflected inches wide, while at the other end Afful lashed two shots over the bar and Flack fizzed a header wide.
Nothing could separate the two teams as they headed for the shootout drama - and it was Bittner who stepped out of the shadows to claim the plaudits.
Bittner, Hiley, Sawyer, Todd, McConnell, Canham, Edwards, O'Sullivan, Clay, Jeannin, Martin.
Subs Rice, Seaborne, Taylor, Flack Afful.