Exeter City fell to a stoppage-time winner at the hands of Bristol Rovers, as the Pirates triumphed 2-1 at the Memorial Stadium.
The Grecians took a lead midway through the first period when Lee Brown mistakenly looped the ball into his own net, but barely a minute had passed when Rovers were back level as O’Toole made no mistake from the spot.
Despite chances at either end after the break, the game appeared to be tailing out all-square as neither side could burst the net again.
But O’Toole was alive deep into stoppage time to volley in a winner, sending City back down the M5 without a point to show for an industrious performance against their neighbours.
Former Pirates man Danny Coles
was back into the starting XI, having missed out in recent weeks after knee surgery. He was given the captain’s armband once again, and lined up in defence alongside centre-half partner Pat Baldwin
– also formerly on Rovers’ books.
That meant for a space in midfield for Scot Bennett
– Matt Gill
, recently brought in permanently from Rovers, wasn’t quite fit enough to begin after a hamstring complaint against Torquay. It was also another City start up front for Tom Nichols
with David Wheeler
and Alan Gow
flanking the forward.
It was the home side that began the more assured on the ball on a stodgy surface. And the Grecians had a huge let-off within the opening minutes as Ellis Harrison escaped down the right flank, drove goalwards, and laid on a perfect cross for Eliot Richards. Somehow, however, the midfielder conspired to turn the ball wide of the post from practically under the crossbar, with the goal at his mercy.
The Grecians did manage to get some moves flowing and made progress upfield. Nichols had a chance to open with a free-kick from just outside the apex of the box on the left, but his effort just cleared the goal.
And Exeter did in fact take the lead on the 20-minute mark in rather bizarre circumstances. A quick counter down the left, instigated by Wheeler, saw Exeter escape into the box. And after interplay between Gow and Nichols, the latter looked to slot in in Wheeler – but instead the ball looped off left-back Brown and found the net.
But a minute later Rovers were back on terms from 12 yards. Richards used a turn of pace to draw a foul in the area, and O’Toole hammered into the bottom corner to restore parity.
Gow was beginning to show his magic with the ball at his feet as the half progressed, and was unlucky to get crowded out at the last after wriggling clear from the half-way line. Another effort from the Scotsman, after link-up play with Nichols, saw a shot nicked just wide of the target after clipping a defender’s boot.
Richards again had another chance to find the net for Rovers as the first half wound to a close as Liam Sercombe
’s headed clearance could only find the opposition midfielder – but he hammered his volley just wide.
Half-time: Bristol Rovers 1 Exeter City 1
Both sides had opportunities to take a lead early in the second half – a deep free-kick by Brown saw O’Toole miss by a yard with a glancing header, and moments later at the other end Gow could only strike a free-kick into the wall after drawing a last-ditch foul in the D with some great footwork.
City went for a change of shape on the hour-mark, as Coles was replaced by Arron Davies
– it meant a switch to the right flank for Wheeler, Gow slotted in behind Nichols, and Bennett filling the centre-half position.
A golden opportunity came and went for City after a good period of pressure and movement with the ball. A Sercombe corner was nodded on at the near post by Gow, but it just evaded Wheeler at the back stick.
That was the last action for the winger, as Wheeler was replaced by Sam Parkin
. John O’Flynn
was also introduced at the same time in place of Nichols.
It was a bold, attacking move by City and meant the defence had to be particularly alert – Baldwin in particular had shown excellent positional sense all game and had been dealing with everything that came in aerially. Ollie Clarke almost profited from a loose ball though, but drilled a first-time shot just wide from outside the area.
The pressure kept coming from City though and Davies fired a shot from range into the arms of Steve Mildenhall, before another Gow-inspired forward move saw the forward’s effort palmed away by the stopper – Michael Smith blocked out Parkin on the follow-up.
Baldwin once again had to be in the right place at the right time as a ball broke loose to O’Toole – the attacker hammered goalwards from a tight angle but found the shins of the centre-half.
O’Toole was the latest to try and take all three points, but his 40-yard effort as the game ticked into stoppage time cleared the bar by a distance.
But he did find the net in the final moments as cross found him in the area to volley in for three points.
Full-time: Bristol Rovers 2 Exeter City 1
Bristol Rovers: Mildenhall; Smith, McChrystal, Parkes, Brown, Richards (Woodards 85), Clarke, Lockyer (Beardsley 65), Harrison (Clarkson 73), O’Toole, Harrold.
Subs: Gough, Norburn, Harding, Keary.
Goals: O’Toole (pen 21, 90).
Exeter City: Krysiak; Butterfield, Baldwin, Coles (Davies 61), Moore-Taylor; Sercombe, Bennett, Grimes; Wheeler (Parkin 72), Gow, Nichols (O’Flynn 72).
Subs: Pym, Woodman, Keohane, Gill.
Goal: Brown o.g. (20).
Attendance: 6,674 (655 away)
Referee: A. Madley