Sheffield Wednesday booked their place in the fourth round of the Emirates FA Cup on Saturday with a close-fought 2-0 win over Exeter City at St James’ Park.

A stunning goal from Adam Reach and a late sealer from Callum Paterson was enough to see off a brave showing from League Two Exeter, who took the game to the visitors from South Yorkshire.

Wednesday fielded three changes to the side that beat Derby County on New Year’s Day, with Ciaran Brennan, Alex Hunt and Ryan Galvin coming into the side, the latter of which on his first appearance of the season.

Matt Taylor also made three changes, as Lewis Page, Josh Key and goalkeeper Lewis Ward returned.

Story of the match

First half

Exeter began very brightly. Far the better side despite the gulf in league standings, they worked with pace and guile as they plundered the Wednesday defence. Forwards Ryan Bowman and Matt Jay linked up exceptionally well across the final third as they made the opening 20 minutes an uncomfortable one for Owls ‘keeper Joe Wildsmith.

It was City who saw the first chance fall their way. Brilliant build-up play along the left flank saw a neat ball from Jay land at Bowman’s feet, 12 yards from goal, but the forward squandered his lines and scuffed the ball into the arms of a relieved Wildsmith.

Shortly afterwards, the Grecians broke forward again. Youngster Key caused some strife along the visitors’ backline, and he found captain Jake Taylor on the edge of the box. 25 yards from goal and in a significant amount of space, 29-year-old Taylor tried his luck but drilled the effort wide.

The Owls eventually found their way back into the tie by way of rapid wing play. The pressure paid dividends for the favourites, taking the lead against the run of play through Adam Reach. City turned off momentarily while Wednesday hammered a long free-kick forward, which 27-year-old Reach converted into the back of the net with a sumptuous finish from a tight angle.

Suddenly, it was Wednesday who were on top. Having clicked into rhythm, Andy Holdsworth’s side operated smartly at the back, restricting the freedom on either wing that Exeter had been enjoying until the goal. The League Two side found it difficult to form a meaningful attack, and a scrappy end to the half ensued as both sides carelessly exchanged possession in the final third.

Second half

The restart was far more even than the first half had been. Underdogs Exeter continued to create, but their output was contained well by the steadily-improving Wednesday defence. City continually found themselves in excellent goal-scoring positions, but they could not convert. A gilt-edged opportunity fell to Rory McArdle five minutes into the half when a corner picked him out at the far post, but the startled 33-year-old could only bundle the ball against the upright.

The danger pairing of Bowman and Jay were replaced on the hour mark by the youthful Ben Seymour and City legend Nicky Law, potentially a change with the motive of preserving the forwards for Tuesday’s league meeting with Bolton Wanderers.

The Owls never yielded, and they continued to test Ward in the Exeter net. Although not faced with anything overly laborious, the 23-year-old ‘keeper was wise to the challenge on numerous occasions and kept the fast Wednesday forwards from doubling their advantage.

Much of the visitors’ joy came down the left flank through Kadeem Harris and substitute Fisayo Dele-Bashiru. Harris got in behind with about 20 minutes left to play and fired a teasing cross in towards an awaiting Callum Paterson, but Ward got up valiantly to claim the cross.

Paterson converted his first chance of the game on the brink of stoppage time. Plucky Liam Shaw pickpocketed Exeter of possession and took it beyond the defence before squaring it across the face of goal for the 26-year-old to tap home a simple goal – his fifth in all competitions this season.

The result sees Exeter open their account for 2021 with bitter disappointment, narrowly beaten by a side who were considerable favourites. Wednesday progress into the hat for Monday night’s fourth and fifth round draws.

Takeaway from the match

If you don’t buy a ticket…

City enjoyed a plethora of chances throughout the entire match, looking particularly competent on either wing. While a lot of incisive passing saw the Grecians presented with golden opportunities, on very few occasions was Wildsmith tested. Only two shots were fired on goal from the hosts – something Taylor will want to iron out before Tuesday. In the end it came back to bite Exeter, who blanked at home for the first time since September.

Wednesday never really got going in the first half, which was when the Grecians were at their best. Matt Taylor’s side needed to strike early to pile the pressure on the visitors, but it never came.

Man of the match

Liam Shaw – Sheffield Wednesday

At the age of just 19 years old, Shaw played an all-round superb game. The youngster never tired and was the beating heart of an ailing Wednesday side. His assist to seal the victory was a testament to a brilliant day at the office for the midfielder.