By Gerry Prewett.
Bristol Rovers travel to Devon on Saturday to face Exeter City, 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.
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. 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 goal for the home team.
Rovers found St James Park a real hoodoo ground for the first 29 years of visits. Between 1921 and 1950 Rovers visited 23 times, they won 1, drew 8 and lost 14. In 1927 they were beaten 4-1, in 1929 5-2 and 1948 4-0.
After winning a Division 3 (South) game on 14 October 1950 Rovers had something of a golden spell at St James Park. In the next 10 games they won 6 drew 3 and lost just 1. The best victory was a 3-0 League Cup win on 18 August 1971.
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 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 Ellis Harrison’s ball into the box was met by Elliot 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.
The last time the teams met was a Football League Tropy match on 13 November 2018. The first half was very even but early in the second half a low cross delivered by Chiedozie Ogbene was worked into a threatening location, as Jonathan Forte was on hand to poke the ball home past Adam Smith.
Inside the final twenty minutes, Tristan Abrahams fired a volley just wide of the target and another effort into the side netting, as Exeter exploited Rovers’ emphasis on throwing men forward in search of an equaliser.
Exeter scored a second goal late on, as Joel Randall broke in behind the Rovers defence and slotted home a finished past the onrushing Smith.