Cheltenham Town lost 3-2 on penalties to Exeter City, despite fighting back to draw 2-2 in the Papa John’s Trophy with first club goals for Elis Chapman and Felix Miles.
Chapman and Miles scored their first professional goals to cancel out first half City goals from Colin Daniels and Josh Coley, to give the Robins one point, but the away side stole the bonus point for the shootout victory.
It was a sloppy start to the match for the Robins, and the Grecians took full advantage of it with a headered goal by defender Daniel inside eight minutes.
However, Town got back into the game after debutant Dan Crowley’s free kick fell at the feet of Chapman, who rifled the ball past 16-year-old City keeper Harry Lee.
Despite their hard work, no less than a minute later Dylan Barkers was caught in possession on the edge of Owen Evans’ box, and Coley stole the ball to pass it past the onrushing Welsh keeper.
Following the second half, Cheltenham pressured the Grecians for the majority of the final half and got their rewards for doing so as second year scholar Miles scored his first professional goal for the club.
The 90 minutes ended 2-2, and both sides took turns to take penalties towards The Hazlewoods Stand. City missed the opening penalty after Padraig Amond saw his penalty rise into the stands, and Christian Norton gave the Robins the lead.
On his return to the starting XI, captain Chris Hussey passed his effort into the net to put Cheltenham up 2-1. However, Lewis Freestone, Elliot Bonds and Kyle Vassell couldn’t convert, seeing Exeter steal the bonus point as 17-year-old Harry Kite scored the penultimate penalty.
“In terms of individually, we got what we wanted out of the game,” said first team coach Wade Elliott.
“We never expected ‘tiki taka’ and free flowing football with the lack of preparation, but we can always expect to do the basics.”
Within eight minutes the Grecians took the lead, after Daniel headered the ball past Evans from close range.
The visitors were close to a second after a string of passes led to a lofted ball for Archie Collins to meet inside the Robins box, but the midfielder headed it over Evans’ goal.
Front man Vassell later stole the ball and pulled off a shot within the City box, but his powerful effort rose over the crossbar.
Crowley registered his first shot wearing a Robins shirt, with the former Arsenal midfielder shooting from outside the box, but a City block meant it was comfortable for 16-year-old Lee in the away goal.
The debutant received a warm reception from the home fans with every step over and turn completed in the match and had a very impressive performance.
Chapman put the Robins level with a side footed effort inside the box, after Exeter failed to clear a Crowley free kick, setting up the 20-year-old to score his first professional goal.
Unfortunately, the Robins conceded no later than a minute after as Barkers had the ball stolen from by Coley, who tapped the ball past Evans to make it 2-1 before the half time whistle.
Promising signs in the second half, as new signing Norton danced into the City box past Jake Caprice, and looked set to play in Vassell, but a contentious challenge from the defender saw the forward fall to the ground. Referee Craig Hicks waved the penalty appeals away, but Cheltenham were imposing their game plan as the second half continued.
Second year scholar Miles proved this with a spectacular strike past Lee into the bottom right-hand corner of the net, not too long after replacing Chapman. New signing Crowley played a big part in the build up to Miles’ goal, helping the 18-year-old scoring his first for the club.
With the wind in their sails, the Robins pushed for the winner as Vassell yet again tried to make a chance out of nothing, but his curling shot outside the area sailed past the far post.
The Grecians struggled to attack Town in the second half, whereas the Robins grew in confidence creating far more chances in the final 20 minutes of the than the whole of the opening half.
However none made it past the City keeper and the tie went to penalties.
The Grecians went onto to be the victors in the shootout, but the Robins take a well-deserved point in Group E.
CHELTENHAM TOWN (4-4-2): Evans, Hussey (c), Freestone, Vassell, Chapman, Bonds, Horton, Barkers, Norton, Crowley, Armitage.
Subs not used: Flinders (GK), Williams, Ebanks, Miles, Hunt, Taylor, Jakeways.
EXETER CITY (4-2-3-1): Lee, Caprice, Atangana, Collins, Amond, Rowe, Daniel, Sweeney (c), Grounds, Edwards, Coley.
Subs not used: Brown (GK), Jay, Cox, Kite, Pond, Brown.
Referee: Craig Hicks
Attendance: 987 (103 away)