Matt Jay’s late winner saw Exeter City secure promotion from League Two as they came from a goal down to beat Barrow 2-1 in a nervy affair at St James Park.
The hosts fell behind to a bizarre Cameron Dawson own goal after Remeao Hutton’s long throw-in from the left appeared to go straight in.
Kieran Phillips hit the bar for Exeter 15 minutes later before the on-loan Huddersfield Town striker superbly broke to get the equaliser.
Exeter struggled to create any chances after the break until homegrown skipper Jay coolly finished at the far post from Josh Key’s cross from the right.
The win sees Exeter return to League One after a decade in the fourth tier.
Having started the better the hosts fell behind after Hutton’s throw appeared to go straight into the net.
But the referee, after a moment of deliberation and a glance at his assistant, gave the goal having judged that it had taken a touch off Exeter goalkeeper Dawson having hit the post.
Exeter regrouped quickly as Tim Dieng, Jack Sparkes and Jay all had efforts as they had the better of the possession against a Barrow side assured of a third season in the EFL.
Phillips should have put City level when he crashed an effort off the top of the bar from eight yards out after some superb build-up play by Jevani Brown.
But he did find the net when Cheick Diabate’s headed clearance from a free-kick fell to his feet midway in his own half and the 22-year-old raced through before his right-footed effort deflected off Patrick Brough and beat a wrong-footed Paul Farman at his near post.
A nervy second half saw Exeter almost go behind when Hutton beat the offside trap, but his low shot was saved by the legs of Dawson just after the hour mark.
But Exeter weathered the storm and Jay – a product of the club’s much-vaunted academy who has risen to become skipper – superbly controlled Key’s cross before blasting in to send almost 8,000 people in St James Park into raptures.
Sam Nombe almost got a third as his shot was blocked after breaking through in the final minute, before Exeter’s fans invaded the pitch on the final whistle as they won promotion on home turf for the first time since 1990.
Exeter end six-year spell of near misses
Exeter’s sixth promotion in their 121-year history came after six years of heart-breaking near-misses.
The Grecians were beaten play-off finalists in 2017 when they lost to Blackpool and again a year later when Coventry City defeated them at Wembley.
Matt Taylor’s first season in charge ended with City one point outside the play-off places in 2019 before a humbling 4-0 loss to Northampton in a Covid-19 affected play-off final a year later.
Last season the Grecians were three points short but this term – including a club-record 20-game unbeaten run – they have impressed and will deservedly take their place in the third tier for the first time in a decade.
- Match Stats
- Live Text
- 26SweeneyBooked at 31mins
- 39DiabateSubstituted forGroundsat 72′minutes
- 7JaySubstituted forRoweat 89′minutes
- 20BrownBooked at 87mins
- 15PhillipsSubstituted forNombeat 72′minutes
- 2BrownBooked at 57minsSubstituted forSeaat 88′minutes
- 13WhiteSubstituted forBanksat 82′minutes
- 23WilliamsSubstituted forJamesat 73′minutes
- Lee Swabey
- Shots on Target
Match ends, Exeter City 2, Barrow 1.
Second Half ends, Exeter City 2, Barrow 1.
Hand ball by Jevani Brown (Exeter City).
Archie Collins (Exeter City) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Josh Gordon (Barrow).
Corner, Exeter City. Conceded by Niall Canavan.
Attempt blocked. Sam Nombe (Exeter City) left footed shot from the left side of the box is blocked.
Substitution, Exeter City. Callum Rowe replaces Matt Jay.
Substitution, Barrow. Dimitri Sea replaces Connor Brown.
Jevani Brown (Exeter City) is shown the yellow card.
Foul by Jonathan Grounds (Exeter City).
Josh Gordon (Barrow) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Attempt missed. Robbie Gotts (Barrow) right footed shot from outside the box is too high. Assisted by Patrick Brough.
Substitution, Barrow. Oliver Banks replaces Tom White.
Goal! Exeter City 2, Barrow 1. Matt Jay (Exeter City) right footed shot from the centre of the box to the centre of the goal.
Corner, Barrow. Conceded by Jack Sparkes.
Attempt blocked. John Rooney (Barrow) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked.
Substitution, Barrow. Luke James replaces George Williams.
Substitution, Exeter City. Jonathan Grounds replaces Cheick Diabate.
Substitution, Exeter City. Sam Nombe replaces Kieran Phillips.