Cureton continues irresistible scoring form with double strike for resurgent Grecians
On the eve of challenging matches at Bradford City and Gillingham, Exeter City manager Paul Tisdale said he would be happy with four points. Imagine his delight then when, after winning 1-0 at Valley Parade on Saturday, the Grecians made it two in a row with a thrilling 3-2 win at npower League Two leaders Gillingham.
A stunning free-kick from Alan Gow and a second-half brace from Jamie Cureton did the damage for the Grecians, who inflicted only a second home defeat of the season on a Gills side that started the game seven points clear at the top of the table.
Chris Whelpdale and Danny Jackman netted for the Kent club, but off the back of a brilliant second-half showing, the Grecians were good value for their victory.
Tisdale, who spent yesterday afternoon at the funeral of his good friend Ivor Powell, went into the game making one change to the side that won 1-0 at Bradford on Saturday. That saw Tommy Doherty come into the midfield for the injured John O'Flynn.
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However, while they were bright and industrious in the opening stages at Valley Parade, Exeter were soon behind at Priestfield as Whelpdale opened the scoring after just four minutes.
He capitalised on some hesitant defending from Danny Coles to fire past Artur Krysiak from Lewis Montrose's pass and the small contingent of travelling Exeter fans could be forgiven for fearing the worst against the runaway league leaders.
The home side were enjoying all the possession with Exeter struggling to get out of their half, but out of nothing, they levelled. Gow was brought crashing to the ground by Charlie Lee, who received a yellow card for his misdemeanour.
Worse was to follow for Gillingham, though, as Gow smashed an unstoppable free-kick into the top corner from fully 25 yards, giving Gillingham goalkeeper Stuart Nelson no chance.
That goal certainly lifted Exeter, but it was the home side that continued to look the more likely to score. Whelpdale was off target with an effort from distance before Craig Woodman was booked for the Grecians for a foul on Matt Fish.
Liam Sercombe saw a shot deflect wide for a corner kick, while Deon Burton, the last-minute hero for Gillingham against Morecambe on Saturday, was off target with a header from Jackman's cross.
Doherty blocked well as Burton tried his luck from distance before Jackman skied high over the bar as the Gills continued to mount pressure on the Grecians' goal.
Saturday's win at Bradford was very much down to a superb rearguard action and Exeter had to be at their best again against a spirited Gills outfit.
The half-time interval could not come quickly enough for the Grecians who were unusually subdued going forward. That all changed after the break, though, as they really went toe-to-toe with the long-time leaders and it resulted in a thrilling second half.
The Grecians were out of the blocks quickly and won two corners in quick succession. They didn't come to anything but, after Cureton had seen an effort deflect narrowly wide, Exeter's top goalscorer was soon celebrating his 14th goal of the campaign.
Again, Gow did the spadework supplying the corner which Gillingham never managed to clear and Cureton was able to finish with a shot high into the roof of the net from the middle of the penalty area.
Both teams had chances to score next, with Cureton forcing Nelson into a smart stop, but just as they seemed to be running out of ideas, the Gills pulled level in spectacular style. Jackman picked the ball up and thundered a stunning effort into the top corner from fully 30 yards.
That perhaps should have been the cue for Gillingham to press on and get the winner, but it wasn't to be the case.
The Grecians won themselves a penalty with three minutes remaining as Romain Vincelot was penalised for a foul on Steve Tully. However, Cureton's effort was saved by Nelson and that seemed to be Exeter's chance of victory gone. Not so.
Just 60 seconds later, Cureton was celebrating what turned out to be the winning goal. He stooped at the near post to head in a cross by Liam Sercombe, much to the annoyance of Nelson.
Gillingham went all out for an equaliser, but the Grecians held firm to inflict a third defeat of the season on the home side, whose lead at the top was cut to four points.
This was a fine win for the Grecians and made it a perfect six points from two tough away fixtures. It also extended their unbeaten run to four. After their poor run last month, it seems the Grecians are well and truly back on track.
Gillingham: Nelson; Fish, Davies, Barrett, Jackman, Montrose (Vincelot 60), Whelpdale, Allen, Lee (Weston h-t), Burton, Strevens (Kedwell 70). Substitutes (not used): Forecast (gk), Frampton, Essam, Birchall.
Goals: Whelpdale 4, Jackman 79.
Bookings: Lee, Vincelot.
Exeter City: Krysiak; Tully, Baldwin, Coles, Woodman, Sercombe, Bennett, Doherty (Keohane 84), Oakley, Gow, Cureton (Chamberlain 90). Substitutes (not used): Evans (gk), Amankwaah, Nichols, Dawson, Moore-Taylor.
Goals: Gow 27, Cureton 54, 88.
Bookings: Woodman, Sercombe.
Referee: D Deadman (Cambridgeshire).