HOW times have changed for Cherries as their cup continues to runneth over in 2014.
The quality of Eddie Howe’s squad was highlighted by the fact the manager could afford to make 11 changes to his starting line-up for this League Cup first round tie.
Despite the wholesale reshuffle, Cherries produced another top-drawer display of free-flowing and possession football to follow up their emphatic win at Huddersfield on Saturday.
It was a far cry from a second-round clash at Wigan in 2005 when Sean O’Driscoll assembled what he described as his “waifs and strays”, with only four subs named.
And a threadbare squad at Northampton in the JPT in October 2009 saw twice-retired assistant manager Jason Tindall pressed into service due to an acute injury crisis.
Howe and Tindall looked on from the sidelines at St James’s Park tonight as their class of 2014 eased into the second round more convincingly than the 2-0 scoreline would suggest.
An own goal from Scot Bennett and a strike from Dan Gosling were all Cherries had to show for their almost-total domination against the League Two outfit.
New signings Gosling and Junior Stanislas were joined in the starting line-up by academy product Baily Cargill as Howe handed debuts to three players.
Cherries enjoyed long periods of possession in the opening period as the home side was forced to chase shadows. And even when the Grecians did manage to smuggle the ball from Cherries, the visitors’ quick pressing made it impossible for them to gain a foot-hold.
Cherries carved out the first shooting chance after 10 minutes when Brett Pitman lifted Ian Harte’s corner over the top from the edge of the box.
Christy Pym was called upon to make a fine save after 21 minutes, the Exeter goalkeeper blocking at his near post after Ryan Fraser had taken aim.
Cherries sliced open the Exeter defence as the diminutive Scotsman and Gosling traded passes before Pym stood tall to beat away Fraser’s shot from a tight angle.
Shaun MacDonald tried his luck with a long-range effort which sailed over the crossbar, with Cherries going close to breaking the deadlock midway through the first half.
Exeter were again outfoxed by Cherries’ slick movement, a delightful cushioned pass from Tokelo Rantie finding Stanislas.
But despite leaving his marker Pat Baldwin for dead with a drop of the shoulder, Stanislas curled his shot against the base of the upright with Pym well beaten.
Pym denied Pitman with a smart save after the striker had blasted a right-foot piledriver towards goal before Stanislas’s free-kick flashed narrowly past the post.
Although Pym was finally beaten when Ward climbed to meet Harte’s 37th-minute corner, defender Bennett saved the day by hacking the ball off the line.
And Baldwin was also rewarded for some solid defending when he blocked Fraser’s drive following a great move started by MacDonald’s wonderful pass to Stanislas.
As a Cherries-dominated first half drew to a close, Rantie’s goalbound shot struck a defender and flew past the post before Pitman’s 25-yarder just cleared the crossbar.
Cherries were almost caught cold at the start of the second half when Exeter fashioned their first noteworthy chance of the contest through Matt Grimes.
But despite latching on to a Tom Nichols flick, the striker, who found himself in plenty of space, fluffed his lines when his hurried effort sailed wide.
David Wheeler saw his effort from a tight angle flash across the face of the goalmouth before the deadlock was broken seven minutes into the second half.
The luckless Bennett looked on helplessly as Stanislas’s driven cross to the far post struck him on the shin and trickled past Pym into the back of the net.
It was no more than Cherries had deserved – a reward for their supremacy – but still tough on the hosts who had defended like Trojans in the face of incessant pressure.
As the Grecians went in search of an equaliser, a shot by Nichols fizzed past the post before Rantie was thwarted by Pym’s excellent one-handed save after the South Africa international had been slipped in by Fraser.
Cherries doubled their lead after 73 minutes when Gosling was on hand to ram home the loose ball from close range after another cross from Stanislas had caused problems for the Exeter defence.
Jimmy Keohane squandered a presentable opportunity to grab a consolation for the hosts late on when he fired wide when well placed before Matt Ritchie’s curler in injury-time crept past the upright.
Cherries: Flahavan, Smith, Cargill, Ward, Harte, Fraser (Arter, 75), MacDonald, Gosling, Stanislas (Ritchie, 89), Rantie (Wilson, 75), Pitman.
Unused subs: Francis, Kermorgant, McCarthy, Buchel (g/k).
Grecians: Pym, Wheeler (Dawson, 74), Tillson, Bennett, Baldwin, Woodman (Riley-Lowe, 60), Davies (Oakley, h-t), Butterfield, Grimes, Keohane, Nichols.
Unused subs: Jay, Pope, Watkins, Hamon (g/k).
Attendance: 2,648 (including 735 away supporters).
Referee: Andy Davies (Hampshire).