16 August 1980
EXETER 2, GILLINGHAM 1
by Tony Smith
THE new Football League season kicked off on Saturday... without Gillingham.
Gills made the long trip to Exeter, were greeted by brilliant August sunshine, but responded to the ideal conditions by failing to put their game together at all.
They had set off for Exeter full of confidence and high hopes, only to get a bad case of stage nerves, when the action got underway.
They struggled to get the basics right, were unable to take any real grip in midfield and created very little up front.
In contrast. Exeter's two lively front runners Steve Neville and Tony Kellow gave the Gills back four quite a chasing with their incisive runs and pace.
In fact, Exeter could have wrapped up the game by half-time if they had taken their chances. Yet, despite their con trol, their finishing was not sharp enough.
Goalkeeper. Ron Hillyard was not called on that much, and when he was gave a sound display, having no chance with the two goals. Yet, despite all this. Gills might have sneaked a point thanks to a superb equaliser from full-back Andy Ford..
At that stage, Exeter' heads surprisingly went down, letting Gills come right back into the match for the first time.
It was only a disputed goal, which all the Gills defenders thought was offside, that finally settl ed this rather tame league opener.
Exeter could have gone ahead as early as the third minute when Nigel Donn's back pass went straight to Neville, who was too slow to capitalise on the gift.
Two minutes later, Gills were given a great chance to to go ahead following a positive run by full-back John Sharpe. A defensive mistake allowed Ken Price to break clear into the box. He did everything right. pushing the ball past the goalkeeper, only to screw his shot wide.
Exeter took the lead in the 13th minute with a soft goal. Central defender John Overton pushed up for offside, the ball was knocked over the top to John Delve, who sprinted away, cool ly held the ball and drove it into the far corner as Hillyard came out.
Exeter's front men were getting in behind the Gills' defence, while the main threat for the home team came from an occasional good run by midfield man John Crabbe, but the final pass was not telling enough.
Gills.equalised in the 60th minute after a needless handball by centre-half Jimmy Giles. The free kick, straight in front of goal, was touched to Ford, who struck a glorious shot into the top left hand side with goalkeeper Ian Main helpless. Steve Bruce collected' his third successive booking for a tackle on. Phil Roberts, which was ridiculous. Then came more bad news as Exeter went ahead. A long cross into the heart of the Gills area was headed on by Kellow and Neville, look ing suspiciously offside, headed in almost on the line at the post.
John Crabbe nearly earned a point with a superb curving shot in the closing minutes, goalkeeper Main making a fine save. It really would have been in justice if Gills had pinched a point.