When Euro 2020 star Cristiano Ronaldo was frustrated by non-league Exeter City

Just over fifteen years ago, Manchester United were drawn to face Exeter City in the third round of the FA Cup. When the two sides met at Old Trafford, not even Cristiano Ronaldo could break the resolve of the stubborn visitors, who at the time were a club mired in debts and playing in the fifth tier of English football.

Ronaldo recently achieved yet another landmark in his phenomenal career, becoming the all-time leading scorer at European Championship tournaments, surpassing the previous record of 9 goals by Michel Platini with France. Currently leading the Euro 2020 top goalscorer odds with three goals in two games for Portugal, the 36-year-old superstar is usually capable of breaching even the toughest rival defences.

However, that wasn’t always the case. When Exeter City visited Old Trafford back in January 2005, it was such a momentous occasion for the club, and thousands of supporters made the trip north from Devon. Few of them expected a giant-killing result and simply hoped for a great day out. Manchester United fans believed their side would win comfortably and with little fuss against the non-league side.

Exeter City hold firm at Old Trafford

Sir Alex Ferguson made countless changes to his team, although the starting eleven was still packed with enviable talent, along with world-class players on the bench. The weakened Red Devils failed to make any impact against the plucky visitors, who even had the better chances, with Dean Moxey coming agonisingly close to scoring just before the interval.

Exeter started the second half as they ended the first, with another great opportunity through Moxey, sending a long-range effort fractionally wide. The United boss decided enough was enough and with just over an hour on the clock, Paul Scholes and Cristiano Ronaldo left the bench to get the result their manager expected.


Despite the relentless and increased pressure that inevitably came their way, Exeter held firm. Their goalkeeper Paul Jones performed heroics between the posts, including a superb save to deny Cristiano Ronaldo late in the game, after the United player took aim and sent a ferociously powerful shot towards goal.

The final 0-0 score was thoroughly deserved after what had been a courageous display by Exeter, earning a replay and a sudden influx of much-needed revenue. Along with their portion of the Old Trafford gate receipts, the club filled St James Park, before honourably bowing out of the FA Cup when a stronger United side won 2-0 in the replay.

Where are they now?

After spending five seasons in what was then called the Conference Premier, Exeter City finally gained promotion back to the Football League in 2008-09 via the promotion play-offs. They also achieved back-to-back promotions, rising to League One at the end of the 2009-10 campaign, spending three seasons in the third tier.

Currently in League Two again, Exeter City narrowly missed out on promotion for a third time in four years, losing the 2019-20 play-off final against Northampton Town, and finished 9th in the League the following campaign. One veteran of that encounter against Manchester United featured in that game, with Dean Moxey making his final appearance for the club.

Moxey spent last season at Torquay United in the National League, as they battled to make their own long-awaited return to the EFL. In the end, after finishing the 2020-21 campaign second in the National League, the Gulls lost the play-off final on penalties against Hartlepool United.

While their trajectories in the game have been worlds apart, Moxey will undoubtedly have been watching the performances of Cristiano Ronaldo at Euro 2020. He will have many fond memories of that famous day at Old Trafford in 2005, when Exeter City almost eliminated Manchester United from the FA Cup.

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