Uhlsport Hellenic League Premier Division
Tuffley Rovers 1 Fairford Town 3
At the end of the 2016-17 season Fairford Town were promoted into the Premier Division as champions of Division One (West). Although they struggled in their first season in the Hellenic’s top division, a finishing place of 13th in 2018-19 indicated that they had adapted well to life at a higher level. Tuffley Rovers’ own finishing positions in those same two seasons had been 10th and 15th so those statistics suggested that the two clubs were quite evenly matched, especially as Town beat Rovers 3-0 at Cinder Lane in November 2018, a result and scoreline which were emphatically repeated in the Gloucester club’s favour at Glevum Park in April 2019.
After their latest meeting, Fairford moved up to 4th place in the table thanks to a performance which was significantly better than the last time they had visited this part of Gloucester nearly five months earlier. For the third successive home league match the hosts found themselves 1-3 behind but there would be no miracle recovery this time, mainly because Fairford’s game-management when two goals ahead was more resilient than Brimscombe’s and Windsor’s had been, especially after losing experienced defender Ellis Dunton to a red card about a quarter of an hour from the end of the match.
Town, playing towards the dressing-room end of the ground, started brightly and won an early corner on the left. Harvey Scholes’ flag-kick was aimed towards the far post but, when the ball was not properly cleared, Ellis Dunton played a neat pass across goal to Connor Thompson, who controlled the ball with his first touch before lashing it past Luke Merchant with his second. It was the worst possible start for the hosts and the twenty-first league goal they had conceded only three minutes into their eighth match of the new campaign. Thompson nearly had a second goal from the next Fairford corner on the left. This one was played towards the near post, Merchant came for it but failed to claim the ball and the Fairford forward’s header went narrowly wide. As Rovers tried to get back into the game Warren Mann’s short pass found Paul Carter, whose fierce shot from thirty yards out flew wide. The neat, intricate way forward, deployed by the visitors was working as it did when Thompson found Scholes, whose terrific cross into the danger-zone deserved better than to see Ben Lodge head the ball over the bar from a good position.
It would only be a temporary reprieve for the hosts. Another teasing cross by Scholes on the right reached Dan Bailey, who played the ball back to Christian Turner-Williams and he finished as emphatically as Thompson had done earlier. A minute later and it was 3-0 to the visitors. Another pass played down the right into the Tuffley penalty-area saw Dan Bailey compete for the ball with Paul Carter. Carter came off worse and Bailey confidently ran on to round Merchant and push the ball into an empty net. Tuffley’s response was immediate. After they were awarded a free-kick out on the left, Jack Beardsell drove the ball in and although there seemed no immediate danger a wicked deflection took the ball past Harrison Ellis. Beardsell will probably claim a goal against his former club but if the ‘Dubious Goals’ Panel operated in the Hellenic League it would probably have gone down as an own-goal. Fortunate or not, it gave Rovers a lifeline back into a match which had until this point seemed to be going firmly away from them.
Rovers’ right-back Isaac Lawrence went down in midfield shortly after Beardsell’s free-kick and was treated on the pitch but seemed ok to continue. However, his evening would only last five more minutes as he collapsed again near the touch-line and was replaced by Brett James. The momentum was suddenly with Tuffley as the first half neared its conclusion. Warren Mann worked really hard to retain possession and his effort led to a shot by Jake Rhodes which was deflected for a corner. Then Dominik Kent, shortly after he had received a yellow card, tried an ambitious shot which flew over. It was the final action of a first period which Fairford had dominated territorially yet would still not be over-confident about because they would have been aware of Rovers’ habit of recovering from losing positions.
Rovers made a strong start to the second half in probably their best spell of the game. Their passing was crisper and more accurate than it had been earlier. When a free-kick was awarded for a foul on James, Rhodes’ shot went past the defensive wall but was gathered by Ellis. Tuffley then brought on Jeremiah Idowu for Mann and the young substitute looked lively from the moment he came on. Although the hosts were enjoying plenty of possession, they were finding it hard to create goal-scoring opportunities but they did get another free-kick in a promising position after James’ run ended when he was scythed down by Dunton, who was shown a red card by referee Graham Pugh for the over-zealous challenge which effectively ended James’ evening as he was soon substituted by Niall Priday. It might be unusual for a substitute to be substituted but James and Mann, as senior members of the squad, had both put a good shift in but received little in the way of reward for their efforts.
Much of the second half had taken place with rain driving across the ground, unpleasant conditions for players and spectators alike. Rovers’ left-back, Ben Prictor, was another home player who could be satisfied with his evening’s work. His crossing had been a really positive feature of recent matches but, on this occasion anyway, although his left-footed deliveries were nearly always accurate, there was nobody on the end of them to put the chances away.
