Exeter City can look forward to playing at Crystal Palace’s Selhurst Park stadium in the coming weeks after booking their place in the second round of the Under-21 Premier League Cup with a 4-1 thrashing of Devon rivals Torquay United at St James’ Park.
The Gulls were no match for a rampant City side who dominated from kick-off and could easily have won by a far bigger scoreline.
As it was, Tom Nichols scored twice in the first half with further goals coming from Jordan Tillson and Ollie Watkins after the break. Elliot Benyon bagged the Gulls’ consolation to end their participation in the Premier League’s inaugural knock-out event at the first hurdle.
As for City, they can look forward to pitting their wits against Premier League opposition, with a date for the tie yet to be agreed.
It was a strong Exeter side who took to the field, with six players in their starting XI with first-team experience.
New signing James Hamon, who arrived from Guernsey at the weekend, started in goal for the Grecians, who played a 4-3-3 formation which caused the Gulls problems from the first whistle.
Torquay’s inexperienced side did boast the goal threat of Benyon, who was partnered by Ashley Yeoman in attack. Nathan Craig and Courtney Cameron, who signed from Aston Villa in the summer, also started for the Gulls.
Exeter’s experience perhaps told as they dominated the first half and created several chances.
Nichols hit the bar inside the opening ten minutes, although he was in an offside position before Daniel Sullivan fired wide for Torquay.
Oneil Odofin kept the score goalless when he headed off the line for Torquay to deny Matt Jay, before Nichols was denied the opener by a linesman’s flag after deflecting in Matt Grimes’ shot.
Grimes was running the show with a superb midfield display and he was at the heart of everything good that City did.
What was not so good was the sight of Nichols colliding with ad advertising hoarding, which left him needing treatment. Thankfully, there was no lasting damage and the young striker was soon smiling after breaking the deadlock.
It came after a surging run by Jimmy Keohane into the heart of the Gulls’ defence. He slipped the ball to Nichols, who steadied himself before firing a low shot into the bottom corner.
Torquay were forced into a change when Jordan Campbell had to be substituted and the second goal was not long in coming. Nichols was again the scorer with a deflected effort from 15 yards that left Conor Thompson wrong-footed in the Torquay goal.
That led to a superb spell from City in which they completely battered their guests. Grimes hit the bar with a sublime shot with the outside of his left foot from 20 yards, while Jay had an effort blocked.
City continued in the same vein after the break and made it 3-0 three minutes after the restart. Torquay failed to clear a corner kick and the ball eventually fell to Tillson to fire into the roof of the net.
Torquay rarely troubled City and the fourth goal arrived on 56 minutes. It could have been avoided from Torquay’s point of view as Thompson went to the left of his goal to clear, but proceeded to give the ball straight to Watkins, who returned a first-time shot that rolled into the empty net.
Nichols was denied a hat-trick by a superb Thompson save and then pulled a second effort wide of an upright.
Torquay pulled one back with a goal from Benyon, who lashed the ball into the bottom corner to give the scoreline some respectability.
Keohane fired into the stomach of Thompson, who then saved with his feet to deny Jay.
The Grecians continued to look the more likely to score, despite withdrawing the outstanding Grimes with 18 minutes remaining.
Tillson was denied a second goal – again from a corner – while Thompson made another superb flying stop to thwart Nichols a deserved hat-trick with the last piece of action.
Exeter City (4-3-3): Hamon; Dawson, Tillson, Moore-Taylor, Wannell; Byrne (Pope 63), Grimes (Gill 72), Keohane; Jay (Riley-Lowe 72), Nichols, Watkins. Substitutes (not used): Mitchison (gk), Heidari.
Goals: Nichols 28, 38, Tillson 48, Watkins 56.
Torquay United (4-4-2): Thompson; Parcell, Hutchings, Odofin, Alexandrou (Chaney 82); Campbell (Mare 30), Craig, Sullivan, Cameron; Benyon, Yeoman. Substitutes (not used): McGallon, Coleman, Chaney, Lavercombe.
Goal: Benyon 66.
Referee: M Whaley.