20-22 January 2020
GFA Challenge Trophy
Bitton 2 Tuffley Rovers 1 (Away View)
On a night when mist frequently circulated around the playing surface and the date began with a sequence of 2 then 1, it was perhaps rather prophetic that a host of missed opportunities before succumbing to a 2-1 defeat that completely cooled their hopes of GFA Challenge Trophy success, on a night when the temperatures dipped below freezing.
With Bitton through to the last 32 of this year’s Buildbase FA Vase, as well as holding a place in the top half of the Toolstation Western League Premier Division, Rovers must have anticipated a tough evening, with their task made all the more difficult by the absence of several players, including the injured Isaac Lawrence, as well as the unfortunate Miles Ferguson, who had broken his ankle in a recent University match, and influential midfielder Tyreece Briscoe. Added to this they were deprived of new signing Callum Ebanks, due to the competition eligibility rules, and youngster Niall Priday, meaning that there were call-ups for a trio of young substitutes, with 16 year olds Charlie Holliday and Joshua Bird alongside 20-year-old Ashley Bird.
With all the absentee players, manager Mark Pritchett returned to the starting line-up after serving a suspension, whilst there was also a start for Lewis Bainbridge, who had missed their last game at Fairford Town on 11 January.
The early stages of the game were without incident, as the sides traded possession regularly, although the hosts probably shaded the opening 20 minutes. It was the visitors, however, who went closing to opening the scoring 23 minutes in, as Joe Shutt’s corner-kick bounced around the box, before Pritchett crashed a venomous shot goalwards from 8 yards, comfortably beating Sam Burgess but crashing off the bar and away to safety.
Bitton had the next chance, as Oaklen Buck combined with Harrison Kyte, before he found space to shoot low, drawing an excellent stop from Rovers’ Luke Merchant, who did well to keep the ball out and away from goal.
As the half wore on it was Pritchett’s side who carried the greater threat, although chances were few and far between, with Warren Mann’s deflected shot which drifted wide the closest either side came to scoring in the closing 15 minutes of the first period.
The mist that had made visibility poor in the opening 45 minutes appeared to lift a little after the interval, and it seemed to be accompanied by increased activity in front of goal. First, Dom Kent very nearly managed to get a touch to Jack Beardsell’s excellent cross, but he couldn’t quite time his run and the ball bounced through to Burgess, who gathered the ball safely.
Five minutes later, Kyte, who was causing problems for Rovers with a high energy performance, drew another good save from Merchant, as Bitton looked to seize the initiative.
Rovers were steadily applying more pressure and Kent almost opened the scoring, as he danced through three challenges and toe-poked the ball past the advancing Burgess, only to see it cannon back off the post and away from Sam Hill who was looking to follow-up on the loose ball.
Both sides looked to attack whenever possible, but clear chances were at a premium and it took a moment of good fortune for Rovers to finally take the lead on 68 minutes.
As Burgess raced out from his goal, in an effort to stop Shutt getting to the ball, he got to the ball first, but his attempted tackle hit the shins of the Rovers man, as the two players met on the edge of the penalty area, before spinning towards the unguarded net and just inside the post.
Josh Egan powered a shot narrowly wide of Merchant’s goal, as Bitton looked for an instant riposte, then Shutt fired a spectacular 35-yard effort towards the goal, but narrowly wide of the mark.
With players tiring on both sides a flurry of substitutions followed but Rovers looked capable of holding out for what would arguably have been a deserved win against a side they hadn’t been expected to beat. However, with just six minutes remaining, a long-ball deep into the Rovers area created problems and the ball eventually fell to Kyte, who poked the ball home from close range.
Bitton were now in the ascendancy and Merchant did well to deny them once, before the final drama as the game arrived in its final minute. With the ball deep in their territory Rovers desperately sought to defend against another attack, but when Egan’s volley appeared to be heading away from goal, Kyte produced an instant, well-timed header that went past the visiting keeper in a flash, to make it 2-1.
There was time for Pritchett, who threw himself into a brief attacking role, to hit the outside of the Bitton post, with what proved to be the final kick of the game, but Rovers were left to regret a failure to take their chances, in a performance that otherwise emphasised some qualities, such as determination, tactical awareness and resilience, that have not always been evident during the season and might have seen them home against a lesser opponent.
Brackley Town Saints 2 Virginia Water 1 (away view)
Virginia Water undertook a long and tough midweek journey to Brackley, and undeservedly returned empty handed, losing to a late winner.
