21 January 1984
Bristol Rovers (h)
ROVERS PILE ON CITY'S AGONY
Exeter City 1 (Pratt)
Bristol Rovers 2 (Webster og, Slatter)
Match Report by Gordon Hines
ROVERS march to where they believe they belong the Second Division - continued with their fourth win in the past five games. By the same token, Exeter are now firmly entrenched in the Third Division relegation zone after an all-too-frequent home defeat. Rovers didn't have it all their own way against a side that has seen off Hull and Oxford United in the last month. Yet they deserved to win, because they were so much more composed at the back and had greater speed of thought up front. During the second half, in particular, Rovers 'keeper Ray Cashley had time to exchange pleasantries with some of the 1,000 Rovers travelling supporters who stood behind his goal. His opposite number, Len Bond, had nothing resembling such a luxury. He pulled off at least three breath-taking saves during a second 45 minutes in which the Eastville club called all the aces. But, Bond, an ex-Bristol City player, could do nothing, to prevent Rovers' two goals. The first, after 19 minutes, was claimed by winger Mike Barrett. Sorry to disappoint him, but it was definitely an own goal by Exeter centre half Simon Webster, who deflected the ball into his own net, off a knee, after Bond had pushed away Barrett's cross shotz. Rovers winner was worthy of a TV action replay. Indeed, just like Liverpool's strike in front of millions of viewers on Friday night, so the goal was the curtain raiser for the second half. A move along the left saw a cross into the Exeter goal- mouth where right back Neil Slatter powered in a shot from 15 yards. That was within a minute of the re-start, and it cancelled out a Ray Pratt equaliser for Exeter after 31 minutes. Like Slatter's goal, it was a moment to savour, with Pratt literally rising to the occa- sion to head Martin Ling's cross to the left of the diving Cashley. Exeter threatened to take control of the match at that stage. The introduction of new signing Roy McDonough from Southend, gave their game a fresh dimension. With height in attack, City didn't hesitate to launch the ball high into the Rovers' penalty area and Pratt's goal his seventh of the season was a direct result of those tactics. It was a different ball game in the second half, however. Rovers made it their business to close it down in mid- field, play it patiently from defence, and then hit Exeter with long passes to their speedy front runners. It meant that Exeter had to be on the alert for the quick break and that, in turn, led to a reluctance to push extra men forward. The Eastville club was never seriously troubled after the interval despite the efforts of Exeter's outstanding player Mark O'Connor. The City midfielder worked, tackled and went a-chasing all over the pitch but there was never the same resolution from the rest of his team mates. In fact, City Manager Gerry Francis, who had to sit the match out with broken ribs, criticised his team for their lack of second half challenge.
Bond, Kirkup, Atkinson, O'Connor, Webster, McEwan, Neville, McDonough, Pratt, Marker, Ling (Sub- Howarth)