Exeter City succumbed to a 2-0 defeat in a West Country derby against a buoyant Bristol Rovers side.
The Pirates piled on the early pressure before taking the lead when Ollie Norburn’s speculative effort crept under the body of Artur Krysiak
and into the net.
The Grecians changed formation in the second period with a couple of substitutions that looked to add a little dynamism to the City attack, but Lee Brown’s firecracker with less than ten minutes remaining put the game out of reach for City.
There was only a single swap to Paul Tisdale’s starting XI – 19-year-old Jake Gosling
, who scored his first Football League goal for Exeter City at the weekend against Northampton, took a seat on the bench. In his place stepped John O’Flynn
as part of a two-man attack, making his first start for almost two months.
And both sides had players that were taking on their old clubs – Pat Baldwin
, Danny Coles
and Jamie Cureton
all having played for the Gas before, and Danny Woodards being a former Grecian too.
The West Country derby started under a fairly subdued atmosphere, even though Rovers had an early strike at goal – the ball sat up invitingly for John-Joe O’Toole in the first minute but Tommy Doherty
made a crunching block.
It wasn’t until just before the ten-minute mark before either team registered another shot, with Eliot Richards latching onto a loose ball and chancing his arm from 25 yards. The effort had neither power nor direction though, and Artur Krysiak
watched it wide of his post.
The travelling Grecians at the Mem had a hearts-in-mouths moment when Kevin Amankwaah
, in the right-back position, overran his dribble as he cut inside. Amankwaah lunged in on Lee Brown, and many of the City fans were breathing a sigh of relief when the yellow card emerged from referee’s pocket.
And Amankwaah instantly showed his defensive prowess when a teasing ball from the right needed a crucial header away at the far post by the Grecians’ right-back.
From the resultant corner, the Pirates’ captain Tom Parkes rose highest to head goalwards, and it needed a header off the line by Arron Davies
to keep the ball from rippling the net.
All the pressure seemed to be coming from the hosts so it was no great surprise that it was Rovers that eventually took the lead – however the opener came in admittedly tame circumstances. After shepherding the Rovers attack, Ollie Norburn eventually popped a firm effort from 30 yards, which squirmed agonisingly through Krysiak’s fingers as it crossed the line.
City were almost gifted a chance to equalise when Craig Woodman
– whose corner against Northampton at the weekend forced the Cobblers stopper into a crucial error – delivered a dangerous ball from the flag. The ball slipped away from the fingers of Stuart Mildenhall as he attempted to gather, but he collected at the second attempt with Scot Bennett
Exeter were growing into the game slowly, with Matt Oakley
coming in off the right flank, but Mildenhall wasn’t troubled into making any saves of note as the half drifted out.
Half-time: Bristol Rovers 1 Exeter City 0
And Gosling instantly looked spritely on the left flank and escaped to deliver a troublesome centre, though it just evaded the City attack.
Keohane and Gosling had certainly added a different – arguably more dynamic – dimension to the Grecians’ forward line. The visitors were also making the home crowd edgy by getting the ball under control a lot more in opposition territory.
Mildenhall hadn’t looked overly troubled between the sticks for the Pirates until midway through the second half, when Craig Woodman
had the chance to send in a free-kick from tight on the byline after Davies’ jinky run resulted in a foul. Bennett met the ball with his forehead, and the effort had the Rovers goalkeeper scrambling before it crept wide.
Tis made the final throw of the dice with quarter of an hour remaining, removing right-back Amankwaah in place of centre-forward Bauza.
With the Grecians occasionally short at the back as they committed bodies upfield, the Gas were occasionally getting chance to break into space. Richards firstly saw a shot blocked at the end of a fine passing moved, before O’Toole lashed one wide with his left boot from outside the area.
But the second Rovers goal was eventually forthcoming, and effectively sealed the victory. Brown picked up the ball from a tight angle in the inside-left channel, and seeing little else on, the defender unleashed an absolute thunderbolt to bulge the net and put the Gas firmly into the ascendency.
The hosts looked to take the pace out of the game and take the sting out, though Bauza troubled Mildenhall late on with a looping header that needed poking over the bar.
But that was as close as City came to finding a consolatory goal from their trip up the M5, as Rovers saw out the four additional minutes without much concern.
Full-time: Bristol Rovers 2 Exeter City 0
Bristol Rovers: Mildenhall; Smith, Parkes, McChrystal, Brown; Harrison (Broghammer 73), Woodards (McDonald 90), O’Toole, Horburn, Richards (Hitchcock 84), Brunt.
Subs (not used): Gough, Paterson, Lockyer, Tounkara.
Goals: Norburn (23), Brown (82).
Exeter City: Krysiak, Amankwaah (Bauza 75), Baldwin, Coles, Woodman; Oakley, Doherty (Gosling h-t), Bennett, Davies; O’Flynn (Keohane h-t), Cureton.
Subs (not used): Evans, Tully, Dawson, Moore-Taylor.
Attendance: 7,107 (932 away)
Referee: G. Scott