16th November 1996
FA Cup 1st Round
Bristol Rovers (away)
Grecians hand Rovers one more humiliation.
Bristol Rovers 1. (Parmenter)
Exeter City 2 (Rowbotham, Flack)
Report by Richard Lewis
DARRAN Rowbotham gave Exeter City an FA Cup dream yesterday - Plymouth Argyle in the second round. His goal, early in the second-half, sent the Grecians' travelling fans into ecstasy and City's bank manager will share their glee. There was a late goal for each side in a breathless finish, but it was Rowbotham's instinctive feeling for the half-chance which turned the tide. His 58th-minute shot from 20 yards devastated Rovers. They were Jack without the Beanstalk - nowhere to go. Once they were the Cup giant-killers, Now humiliation was etched in every face; humbled at this stage by non- League Hitchin Town a year ago, they knew they were well-beaten by a side from a division below them. Exeter were jubilant. They had done the unexpected. Manager Peter Fox had them well up for this one from the innovative warm- up session to the collective steel as they kept Rovers out for the final 30 minutes.
Rowbotham's return 'home' was the golden lining. This was the Grecians' first Cup win against a side from a higher division for 11 years then they knocked out Bristol City. With three at the back Matthew Hare, Noel Blake and Jon Richardson - the manager set out to flood the midfield and deny space to Rovers' dangermen, player-manager Ian Holloway and Welsh international Marcus Browning. Both managed to shake themselves clear at times and the player-boss was at his combative peak but the chances they created were seldom clear-cut. When they were, Rovers unbalanced attack found 'keeper Ashley Bayes too good for them. Half-a-dozen inspired stops threw Rovers back time and again but the one which really mattered. came almost on half-time. A fast break by Holloway and some brisk inter-passing saw young Tom Ramasut turn the final ball back into the path of Peter Beadle. This week, Beadle faces a date with a surgeon on shin-splints, an agonising leg condition. He was determined to play through the pain barrier and when he moved on to Ramasut's pass with a strong header, it all seemed worth it. But Bayes sensed the direction, dived left and touched the ball around the post. If Rovers had gone in a goal up this tie would have taken on a very different look. Their confidence would have been victory high, instead they fell to an old campaigner's instinct for a killer blow. Rovers' skipper Andy Tillson had taken a knock in the first-half in a desperate lunge as he tried to recover from his own mistake of an under-hit pass back to his 'keeper, Andy Collett. He collided heavily with a goal-post and badly knocked his left ankle. The thought was that he could run it off, but early in the second-half, he limped away with Justin Skinner replacing him at centre-back and taking over the captain's armband. Rovers were still coming to terms with Tillson's ab- sence when Rowbotham put the skids under them. Exeter had a tight plan to defend and look for the break-out. It all worked perfectly and they might have been a goal up inside 15 minutes. The incident which saw Tillson take his knock so very nearly brought Darren Hughes a goal because there was a distinct air of good fortune as Collett managed to parry. Exeter's battlers continued to surprise and embarrass Rovers with the edge to their game. Never was this more evident than in the power spell following Rowbotham's goal as Rovers rang up their corner count to an astonishing 20. Bayes' clear-fisting was backed by firm heading out of trouble by Blake and his determined circle of defenders. They raised their game way above their lowly League position, shutting down effectively and picking off danger. Young Ramasut was quickly identified for his tricky forays on the left in the first-half but was largely snuffed out in the second. Rovers will be reflecting this weekend on the decision to drop Billy Clark. Not that Graeme Power had a bad game, more that Tillson, without his regular partner, seemed less certain of his own performance. He and Steve Flack were roughing each other up and once Stoke-on-Trent Referee Tommy Bates had to call them together. Although he produced a few yellow cards, both escaped this time. As Rovers pounded away in the second-half they were always likely to leave themselves open to the quick counter strike. Flack, winning the ball both in the air and on the ground, was there to pro- vide the final kill-off strike. Leon Braithwaite provided the touch with a downward header and Flack, like Rowbotham ear- lier, first opened up the de- fence, then closed in to flick the ball away from Collett for the second goal. The tie was over but with injury-time in force, substi- tute Steve Parmenter volleyed in a left-footed goal from 20 yards. It was a little face-save.. but not much.