Defeat left Tuffley still looking for the first home league win of the season. But three of their next four Hellenic games are at Glevum Park so there is no need for panic. They have been scoring fairly freely but conceding at quite an alarming rate. For Fairford, however, the signs are much brighter. They may still be five points adrift of early pace-setters Westfields but Bishops Cleeve and Binfield are definitely in their sights only one point ahead of them in second and third place.
Rovers attracted a crowd of 100+ on a most unpleasant evening for watching outdoor sport. Although the bulk of that crowd went home disappointed, it was clear that they have been watching some talented young players who are keen to change what has been a disappointing start to a new season; and they certainly have plenty of time to change their fortunes in the weeks and months ahead.
Virginia Water 0 Reading City 4
Back down to earth with a real hard bump as Virginia Water folded to an excellent Reading City on the impressive Stag Meadow surface. Despite dominating for the first 25 minutes or so, the home side failed to take a few chances that fell to Joel Drew, Adam McNamara and Paul Burrows, and narrowly failing to score from some set pieces.
Against the run of play, we were the contributors to our own downfall, when careless and overplaying at the back, led to the ball being gifted to their striker to run in to score unopposed on 26 minutes. Bit of a body blow to VW, but we pressed back, albeit the game turned on 43 minutes, when from a hopeful cross, the ball cannoned off Josh Hill’s face and over the bar, only for the referee to award a penalty (which was missed), although bizarrely, Josh was sin binned? (no foul language etc).
At the start of the second half, again we overplayed, gifted the ball, and were 2-0 down on 46 minutes. Changes were made, but we never looked like staging a comeback in any way, as the visitors were twice as quick, sharp, and by far the better work rate.
To be fair to RC, they were oddly reduced to 10 men on c78 minutes due to a second yellow card, that none of us saw. But they got a killer third goal, when we allowed a cross to be trapped by their striker, and let him turn us in the 6 yard area. Despite Matt making a great save, the rebound was slotted him by their other unmarked striker.
To cap a dismal night, on 83 minutes, Adam Mills was clearly fouled and pushed out of play, all players stopped/paused, but no one played to the whistle, and although we saved the shot, Matt was sin-binned for his protestations at not awarding the free kick. Finn went in goal, and with the final kick of the game, he was lobbed from 35 yards by a great finish. Certainly a night to forget, but credit to Simon and his RC side, who were terrific throughout.
Division One West
Moreton Rangers 1 Thornbury Town 2 (away view)
Back to league action for Thornbury - only their third league match of the season due to participation in four cups – and a trip to Moreton who were a bit of an unknown having won the division below to gain promotion and with a mixed bag of results so far. With the referee deeming both Thornbury kits – red home and blue away - clashed with the home strip a quick search of the facilities revealed some yellow shirts from the 1980’s and the game got going in brilliant sunshine.
Moreton had the better of the early exchanges but the first 30 minutes produced little in the way of clear chances and at times the two keepers seemed to be trying to out do each other in the long kick department. Having shot straight at the keeper, Brandon Benjamin then turned provider after being released down the left and his pull back was met by Toby Bennett whose shot from 20+ yards found the bottom corner Minutes later Harry Brock looked to have been taken town in the area but the referee adjudged it to be just outside and the resulting free-kick was driven in but the deflection cleared off the line.
There was still time for another chance when Craig Lancastle’s attempt to chip the keeper was met with an acrobatic save. Half time – one-nil to the visitors who were the better of two good footballing sides.
Thornbury started the second half brightly and within a minute Jacob Farthing had found the side-netting and soon after Bennett fired past the left-hand post. Benjamin limped off on 51 mins with a hamstring injury to be replaced by Rhys Hodgson and
Thornbury now had the better of the possession. A rare foray into the visitors box saw a home forward go over in the box only for the referee to show a yellow card for diving. Marcus Wormwell, ban over, replaced Farthing on the right on 68’ and it was only a few minutes later when Brock put the home defence under pressure, dispossessed the defender, broke forward and his chipped pass across goal found Lancastle at the far post to side-foot home – now scoring in seven consecutive matches
When Brock’s cross-shot hit the post on 80 minutes there was little sign of a nervy finish but when on 83’ Franklin somehow managed to release the Moreton No.11 to round Parkin and fire into the roof of the net – the home sides first attempt for 50 minutes – the game wasn’t quite over Franklin nearly made amends in the very next minute when his deflected shot produced the save of the match from the home ‘keeper but as it was Thornbury saw the game out comfortably even managing to get the shot stats up without troubling the home keeper. Thornbury Town with 18 shots, 8 on target (to Moreton’s 6 shots, 2 on target) ran out deserved winners.