By Gerry Prewett.
Bristol Rovers take the short trip down to M5 to Devon to face Exeter City in a ‘dead rubber’ Checkatrade Trophy game. It’s a dead rubber for a good reason, both teams have already qualified for the next round. Whether either or both Managers look to make major changes remains to be seen.
Rovers have won both their games 2-0 and Exeter, also defeated West Ham 2-0 and drew 0-0 at Yeovil. On Saturday in the FA Cup, whilst Rovers were drawing 1-1 in North London, the Grecians went down 3-2 at home to Blackpool.
A Joe Dodoo header in less than 90 seconds gave the Seasiders the perfect start after John O'Sullivan had nodded Harry Prichard's deep cross back across goal.
Then before the 20 minute mark, Mark Cullen's easy header from a corner made it 2-0. Pritchard was then on the receiving end of Dodoo's low ball across the face of goal to give the Tangerine’s a 3-0 lead with only 24 minutes on the clock.
Matt Taylor’s half-time talk had the desired effect as son of former Gas Hero Andy Tilson, Jordan Tillson, scored a rare goal as he followed up Pierce Sweeney's penalty which was saved by Christopher Mafoumbi, with just over 20 minutes kleft to play.
Tristan Abraham's late long-range strike set up a grandstand finish, but Blackpool held on
Speaking after the game, Taylor said, “Obviously, you don’t want to lose any game of football. The three goals in quick succession in that 30-35-minute spell in the first half just took us out the game completely.
“No matter how well we played in the second half, the three goals kill you, and it’s a very rare occasion that you get back in the game from 3-0 down. Having said that, the second half performance was simple and basic, but it had a purpose about it. Some of the players stood up and played well in that second half, it’s not easy to do that when you’re 3-0 down, but you throw caution to the wind in some aspects of your play.
“The most important thing is to give yourself a chance, and I said it last week in terms of the goals conceded, against a good team like Blackpool. You wouldn’t even say they were clear cut opportunities, but we have to defend our box better than we showed today.”
Exeter’s already concerning injury list grew heavier with Pierce Sweeney having to come off in the second half with a back problem, and Lee Martin also sat out of the game through injury. But despite missing a host of key personnel, Taylor is pleased to have Jimmy Oates back fit for the Trophy game.
“Lee Martin is injured, and Pierce has hurt his back, which we’ll assess in the week. They keep coming, but Jimmy Oates is more than capable of fitting in there, and obviously, Dara O’Shea came in today. There’re boys carrying niggles but it’s onto Tuesday now, some of these players need to play in that game to get a bit of confidence back and a bit of rhythm in terms of a decent structure to a game.”
“When it’s not going right we need to rely on the basics and do the simple things well, be in the right position in the right time, and we’ll use that for Tuesday as best we possibly can”
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, with Rovers Jessie Whateley scoring an own gaol for the home team.
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 evening 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! Rovers’ scorers were Holloway, Randall (2)and Viney o.g. Delve, P Rogers (2) and McEwan replied for the Devon team.
In 2012-13 Rovers recorded their first win of the season with a 2-1 victory at St James’ Park. The Gas took the led on 5 minutes when a long ball forward from Tom Parkes saw Craig Woodman fail to control it and Clarkson nipped in to rob the defender before slotting a left foot shot past Artur Krysiak from twelve yards.
The goal that Exeter had been threatening to score came in time added on in the first half. Jamie Cureton was able to roll the ball into the net after Etheridge had committed himself to trying to gather a cross from the right. He failed, the ball reached Cureton and he made no mistake, though he didn’t celebrate scoring against his former club.
Eliot Richards, who had replaced Tom Eaves 11 minutes earlier, scored Rovers’ winner on 70 minutes. The striker took advantage of a slip by Tommy Doherty on the halfway line and set off for goal, where he switched the ball from his right foot to his left and fired past Krysiak who managed to get a hand to the ball but couldn’t stop it entering the net.
The following season Rovers went down to an opening day defeat. Exeter opened the scoring on the hour when Craig Woodman’s corner from the right found Coles at the far post and the former Rovers defender headed back across Steve Mildenhall and into the net.
Eight minutes later Rovers were level when Harrison’s ball into the box was met by Richards, who swept the ball home with some aplomb. Neither side seemed likely to break the deadlock at that point, but Exeter went back in front with ten minutes remaining when Parkin’s diving header from a cross from the left beat Mildenhall before nestling in the corner of the net.
In recent seasons goals haven’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 45 League and Cup games since 1920 and of those Exeter has won 21, there have been 14 draws and just 10 Rovers victories.
Ahead of the game, Tillson spoke regarding Saturday’s game first, “They were three soft goals, but we have got to just bounce back. We had chances at 1-0 down didn’t we, but it is done now we have got to get on with it.”
“It is football and it is time to move onto the next game which is Tuesday. We will learn loads from today. The lads who have played today will learn from it and Jimmy (Oates), Dara (O’Shea) and Archie (Collins) are still young in terms of their professional careers and they got a lot of minutes today which will help them progress.”
“It is a platform to work on and we have got two tough games this week,” he said. “There is not much to play for in the Bristol Rovers game but there is a bit of pride there and going into the Northampton game it is definitely something we can build on. Second half we played really well so we have got to use that as an opportunity to push on again.”