Cup competition over and done with for another year, attention turns back to League Two as Rovers look to pick off struggling Exeter…
Yet another trip to Oldham yielded yet another disappointing result, a 2-1 defeat seeing us fall at the first hurdle in this season’s F.A. Cup. Whilst that is disappointing, it’s no bad thing as Darren Ferguson got to see what some of his fringe players were capable of, and escaped without any major injuries after a brief scare for club captain Andy Butler.
The long trip to St. James’ Park (not that one) to visit Exeter comes at a seemingly good time. The majority of the first team squad is fit again, the likes of Craig Alcock and Paul Keegan have gained some much needed match fitness, and our opponents are in the middle of a wretched home run.
The Grecians are without a win on home soil since April when they defeated bitter rivals Plymouth 2-1, and currently sit just one point clear of relegation. In addition, long-serving manager Paul Tisdale’s position is under scrutiny from the Supporters Trust that owns the club, so it seems the right time to play our first league game against them since 1998.
Exeter were relegated from the Football League the year we went up from the Conference in 2003 and, owing to our immediate promotion to League One a year later, our paths have not crossed in the pyramid since. Our only meeting this side of the millenium was a 2-1 F.A. Cup defeat in 2004, a result that allowed Exeter to go on to a famous tie with Manchester United in which they earned a 0-0 draw at Old Trafford.
Rovers are still without Andy Williams through injury, but could recall Liam Mandeville after an impressive showing at Oldham, especially as the altered 4-5-1 formation failed miserably in defeat at Blackpool last time we played a league game. Craig Alcock should also be fit to make his League Two bow in a strengthened defence.
One to Watch
Schoolboy sensation Ethan Ampadu is the talk of the South West right now after impressing in the senior team despite being only sixteen years old. Ampadu grabbed an assist playing in midfield in the F.A. Cup loss to Luton, but usually plays in central defence. Ethan’s father Kwame Ampadu was in the starting XI last time Exeter faced Rovers, demonstrating just how young this prospect is.
Another who played that day in 2004 is James Coppinger, making only his second return to St. James’ Park since being sold by Exeter to Doncaster in the summer of 2004. This has already been a memorable season for our venerable captain, but he will surely be keen to impress against his former side.