Report: Exeter City 2 Bristol Rovers 1
A debut goal by Sam Parkin rounded off an opening-day win for Exeter City against local rivals Bristol Rovers.
City had gone ahead initially in the second half through captain Danny Coles, who thundered a header into the net.
However the Gas were level soon after when Eliot Richards diverted a cross into the net with a smart run.
But a great diving header by Parkin from an Arron Davies delivery sealed three points to get the Grecians off and running in 2013/14.
New signings Parkin and David Wheeler were immediately drafted into the starting XI for the first fixture of the season. In defence, Jordan Moore-Taylor took up the right-back position whilst Liam Sercombe began his first competitive game in seven months in midfield.
Rovers only named six subs, following a pre-season fraught with injuries and former City captain Matt Gill wasn’t amongst the side.
City looked the livelier in the opening exchanges, though the game didn’t settle into a pattern of play too quickly with both teams feeling their way into the match.
John O’Flynn was the first to test the Pirates’ rearguard as strong forward play on the inside-right channel allowed him to break clear – however John-Joe O’Toole cut the ball out with Parkin lurking and put behind.
Rovers, unable to mount meaningful attacks when shooting towards the Bank, were stretched again when Arron Davies slotted in O’Flynn but it was just intercepted in time by Ollie Norburn.
From the resultant corner, Parkin couldn’t believe that he missed the chance to score a debut goal when Davies’ perfect delivery was met by a powerful header by the striker – and whistled inches over the bar.
The most likely to make things tick for the Gas was O’Toole from the centre of midfield, but he had his name taken for a needless foul on Artur Krysiak, as he apprehended the Polish stopper when he was going for a goal-kick.
The next chance of note again came for the Grecians, on the half-hour mark. A ball hooked infield was controlled by O’Flynn on his chest before he unleashed a stinging half-volley, which had Steve Mildenhall scrambling – but it flashed over the bar.
Wheeler was showing energy in abundance on his competitive debut for the Grecians and was causing Rovers problems in the channel. Cutting inside, he launched a strike goalwards which fellow debutant Parkin could only divert beyond Mildenhall’s near post for another let-off for the visitors.
Half-time: Exeter City 0 Bristol Rovers 0
The Grecians had another chance to break the deadlock immediately in the second period – Davies punched in a delightful cross for Parkin to chest into the path of O’Flynn, who was dispossessed with the ball stuck under his feet.
However the Pirates began to show some threat to Krysiak’s goal straight after – and when O’Toole’s drilled shot rebounded into the path of Ellis Harrison whose thunderbolt skimmed over the crossbar via a deflection off Sercombe.
The visitors were pressing well and it was unorthodox corner routine by the Gas that eventually saw the ball break to captain Tom Parkes just inside the box – he hit a volley as the ball dropped out the sky and it fizzed a foot wide of the target.
But it was the Grecians who drew first blood, just as the game was ticking towards the hour. Mark McChrystal conceded something of a needless corner, and Craig Woodman’s inswinger from the right was perfect for Coles to head in at the far post.
Less than ten minutes later, however, the teams were all-square again as the Pirates found their first goal of the new campaign.
City dealt with the first wave of a corner routine well, but Harrison picked up the ball on the right touchline and played a curling cross into the path of the onrushing Richards, who delicately side-footed into the net.
Exeter introduced Alan Gow for O’Flynn for a change of tack – and the Scotsman had two early chances, the first of which was deflected over and the latter was saved low by Mildenhall from a narrow angle.
But the Grecians were back in the lead seconds later when Parkin capped his performance with a debut goal. A ball swung in by Davies was met by a stooping, diving header by the new City addition to retake the lead with 15 minutes to play.
Gow and Parkin linked up well moments later with a series of one-twos, but the substitute was tackled just as he was intending to pull the trigger.
Richards was sniffing around for his and Rovers’ second and nearly got it when sub Shaquille Hunter put in a low cross – but a delicate flick was fielded by Krysiak.
The game had some last-minute drama in the offing when Richards escaped to force a great save down low to the stopper’s left. O’Toole followed up, and a vital goalline clearance was needed by Coles to turn away and keep the three points in the bag.
Full-time: Exeter City 2 Bristol Rovers 1
Exeter City: Krysiak, Woodman, Bennett, Baldwin, Coles, Sercombe, Davies, Moore-Taylor, O’Flynn (Gow 73), Parkin, Wheeler.
Subs (not used): Pym, Doherty, Dawson, Reid, Gosling, Keohane.
Goal: Coles (59), Parkin (78).
Bristol Rovers: Mildenhall; Smith, Parkes, Clarkson (Lockyer 86), Richards, Brown, Norburn, Harrison (Hunter 83), Harding (Santos 63), McChrystal, O’Toole.
Subs (not used): Gough, Keary, Southway.
Goal: Richards (68).
Attendance: 5,196 (1,232 away)
Referee: M. Heywood