Report: Gillingham 2 Exeter City 3
An Alan Gow free-kick and a brace by Jamie Cureton gave the Grecians a fantastic 3-2 away win against Gillingham.
The travelling fans might have been excused for thinking they were in for a long night when Chris Whelpdale gave the hosts a fourth-minute lead.
But a free-kick by Gow before half-time and a poacher’s effort by Cureton after the interval gave City the advantage.
A fantastic strike by Danny Jackman tied the game up again, before a penalty was awarded to the Grecians. Cureton’s spot-kick was saved, but minutes later he netted a brilliant winner by heading in a Liam Sercombe cross.
After a strongly contested victory against Bradford, manager Paul Tisdale only made a single change to his starting line-up for the visit to Priestfield. Tommy Doherty slotted into midfield, while his countryman John O’Flynn missed out on the squad with injury.
The home side were keen to stamp their authority on the fixture and had the first testing effort when right-back Matt Fish hit a looping half-volley from a corner that was only half-cleared, and it nicked the crossbar on the way over.
But they did take an early lead through Whelpdale. A cutting ball from midfield dissected the centre-halves, and despite the attention of Danny Coles, Whelpdale poked the ball past the onrushing figure of Artur Krysiak.
After a shaky few minutes, the Grecians began to settle and created an opening of their own. A ball flicked up into the path of Sercombe inside the full-back sat up invitingly, but he lashed his shot high and wide of the near post from an acute angle.
As ever, Gow’s trickery with the ball at his feet was causing the Gills’ defence no end of problems, and Charlie Lee was the first to have his name taken by the referee after hacking down the Scotsman while he was breaking clear.
And City drew level from the resulting free-kick. Gow himself placed the ball down 20 yards from goal and bent a left-footed effort beyond the reach of Stuart Nelson to restore parity.
Gillingham might have reopened a lead shortly after when a raking diagonal ball was pumped in towards Deon Burton, but the striker couldn’t quite control on the chest and the ball rolled behind for a goal-kick.
A corner from the right-hand side was met with a glancing header by Lee, only to be hooked clear off the line by Steve Tully. Danny Jackman followed up with a firm strike, but he got underneath it and it flew harmlessly into the stands.
Another decent chance came for the Gills shortly before the break when Jackman got upfield again from the left full-back position. A swinging cross was met with a sweet header by Ben Strevens, it sailed narrowly past Krysiak’s near post.
And the Gills finished the half as they started, with a drilled 25-yard effort by Fish after a half-clearance. This time it hit the target, but Krysiak was well positioned and saved comfortably.
Half-time: Gillingham 1 Exeter City 1
The Grecians had a superb chance to take the lead early in the second half, as Gow slipped in Sercombe on the right flank. His low, drilled centre found its way to Cureton in the six-yard box, but it took a meaty deflection as it cleared the crossbar.
But from the resulting corner, the Grecians went ahead for the first time. Gow worked a short-corner routine from the right-hand side to fashion a better angle to centre. His whipped cross got stuck under the feet of a defender, allowing Cureton to pounce and score his fourth in as many games.
The Gills’ half-time substitute Myles Weston then came close to pegging back the scores after cutting in from the left wing, but his cross-cum-shot shaved the far post on the way behind.
Gillingham’s supporters in the Rainham End were trying to suck the ball into the net and nearly had their wish granted when centre-half Callum Davies rose to meet a corner, but his headed effort flicked wide.
But the home fans had cause to be grateful to Davies when his defensive partner Adam Barrett inadvertently looped a poor back-pass into the path of Cureton, who was almost afforded a free run on goal. In the end, however, Davies held up the play to bail out his team-mate.
Barrett was nearly caught out again when he allowed the ball to bounce and Cureton took a touch before striking from a tight angle, but the goalkeeper smothered at the second attempt.
However the Gills finally drew level when a ball pumped forward fell kindly to the feet of Jackman. The left-back steadied himself before drilling an unstoppable angled drive beyond Krysiak.
Jimmy Keohane, on as a late substitute, was showing plenty of industry and made a driving run into the box. He was felled by Charlie Allen, and the referee awarded a penalty.
Cureton stepped up, but his shot was central and lacking in power and Nelson held comfortably.
But Cureton had the last laugh just moments later by netting what proved to be the winning goal. Sercombe was afforded room to deliver a pinpoint cross from the right and Cureton guided a header in at the near post.
The hosts did their utmost to force another leveller but with fresh legs in Elliott Chamberlain putting in a shift to run the clock down, the Grecians held on for three points.
Full-time: Gillingham 2 Exeter City 3
Gillingham: Nelson; Fish, Davies, Barrett, Jackman; Whelpdale, Lee (Weston h/t), Allen, Montrose (Vincelot 60), Strevens (Kedwell 70); Burton.
Subs (not used): Essam, Frampton, Birchall, Forecast.
Goals: Whelpdale (4), Jackman (78).
Exeter City: Krysiak; Tully, Coles, Baldwin, Woodman; Sercombe, Doherty (Keohane 84), Bennett, Oakley; Gow; Cureton (Chamberlain 90).
Subs (not used): Evans, Amankwaah, Nichols, Dawson, Moore-Taylor.
Goals: Gow (27), Cureton (52, 87).
Attendance: 6851 (144 away).
Referee: D. Deadman