9,735 people inside the Memorial Stadium witnessed one of the great Exeter City late shows as Sam Nombe's stoppage time winner snatched three points in a seven-goal blockbuster.
City surrendered a two-goal half time lead to trail 3-2 with six minutes to go, but Tim Dieng's header and Nombe's second of the game stunned a packed crowd in Horfield to record Gary Caldwell's third victory as manager.
After a draw at home to Portsmouth on Boxing day, Gary made only the one change to the starting XI. Sam Nombe returned in place of Jay Stansfield for his first start in five games for The Grecians.
Inside the first two minutes and it was the home side who had the first of the chances, with Josh Coburn finding himself in behind the City backline. But a perfectly timed sliding challenge from Alex Hartridge stopped the striker from getting a shot off and Jamal Blackman gathered up the loose ball.
City opened the scoring when a lovely weighted pass from Jevani Brown found Sam Nombe about 30 yards out, and after a couple touches the striker hit from 20 yards curling the ball into the top right-hand corner. Little did anyone inside the Memorial Stadium realise it would be the first of seven goals in a crazy encounter.
Only moments later and City had another chance, and it was Nombe once again. This time it was Harry Kite who was aiming to provider with a cross on the right-hand side, but the header from Nombe was excellently met by Rover’s keeper Belshaw who tipped it behind for a corner.
With the ball being shared quite evenly between both sides and the game being very end to end, it was Rovers who found themselves on the attack once again, this time with their top scorer Aaron Collins. However, Collins was adjudged to have dived after running alongside Hartridge and the referee brandished his first yellow of the game for simulation.
The half was nearing its end with only five minutes left and the referee went to his book for the second time of the game. This time it was a City player who had his name taken, Cheick Diabate was adjudged to have pulled down Coburn right on the edge of the area. From the resulting free kick, the ball smashed right into the wall, and with the ball pinging around inside the area Blackman pulled off one of the saves of the season, saving a Collins strike from only two yards out.
Everyone thought the first half was almost finished, but there was time for one more moment of magic. With the ball being played around the Rovers penalty area, captain Matt Jay fed the ball to Archie Collins and the midfield maestro wrong footed the Rovers defence and sent the ball flying into the bottom left-hand corner of the game, sending City in at half time two to the good.
As the second half was set to begin, there was slight confusion at the Memorial Ground as Joey Barton sent out his Rovers side in a change of strip as well as making two substitutes, the home side clearly needed a change or two.
The change of kit had definitely worked for Rovers as they had very much upped their game in the second half, with their players seeing a lot more of the ball. With that came a goal, with the ball seemingly not doing much on the edge of the area, the league’s top goal scorer Collins let rip a thunderbolt to allow Rovers a way back into the game.
After the goal, and with half an hour left, Gary decided for an almost immediate change with Jay Stansfield called upon to replace Grecians captain Matt Jay. Not long before, Jevani Brown found his way into the book after kicking the ball away after being called offside.
Not long after their first goal had gone in, Rovers found themselves level. Poor defensive work from City allowed Coburn space in the City penalty area and the attacker was able to bundle home.
City were doing everything they could to stop themselves from going behind, first Gary made a change at the back, with Josh Key now recovered from his illness coming on to replace Caprice. Then Sparkes, in an effort to keep City in the game got his name taken for the sixth game in the row, fouling just in front of the Rovers dugout.
No more than 15 minutes left to play, and Rovers were awarded a penalty kick after a rash challenge from the newly introduced Key who upended Collins inside the area after. The resulting penalty was taken by Scott Sinclair who wrong footed Blackman to put the home side in the lead after being two goals down at half time.
Rovers almost found the net once again inside the final 12 minutes but another fantastic save from Blackman just about kept City in it. The ball was then straight down the other end and some intricate football found Nombe in the box, but his effort cannoned off the bar courtesy of a block from a Rovers defender.
With only five minutes left of normal time, City equalised to make the score line 3-3. A ball into the area found the towering Tim Dieng who sent a bullet header past the hapless Belshaw, sending the travelling away fans wild.
Deep into added time and City found themselves a winner. A long ball over the top found Nombe and Rovers keeper Belshaw rushing onto the same ball, and it was Nombe who got their first heading the ball over the keeper into an empty net. With the away fans bunding all over each other in celebration.
City’s next game is a New Year’s Day clash at the Kassam Stadium to take on Oxford United for the third time this season. Hope to see as many of you Grecians there as possible.
City: Blackman, Caprice (Key), Sweeney, Diabate (Dieng), Hartridge, Sparkes, Kite, Collins, Jay © (Stansfield), Nombe, Brown
Subs not used: Lee, Harper, Chauke, Grounds
Bristol Rovers: Belshaw, Gordon (Anderson), Finley, Collins, Coutts ©, Gibson, Loft (Marquis), Evans (Sinclair), Hoole (Connolly), Thomas, Coburn
Subs not used: Jaakola, Marquis, Whelan, Gibbons
Referee: Simon Mather
Attendance: 9735 (1167 away)