Exeter City suffer a setback in quest for promotion after abject performance
Exeter City's hopes of automatic promotion were dealt a blow by Bristol Rovers last night as the Pirates cruised to a comfortable 2-0 win at the Memorial Stadium.
Long-range goals in each half from Oliver Norburn and Lee Brown sealed victory for the Gas against an Exeter side who were well below par.
The Grecians' record against Westcountry sides this season is poor, with only two npower League Two points from a possible 15 available. Once again, they were lacking the key attributes needed for derby combat as they came off a distant second best to a Rovers side who harassed and harried, were quicker to everything, and were good value for their win.
Much has been made of the Jekyll and Hyde nature of Exeter's contrasting home and away form this season and there is a similar difference in victory and defeat. When they win, the Grecians win well and with style. When they lose, they go down with a whimper and often without creating much. That was the case in point last night, with the home goalkeeper barely getting his gloves dirty.
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The Grecians made one change to the side that beat Northampton Town last Saturday. Jake Gosling dropped to the bench and was replaced by John O'Flynn, who made his first start since the 1-1 Devon derby draw at Torquay United in mid-January.
Rovers included former Grecian Danny Woodards in their start up, but the former Exeter full-back was deployed in a deep-lying midfield role.
Very little happened in the opening ten minutes with Eliot Richards' scuffed shot – into the arms of Artur Krysiak – the first attempt from either side.
Rovers defender Tom Parkes was booked for a kick on O'Flynn, but the free-kick came to nothing. It was all a bit jaded from City early on, and Kevin Amankwaah followed Parkes into the referee's notebook for a late tackle on Lee Brown.
Rovers came close to taking the lead when Parkes connected superbly from a corner kick, but his header was clawed away from the top corner by Krysiak. Arron Davies was on the line for Exeter, but the ball was above him and heading in before the Pole's intervention.
Minutes later, the home side went in front after a mistake by Krysiak.
There seemed to be no danger when Norburn picked the ball up some 40 yards from goal. He advanced a few yards forward and let fly, but the ball was straight at Krysiak.
Unfortunately for the Pole and City, the ball squirmed from his grasp and through his legs for a soft goal.
It was a bad moment for Krysiak, who has been in such fine form this season. Norburn was then booked for a foul on Davies, but the free-kick summed City up in the opening first half hour – poor and lacking in imagination.
Matt Oakley was wasted on the right and could not get into the game and Rovers were dictating the midfield, with Scot Bennett and Tommy Doherty well off the pace. Former Rovers striker Jamie Cureton and O'Flynn were struggling to get into the game, Davies was contributing little and Exeter had a let-off when Krysiak came and missed a corner, which was eventually dragged wide by Parkes.
Cureton felt he should have had a penalty when he was shoved over inside the box, but nothing was given. Then a free-kick was awarded when Cureton was fouled in a central position some 25 yards from goal. It was perfect free-kick range, but the striker's attempt was poor and straight into the wall.
That was the final act of a half in which Exeter were a distant second best. Rovers were no great shakes, but they were quicker to everything with the Grecians looking leggy, one-dimensional and well off the pace.
Paul Tisdale's intentions were clear within seconds of the first half ending. Jimmy Keohane and Jake Gosling stripped off and warmed up throughout the interval and took the places of Doherty and O'Flynn . It could have been two from a number of the starting XI, so poor were City in that first half.
However, it was Rovers who threatened first at the start of the second half. Ryan Brunt connected superbly with an overhead kick, which Krysiak did well to tip over the crossbar.
Davies won a free-kick for his side, which was taken by Craig Woodman, but his cross hit Bennett and bounced up over the crossbar. Steve Mildenhall had not really been tested in the Rovers goal.
Brunt was causing the Exeter defence no end of problems and, after shrugging off Coles, he lobbed a shot into the arms of Krysiak. Richards also looked dangerous when he got the ball and he shot narrowly wide after some awful tackling from the boys in red and white.
Exeter just could not find any rhythm. Their passing was poor and their play stuttered and they were barely creating anything of note. Rovers, on the other hand, were happy to try their luck from anywhere and doubled their lead in spectacular fashion with eight minutes remaining.
There was little on for Brown when he gathered the ball wide on the Rovers left, but he let fly with a brilliant shot that whistled into the roof of the net from 25 yards. Krysiak had no chance. City's hopes were dead.
Bristol Rovers (4-4-2): Mildenhall; Smith, Parkes, McChrystal, Brown; Harrison (Broghammer 73), Woodards, O'Toole, Norburn; Richards (Hitchcock 84), Brunt. Substitutes (not used): Gough (gk), Paterson, McDonald, Lockyer, Tounkara.
Goals: Norburn 23, Brown 82
Bookings: Parkes, Norburn.
Exeter City (4-4-2): Krysiak; Amankwaah (Bauza 75), Baldwin, Coles, Woodman; Oakley, Bennett, Doherty (Keohane h-t), Davies; O'Flynn (Gosling h-t), Cureton. Substitutes (not used): Evans (gk), Tully, Dawson, Moore-Taylor.
Referee: G Scott (Oxfordshire).