A game of screamers on Halloween
It proved classic cup football in the rain on Tuesday evening, but sadly history was not made at St James Park.
An Exeter City vs Middlesborough fixture has never been seen before, and the fourth round is the furthest City have ever been in this competition. It was a scary prospect against a championship side who finished fourth last season and won the cup in 2004.
Exeter were looking to reach the quarter-finals in order to fully surpass their predecessors, and take the advice from a banner across the Big Bank before the game which proclaimed: "The history that most matters is the history you make today."
The opening goal came almost out of nowhere - Middlesborough had been heavily on top for the first 10 or so minutes, moving deep into City territory numerous times.
A throw in far up the pitch was all Exeter needed to upset their dominance though, a quick one down the left to midfielder Kyle Taylor who brought it down and faced up to full-back Daniel Barlaser before spotting centre-mid Ryan Trevitts's run and swinging a deep ball to the edge of the box. Trevitt didn't even seem to look up - a beautiful first-time dinking shot sails over goalkeeper Tom Glover, off the crossbar and in for his second goal in two matches. Could Exeter's unnaturally good form in the Carabao Cup continue? No assumptions being made yet - it was still only the 13th minute.
Ryan Trevitt's second was even better. Around the 60th minute and 2-1 down at the time, he picked up the ball far behind the edge of the box, held off and rolled the onrushing defender before smashing a curling effort into the corner of the net. The Big Bank went wild and the away fans silent - they thought they had won already.
However, the signs before the game had not looked good and confidence was low. City hadn't won in their last seven - drawing 1-1 against Lincoln on Saturday to end a dismal streak of losses. Their last win came in this competition against Premier League Luton - but now they sit 17th in the league. In comparison, Boro had won four of their last five and sit in a comfortable tenth, with only five points between them and Leeds in third.
The first goal seemed to liven the game up to no end, both sides bringing much more energy all the way up to half-time. The scoreline at 45, one-nil Exeter, could reasonably be seen as unlucky by Boro fans - the chances had been there. But it hadn't been complete control by the northern side - Vince Harper, who came on for an injured Demetri Mitchell, created a chance just before the break that should've been capitalised on by striker James Scott but a weak header prevented the second. Boro's chances came consistently - a powerful back-post header and a drilled low shot from ten yards could easily have gone in - but instead Viljami Sinisalo saw them fly past his post thankfully. The most entertaining attempt of the night has to go to Middlesborough's Sammy Silvera with a travela outside-of-the-boot effort from the edge of the box - only kept out by an incredible stretching stop from Sinisalo.
The second half had only just started when the hopes of the home fans seemed to be dashed. Alex Bangura nicked the ball back on the edge of his attacking half straight to attacking midfielder Morgan Rogers, who took one touch and curled a bullet into the top corner right in front of the away end - who knew it was going in before the ball had left his boot. One all - and with City defender Jack Fitzwater being forced off for injury the home side were no longer in the driving seat. Exeter manager Gary Caldwell must've be worrying having to add two more starting players to his already extensive injury list - not a good sign for a team in the form that City find themselves in at the moment.
Former West Ham player and current Boro boss Michael Carrick must have given a team talk for the ages, as a near copy and paste goal in the 60th minute put Middlesborough 2-1 up. This time it was Sammy Silvera who was given all the time in the world to take a touch and cut in on the left-hand side, before curling an effort past a flailing Sinisalo. A lower effort than Rogers earlier but the result was exactly the same. A few minutes later a very similar chance opened up for Silvera again and his strike was not far off at all, sailing into the away fans. Exeter switched off three times, and payed the price twice.
Boro's joy was dampened for all of 15 minutes by Trevitt's goal of the night - but he won't remember this game fondly after all. As the ball came in for a corner Exeter had to defend, Trevitt daftly dragged down goalscorer Morgan Rogers and the ref pointed to the spot - no controversy here, the decision was clear as day. Emmanuel Latte-Lath calmly stroked the ball into the bottom corner to put the away side ahead for the second time in this game.
City fans emotions were played with repeatedly in the closing phases of this match. Two free kicks from close in that were deflected and looked like they could go anywhere and a deep hopeful effort that managed to trick the whole ground into thinking Exeter had found an equaliser, coupled with nine minutes of added time kept the Big Bank's hopes up without fail - but it wasn't to be. A valiant effort against prestigious opposition that Caldwell can't not be proud of - but Middlesborough always seemed to have one more trick (or treat?) up their sleeves.
EXETER CITY STARTING ELEVEN -
Sinisalo, Jules, Aimson (C), Hartridge, Mitchell, Trevitt (⚽⚽), Muskwe, Scott, Kite (A), Taylor (A), Fitzwater
EXETER CITY SUBSTITUTES -
MacDonald, Wildschut, Harper, Diabate, Dean, Richards, Cunningham
MIDDLESBOROUGH STARTING ELEVEN -
Glover, Barlaser, Fry (C), Hackney, Latte-Lath (⚽), Rogers (⚽), Jones, Dijksteel, McNair, Silvera (⚽), Bangura (AA)
MIDDLESBOROUGH SUBSTITUTES -
Jones, Van Der Berg, Clarke, Gilbert, Howson, Coburn, Coulson, Crooks, Engel