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15:15 10th April 2011

Bristol Rovers 0 Exeter City 2

Daniel Nardiello's late double ensured 66th minute substitute Marcus Stewart enjoyed the perfect send off at The Memorial Ground this afternoon. City had enjoyed the majority of the possession and chances in the Bristol sunshine and their persistence eventually paid off when Stewart teed up the Welsh striker for a simple finish on 78 minutes. Nardiello then added a second in stoppage time after rounding Conrad Logan before Stewart's emotional farewell which included rapturous applause from all sides of the Memorial and a guard of honour from his team-mates. Paul Tisdale made one change from the side that snuck past the Daggers seven days earlier, goalscoring hero Richard Logan replacing John O'Flynn. Troy Archibald-Henville returned to the bench alongside new goalkeeper James Wood. City's dominance in a vital game for the home side began as early as four minutes in when Logan's stunning effort from the left-hand side of the box smashed off the crossbar with his blond namesake gasping at thin air. Throughout this season Tisdale's men have made a habit out of grabbing early goals and they started with a similar intent this afternoon, Cureton and Dunne both trying their luck within the opening ten minutes. Arguably City's best chance of the first half fell to former Rovers man Cureton, starting against the side where he scored 72 goals in less than 200 appearances. David Noble was fouled and Ryan Harley's right footed free-kick found Cureton at the far post but his header was kept out superbly by Logan. The Grecians continued to press, forcing a string of corners and having plenty of the ball, and their next chance came from another set-piece - Matt Taylor heading over the bar from a corner. There was little to write home about before the interval and that was thanks in part to some smart City defending. Tisdale made a change, which proved to be a crucial one, at the interval sending Daniel Nardiello on for Billy Jones. And the former Manchester United man was involved almost straight from the kick off. Flyuing down the left-hand flank, he cut inside and his goal-bound shot seemed to hit a Rovers hand. Cureton then had a great chance to open the scoring when teed up by Noble, but his effort was hacked away by Gary Sawyer. City attacked with a front three for the second half with Logan on the right, Cureton in the middle and Nardiello roaming down the left. The latter had Exeter's next chance on the hour mark, an ambitious curling shot that flew over the bar. It was then Marcus' time to enter the field with Logan being withdrawn. And it seems fitting that his 19 year career ended with the 38-year-old playing a crucial role from the bench to help City to three points. It was another former Rovers man though who had the next big chance of the match - James Dunne swung over a perfect right footed cross and Cureton's header was kept out by the fingertips of Logan. The away fans behind his goal were then up in arms when the Leicester loanee caught a chip from Noble and seemed to get very close to carrying the ball over the line. At the other end Jo Kuffour rushed his lob when goalside of Matt Taylor and Ben Hamer showed great hands to clutch a corner out of the air over the head of Kuffour shortly after. The away side then put together a move of real quality that ended with Nardiello being denied by a fine block. The fine build up play included Stewart nodding the ball down to Noble and the former Bristol City man pinging a gorgeous ball to the left flank from the centre of midfield. Cureton was then withdrawn for Jake Thomson before the vital opening goal came. It began when Harley opted not to shoot when well placed on the left-hand edge of the box and instead took the ball to the byline. After cutting inside and out like only Harley does, he sent a low ball towards the near post where Marcus made a vital run across the goalkeeper like he had so many times before. The former Ipswich man then had the simple task of squaring the ball for Nardiello to smash the ball into the empty net infront of the jubilant travelling support. It wasn't all plain sailing from then on in, City's loanee goalkeeper had to make a vital close range save from Kuffour after Wayne Brown's initial shot was saved. Nardiello then showed tremendous feet to weave in and out before his shot was headed off the line by Danny Coles with two minutes to go. But he would grab his second of the afternoon two minutes into added time. Harley broke forward from midfield and slipped him through and Nardiello, having broken the offside trap, rounded Logan before gleefully firing the ball into the far corner. The final whistle blew shortly after and the delighted players headed to applaud the Grecian army before all focus turned to Marcus. Plenty of Rovers fans stayed behind to watch him salute all four sides of the ground and shake plenty of hands before disappearing throughan Exeter guard of honour infront of the tunnel. And there was a real feel good feeling amongst the 1074 Grecians leaving The Memorial made even better when results elsewhere came in. A Play Off spot is five points away with five games left….but we couldn't could we?!
    Data provided by Press Association