A look ahead to tomorrow's game
Bristol Rovers take the short trip down the M5 on Saturday to Exeter to face the 3rd placed Grecians. But there will be a sense of optimism in the Rovers camp despite having failed to win a game yet this season.
Last Saturday’s much improved performance against Fleetwood gave a degree of optimism but two loan signing has taken that optimism to another level.
Young Bolton striker Tom Eaves will be looking to fill the role played by injured Matt Harrold. The second signing and one that has already excited Gasheads is Scottish International, Derek Riordan. The former Celtic and Hibernian striker has an impressive goal scoring record.
Newly relegated Exeter City had a shock on the opening day of the season as they went down 3-0 to Morecambe. The Devon team bounced straight back with four successive victories. This was followed by a draw and a win before their second loss of the season last weekend at Southend’s Roots Hall ground. So far they have put together a six-game unbeaten run and collected 16 points out of 24.
Exeter were on top for long spells last weekend and went in front in the 51st minute when Matt Oakley's right wing cross was back healed at the near post by Pat Baldwin, enabling Scott Bennett to sweep home right footed from six yards.
But Shrimpers boss Paul Sturrock made a double change in the 57th minute in a bid to get back in to the game. Freddy Eastwood came on in for Elliot Benyon in attack while Ryan Leonard replaced David Martin on the left flank and, in the 71st minute, Irishman Barry Corr also entered the action in place of John Spicer.
Former Exeter player Corr, back from a 17 month injury lay-off, headed a deep right wing cross from Sean Clohessy in to the back of the net from close range and, two minutes from time, Eastwood nodded in a left wing centre from Chris Barker.
Speaking after the game, Grecian Boss Paul Tisdale noted, "It's frustrating when it's highlighted by the way we've played so well. We were every bit as good as we have been on the road in the past three games, we were organised, very sensible, defended very well and had control of the game.
"For 70 minutes or so I felt we had just as much chance of scoring a second, if not more, than them scoring an equaliser." It was a first loss on their travels this season for Exeter, who had won their previous three away matches.
"We looked a very competent side, I'm pleased with the way we played and it's hard to draw any negatives from our performance," said Tisdale. "There's a long season ahead of us, but I'm more than pleased with the way we played."
Since regaining their league status (after a 5 year hiatus) the Grecians experienced some of the best form of their history. They gained immediate promotion in their first season back and had a very successful return to Division One, finishing comfortably away from any relegation danger and playing some very attractive football under Paul Tisdale. Last season the Devon team struggled throughout and were eventually relegated.
Looking at the history of games between the Grecians and the Gas, the first ever meeting took place in Exeter on the opening day of the 1908-09 Southern League fixtures on 5th September.
An 8,000 crowd saw an entertaining 3-3 draw with goals by Roberts (2) and Peplow for Rovers. In the return game on 2nd January, Rovers ran out 5-1 winners, with goals by Corbett (3), McGubbin and Roberts sending a 10,000 Eastville crowd home happy.
The first Football League fixture wasn’t until the closing weeks of the 1920-21 season. Interestingly the fixtures were played in ‘pairs’ at that time (this lasted for about four seasons).
In the first game on 2nd May at Eastville, Rovers ran out 5-0 winners with goals by Syd Leigh (4) and Ellis Crompton (who was later to captain the Devon team). Leigh became the first player to score four goals in a League game for Rovers. Five days later Exeter gained their revenge at St James Park with a closing day 1-0 win.
Gerry Francis had a brief spell as manager at Exeter during the 1983-84 season and it was a real eye opener to him. Whilst they played very open and attractive football their defence leaked goals alarmingly and they were relegated. Rovers won both their games against their Devon rivals that year.
In the previous season there was a remarkable Eastville game in which Exeter threw everything into attack and were very unlucky to be held to a 4-4 draw.
Paul Randall scored two goals that evening, one of them a trademark run from near the halfway line. It was obvious to all in the North Stand that Randall was well offside when he started his run. But as we all know the Referee is always right, even when he’s wrong!
In recent seasons goals aren’t generally a feature of games between the two teams, although Rovers did secure a 5-0 FA Cup replay victory on 15 December 1998 after a 2-2 draw at St James’ Park.
In Exeter there have been 42 League and Cup games since 1920 and of those Exeter has won 20, there have been 13 draws and just 9 Rovers victories.
Talking about his squad's state of fitness ahead of Saturday’s game, Paul Tisdale said, "It's taking shape again. We've picked our way through a week or two of injuries. Alan Gow is fully fit again, Guillem Bauza also, and Liam Sercombe is possibly 50-50 for Saturday. There's a chance he may be fit.
"Those three players were all unavailable last week, but we have negotiated the 'rehab' period quite well. There are no new injuries and I've got a fully fit squad to choose from – maybe with the exception of Liam"
Talking about his previous Boss, Gas favourite Marcus Stewart noted that the unpredictable nature of Paul Tisdale’s tactics and team selection mean it is hard to know how any information he has on the Grecians can be used.
“Regardless of what I know, Paul Tisdale is very unpredictable in the way he plays. He could play three at the back on Saturday, he may surprise you with something or he might not, that’s the way Tis is.
“You know Exeter are going to try to pass the ball and at some point they will control the game and look to dictate the tempo, that’s one of their strengths, but Tis is unpredictable so we will have to be careful.”
On the other side of the fence is former Gas favourite and now Exeter’s leading goal scorer Jamie Cureton. He said: “I’m surprised at their poor start. They were one of the sides tipped to go up. Something’s not right there at the moment, I don’t know what, they are not winning games. I’m sure they will turn it around.
“I hope we will keep them where they are this weekend, but after that I wish them all the best. There are a few of us based near Bristol – Kevin [Amankwaah] and Tommy [Doherty] are Bristol City boys and Danny [Coles] has played for both so he gets stick from both sets of fans.
“The City boys will want to turn Rovers over because they will have mates who support City, and when you live in the city it is nice to walk around when you have won a game against one of the sides.
“It’s easier to take stick if you have won. I won’t want to go out if we get beaten. It would be nice to get the win and maybe I will pop to the shops and see if I can spot a few Rovers fans afterwards.”
With renewed confidence and everything top play for Mark McGhee’s team has everything to prove and nothing to lose on Saturday. A 3 point haul would be moist welcome.
Written by Gerry Prewett.