9th August 1980
Football League Cup 1st Round 1st Leg
Bristol Rovers (H)
9th August 1980
Football League Cup
1st Round 1st Leg
Bristol Rovers (H)
THE scoreline may have ended in a stalemate, but that shouldn't hide the fact that there was a feast of fast, flowing League Cup First round first leg action at St James' Park last night. And on the evidence of the 90 minutes Rovers can't rule out Exeter in Tuesday nights second meeting at Eastville. The first half, in particular, gave substance to one of football's oldest sayings 'Cup games are great levellers'. Third Division Exeter were never inferior to their West Country neighbours from a League above. Indeed, with more polish in front of goal, it would have been the Devon club rather than Rovers who went in with a first-half lead. Tony Kellow's 17th-minute chance was created when a long throw by left back Peter Hatch threw the Rovers' defence into chaos, but Kellow's angled shot flew over the bar without having 'keeper Martin Thomas the least bit flustered. Earlier when Exeter commanded the stage, a rather fortunate deflection denied Hatch a goal, after a heavily disguised free kick involving midfield players John Delve and Ian Pearson. Rovers, to their cool, calm and collected credit, withstood Exeter's clear intentions to apply early pressure on 18-year-old central defenders Mark Hughes and Gary Mabbutt. Hughes was booked for a foul on Kellow in the 23rd minute but he and his teenage partner survived, thanks to the influence of player-manager Terry Cooper.
Cooper slowed the play down to his old Leeds United walking pace and often ruined what might have been swift breakaway opportunities. Nevertheless, his experience was evident in crunch situations even though he lost his rhythm at one stage and was severely lectured, along with Delve by Basingstoke referee David Letts. While Exeter called the tune in the early stages before the interval, so Róvers came back to pose problems. And they pinched the lead after 27 minutes when Stuart Barrowclough's corner found the back of the net via a Chick Bates' glancing header. Bates was positioned in the middle of goal and there was initially a question mark over the manner in which 'keeper Ian Main dealt with the situation.
But when Main was beaten there was still a chance for right back Roy Ireland to hook the ball away. The introduction of substitute Steve Neville for striker Peter Rogers gave Exeter a refreshing second-half lift. In a brief period of five minutes he fired in three shots and while they weren't all on target, Neville at least indicated that he was prepared to provide 'keeper Thomas with a far busier 45 minutes than he had experienced in the first half. In fact, it was Neville who did most to create the chance for Exeter's equaliser in the 67th minute. He sped past the Rovers' defence, and although Thomas took the sting out of his shot, the ball rolled towards goal before Kellow followed up to make absolutely sure. Rovers found it difficult to fathom Exeter's second-half ploy. For City pushed central defender Jimmy Giles into a midfield position and had Ireland 'sweeping' behind Phil Roberts. Despite Exeter's revival, Rovers were unlucky not to have scored a second when a Don Gillies' free kick was met by Mabbutt and Main pushed the header on to the bar before the ball was cleared amidst frantic attempts by Rovers to score from the rebound. Rovers were also denied a goal when a Barrowclough shot was charged down by Ireland. Barrowclough will be disappointed he didn't take full advantage of the chance eight yards from goal, but full credit to 18-year-old Ireland who quickly spotted the danger and was equally quick to get his body in the way of the shot. Garry Emmanuel became the second Rovers' player to be cautioned as Exeter came more and more into the game. The Devon side were especially unlucky nine minutes from time when Hatch and then Kellow set up a chance for Dave Pullar, whose shot was hooked off the line by Cooper. A minute later another of Exeter's expertly worked free kicks ended with Pullar heading over from the the most delicate of chips from Delve.