Just as Exeter City’s home form has begun to pick up – seven points and three clean sheets over 270 minutes at the Park – the ‘business end’ of the season kicks in, with top-of-the-table Gillingham the visitors to St James Park this Tuesday evening.
If ever there was a time for the Grecians to demonstrate their promotion credentials then surely this match against the Gills – the one team across npower League 2 with an ounce of breathing space – is their opportunity. With no team listed as among the club’s main rivals (according to a 2003 Football Fans’ Census), there is hope that Exeter can take advantage of Gillingham’s apparent ‘Mr Nice Guy’ appearance and send them home empty-handed. Having taken a hard-fought point away from promotion rivals Fleetwood on Saturday, the Grecians should have no fear as they welcome to the South-West a club that holds the record for conceding the fewest goals in a 46-game season (merely 20!)
Indeed the Gills have conceded the fewest goals this season too, though fortunately for Jamie Cureton
& co it won’t be ‘safe hands’ Ron Hillyard between the sticks on Tuesday (563 appearances in total for the club), as he retired way back in 1991. Grecian fans probably won’t want to know that of the 23 times that Gillingham have scored first this campaign they have only gone and blown their lead on a mere three occasions, though you can all take heart that the Gills haven’t won at St James Park in 19 attempts (a record stretching back to the 1961/62 season).
With the Gills sitting pretty at the top of the table, you can guarantee the bookies will have them as favourites in most games until the end of the season. And that’s the case on Tuesday – but they were favourites when City overturned them at Priestfield back in November, so that won’t matter a jot to the Grecians. But you can get odds of 2/1 on an Exeter City victory
for the crunch match at St James Park.
Referee: Keith Hill
Assistants: Andrew Laver & Paul Rees
Fourth Official: Lee Swabey
City can finally welcome back Mark Molesley
to the team, after he has served the three-match ban which came as a result of his dismissal during the Grecians’ win at Port Vale. Alan Gow
, Liam Sercombe
and Myles Anderson
will miss out again, and Tommy Doherty
’s injury – which kept him out against Fleetwood – could potentially keep him sidelined again.
Chris Whelpdale – who scored when Exeter visited Priestfield earlier in the season – looks like he won’t be fit to play, while a foot injury could also keep Myles Weston out. Andy Frampton should recover in time from his head injury to feature, however.
Last time round at Priestfield the game was an absolute corker; finishing 3-2 to the Grecians courtesy of a Jamie Cureton
winner in the 87th minute. Gillingham had led from early on when Chris Whelpdale put them ahead after four minutes, but Exeter responded through Alan Gow
’s free-kick and Cureton, before the latter bagged his winner – just minutes after squandering a chance from 12 yards when Jimmy Keohane
drew a foul in the box.
Apart from the scoreline honours were rather uncannily even; both teams racking up two yellow cards each, both producing nine fouls, and sharing the possession 50-50. Here’s hoping for a similar outcome this time round!
The Grecians certainly aren’t ‘doing a Port Vale’ currently – indeed with the exception of the visit to Bristol Rovers, Exeter will be happy with the progress made as the end of the season approaches: six clean sheets in eight and undefeated in three home matches is the kind of form that will definitely facilitate an immediate return to League 1. The Gills can boast of their own impressive form, however, having been beaten just the once in their last seven, surely warranting the position they currently hold in League 2. Either way, this game is set to be a tense affair with (fortunately or unfortunately) a lot at stake.