Preparations were hampered when both Adam Mils and Finn Lewis, pulled out in the warm up, leaving Sam Cooley to play emergency CB, which he did extremely well.
On a sticky surface, the visitors had much the better of the first half, and should have taken at least one or two of their chances, with Joel Drew, Dale Wright, Josh Dillon and Josh Hill all going close. The match turned against the run of play in first half stoppage time, when the home side were allowed to take a quick free-kick, which caught our CBs flat footed, and their striker was brought down in the box by Matt, who just failed to stop the spot kick. Instead of being ahead, VW found themselves 1-0 down at the break.
To our credit, we battled hard to get back into the game, and got a deserved equaliser with a brilliant Dale Wright goal on 59 minutes. From then on, it was end to end, with both keepers in good form, then with a draw looking likely, a long ball was deflected into the path of their 10, had his shot well saved, but the rebound fell kindly to their striker at the back post, to tap in the rebound with 5 minutes remaining.
Try as hard as VW did, some resolute defending kept us out. A great effort by VW on the night, showing a top attitude and effort in making the journey and contributing to an excellent game.
Westfields 2 Bishops Cleeve 1
Westfields recorded a fine 2-1 home win over visiting Bishops Cleeve Tuesday night to record an uhlsport Hellenic League Premier Division double following on from their 2-0 win at Bishops Cleeve earlier in the season.
Westfields had to come from behind and also work tremendously hard in defence against a hard-working and skilful visiting team. Westfields had some great opportunities earlier in the game to have gone ahead but both Aidan Thomas, Richard Greaves and Dan Stoneman all saw chances go astray before the visitors snatched the lead in the 42nd minute through Ieuan Crowe.
However, this lead was cancelled out within a minute when Ben Hayes fired Westfields level with a clinical finish at the far post. The two sides went in at the break level and after the interval Westfields began to step up their game and the visitors’ keeper twice made spectacular saves to keep out efforts from Aidan Thomas and Dan Stoneman.
Westfields gradually wore the visitors down and scored what proved to be the winning goal on the hour when Dan Stoneman cut inside and fired a tremendous shot into the top right-hand corner to give Westfields a 2-1 lead. However, the visitors came storming back and Bishops Cleeve were awarded a penalty when substitute goal-keeper Steve Sarkodi, who had replaced Ian Havard who had gone off injured, brought down the visitors’ striker but Sarkodi redeemed himself with a full-length save to keep Westfields in front from the resultant penalty.
Bishops Cleeve then threw everything at the Westfields defence and Ryan Green, Sam Gwynne, Ollie Butler and Paul Hurrell all performed superbly to keep out the visiting attack. Westfields then nearly extended their lead when a shot from Richard Greaves struck the Bishops Cleeve post and then late in the game Stoneman had another effort go over the bar.
Both sides gave everything in an end-to-end fixture but it was Westfields who secured the 3 points to maintain their healthy lead at the top of the Hellenic League Premier Division.
Woodley United 2 Didcot Town Development 2
On a frosty Monday evening both teams put on a good footballing display that saw the points shared and Woodley extend their unbeaten run to five games despite the hosts allowing a two goal lead to slip.
United took an early lead that was reward for their early enterprise when Max Laschok fired home in a crowded penalty area pass Town’s keeper Sam Eeles.
Woodley lost instrumental midfielder Harry Hawkins to a head injury in the thirty fourth minute that required hospital attention, but with sub Sam Wood stepping into Hawkins’ role United maintained their rhythm and extended the lead in the forty first minute with a low strike by Ben Anderson.
However, Harry Hudson reduced the deficit two minutes into stoppage time when he reacted first to a loose ball following Pete Davies fine block of a Town shot.
It needed Davies to produce another good save in the seventieth minute to keep the hosts in front but he could only watch Ty Hamilton’s curl a shot into his (Davies) top right hand corner to level the scored seven minutes later.
Not deterred by this set back, Joe Sissons, who was enjoying an excellent game, saw a shot saved a minute later and then hit the side netting with six minutes remaining.
There was controversy in the forty first minute when good build up play saw Gareth Ainsworth pass to Lamin Ceesay who rounded Didcot’s substitute keeper and with an open goal fell to the ground following the keeper’s contact. Referee Thomas Kelly immediately stopped play with United expecting a penalty kick only to see the game restart with a Town free kick and a caution for Ceesay.
With the pitch freezing in places both teams played out the final minutes with honours even.