Exeter City take the three points back down the M5, following a 1-0 win away at Bristol Rovers courtesy of Sonny Cox, in the box.
A wet and windy Tuesday night at The Memorial Stadium set the scene for Exeter City’s away visit to Bristol Rovers. City visited Rovers in 20th position with only three points separating them and 16th position. Rovers sat in 12th although they were in poor form, losing their last three League One fixtures.
Manager Gary Caldwell named one change from the home draw against Cambridge as Reece Cole replaced Yanic Wildschut. Pierce Sweeney retained the captain’s armband.
Rovers kicked off the game, quickly putting the ball out of play at Vil Sinisalo’s end, allowing City to take control of proceedings. For the following five minutes, the game would be played in the centre of the park with neither team creating a shooting opportunity until the seventh minute which marked the beginning of a period of sustained pressure.
City won three corners in quick succession; each being delivered with different methods, and each producing a similar outcome. The first was drilled low into the near post, the second was a textbook cross delivered through the air and the third was played short. Despite a lack of success from these set pieces, City maintained possession and continued to build momentum with the travelling supporters getting louder and louder. However, the sound of the Grecians would peak in the 12th minute when Cox put City ahead.
Whilst Cox put the ball in the net, it was Jack Aitchison who will have earned plaudits as he picked the ball up in his own half, dribbling through a sea of blue shirts to create the opportunity. After wriggling past enough defenders to create space to shoot, Aitchison had a pop at goal, only for the ball to be deflected back out to him on the edge of the box. Aitchison then composed himself and took aim again, this time the ball made it through the defenders and into the chest of Rovers keeper, Matt Cox, who got low to stop the shot. Rovers’s keeper was unable to keeper hold of the ball and smuggle it before the gambling Sonny Cox got to it first. Sonny Cox chipped the ball over the keeper and wheeled away in celebration to the jubilant away fans.
1-0 up, City continued to pile on the pressure, being sucked in by the sound of the 12th man. Luke Harris, Reece Cole, and Ben Purrington were combining well on the left side of the pitch in front of the City supporters who were enjoying what they were seeing. Despite the continued pressure, City were unable to capitalise however close they came. Cole looked as though he would double City’s lead before his effort from a tricky angle inside the box hit the outside of the far post.
Following a break in play as Sinisalo went down to receive treatment and both teams took to the sidelines to take on fluids, Sonny Cox nearly doubled his goal tally with a wonderful solo effort. Sonny Cox carried the ball for 30-yards before releasing a wonderful curling effort towards the near post from the edge of the box, only beaten by an impressive diving save from Matt Cox.
The weather worsened for the second half as horizontal rain showered across Memorial Park. City thought as though the second half would start as well as the first half had played out when Aitchison appeared to be one-on-one with the keeper. Instead, Lewis Gordon made an impressive last-ditch tackle to halt Aitchison in his tracks. Aitchison, who had been playing well, retaining possession in tight spaces and carrying the ball positively, was then moved up front due to the injury of City’s goalscorer, Cox. Cox was replaced by Dion Rankine.
The goal kicks, and any ball played over a certain height, were being blown out of play due to north-easterly winds. This meant that the teams had two options: gamble with a high ball or play intricately along the floor. City opted for the latter as Rankine beat his man on the wing and slid the ball back, just behind the looming Harris. Cole then picked up the pieces on the edge of the box before having his shot deflected for an unfruitful corner.
As the 70th minute hit, it seemed as though a switch had flipped in the stadium as City’s attention swapped from weathering the meteorological storm to the metaphorical one as Rovers’ attacks began to look all the more threatening. Former Grecian Jevani Brown, who had recently been substituted on, had his effort blocked by Cheick Diabate and Sinisalo made himself busy collecting loose balls.
Cole picked up the first yellow card of the game, fouling a Rovers attacker by the corner flag. The consequential free kick was cleared by Ben Purrington, who headed out for a corner which was eventually cleared by Ilmari Niskanen out for a throw-in on the far side of the pitch. Rovers’ attack diminished as they eventually played the ball back into their own half and play was halted for Purrington’s treatment. Unfortunately, Purrington left the field on a stretcher (replaced by Alex Hartridge) and more details on the extent of his injury will be shared on the club website when they become available.
The prolonged delay in play did not harm Rovers’ momentum who quickly came on the front-foot following the restart. Rovers had the ball in the net, although to the relief of the City fans, the offside flag was up.
The fourth official indicated that there would be eight added minutes, although play didn’t restart following the disallowed goal into the 92nd, meaning that this game was going to hit triple digits. Tensions raised in the Memorial Stadium as the game became scrappy, although Rovers struggled to create any clear-cut chances. City were fouled inside their own half as home fans started to leave the ground. The ref gave one last look at his watch and blew the whistle. City take the three points back down the M5. Celebratory hot chocolates in order on a cold January night.
Exeter City: Sinisalo, Purrington (Hartridge 84’), Jules, Carroll (Wildschut 90+2’), Cole, Niskanen, Cox (Rankine 56’, Kite 90+2’), Harris, Sweeney, Aitchison, Diabate.
Unused Subs: MacDonald, Aimson, Taylor.
Bristol Rovers: Cox, Grant, Finley, Marquis, Collins, Thomas, Taylor, Evans, McCormick, Crama, Hunt.
Subs: Ward, Connolly, Gordon, Vale, Brown, Gibbons, Hoole.
Referee: Jacob Miles