Tuffley Rovers 2 Flackwell Heath 3
Buckinghamshire club Flackwell Heath arrived in Gloucester having played fewer league matches this season than any other club in the Hellenic’s Premier Division; as many as seven fewer than Windsor and six fewer than Ardley, Brackley and Virginia Water. Not that this stuttering start to the season had affected them in an adverse way because they had only lost two of their seven matches so far to follow up a very respectable finishing position of 8th in 2018-19.
Rovers, scheduled to play at home for the third successive Saturday, had seen the first two postponed (against Burnham and Easington Sports) so were keen to kick on from an encouraging start which had seen them collect fourteen points from eleven games in contrast to the ten points they had gathered from their opening eleven Hellenic fixtures a year earlier, a dismal run which had included five home defeats. The Heathens continued their promising start to the season by edging out their Gloucester hosts by three goals to two; and will be relieved to have done so after playing three-quarters of the match with only ten men following the sending-off of their captain Josh Baines for a reckless challenge. Rovers were happy to put a game on after successive Saturday wash-outs but will be regretting the fact that their best spell of the match only came after they had gone three goals behind. Such was the intensity of their recovery that this could easily have been their fourth 3-3 draw in the last nine league games.
This match was mostly played in quite dreadful conditions with persistent rain falling for most of the morning and continuing into the afternoon following more rain earlier in the week. Rovers’ sensible decision to postpone a match on their Glevum Park pitch on Thursday evening meant that the surface had more time to recover and it coped really well with the deluge by the time Saturday afternoon arrived. Unsurprisingly, in such gloomy conditions, the floodlights were on from the start. The pre-match minute’s silence on Remembrance weekend was respectfully observed by all present before Tuffley got the game started by kicking off playing towards the open end. But their visitors were the first to show real attacking intent when a cross from the right was grabbed by Luke Merchant thus preventing Josh Baines from having an easy tap-in at the far post. Flackwell won a corner on the right soon afterwards and James Burrell’s deep flag-kick was hit firmly but driven wide by Baines. Their next corner, from the other side, was more productive. Baines took it and Merchant made a stunning instinctive save from Burrell’s close-range header; the goalkeeper then parried the rebound too but could only watch in frustration as Mo Ceesay, who had scored in this fixture last season, forced the ball over the line.
Rovers’ response was immediate. Warren Mann’s cross from the left looked as if it would fall perfectly for Jake Rhodes at the far post but the home Number Nine couldn’t quite reach it. Tuffley should have been level a few minutes later when Kieran Alder’s corner-kick from the right was met firmly by an unmarked Mark Pritchett but his header cleared the crossbar. Five minutes after taking the lead the visitors found themselves a man down. Baines went in on Isaac Lawrence robustly on halfway, leaving the Tuffley full-back writhing on the ground. Referee John Mowatt called Flackwell’s captain over to him and pulled a red card out of his pocket to the obvious dismay of all the visiting players who were in the vicinity. Baines trotted off having first handed the captain’s armband to Cameron Gray. It looked for a moment as if Rovers’ superiority in numbers would be negated when Pritchett brought down Khalid Simmo who was racing past him towards the home penalty-area. Several visiting players verbally demanded retribution from the referee for losing their captain earlier in the half and there was indeed a flash of red as Mister Mowatt pulled a card from his pocket only to change that to a yellow in the seconds that followed
In this fixture last season Rovers had gone behind but equalised in the last minute of the first half. There would again be a goal in the 45th minute, at the same end where Joel White had equalised in March, but this time it was not scored by the home team. After Gray had been fouled wide on the right, Dean Morgan’s lofted cross evaded every player in the penalty-area except James Burrell who, racing in at the far post, buried a fantastic left-footed volley high past Merchant’s right-hand side. This wondrous strike was the final act of the opening half and put the visitors in a really strong position at the break.
The Heathens pushed forward right from the start of the second half. When Morgan took a free-kick from the right Merchant had to be alert to tip Cessay’s header over for a corner. Although Gray now wore the captain’s armband, it was Morgan who had become the real leader on the pitch with his attitude and approach. Dominik Kent ran through on goal but Aaron Watkins came off his line quickly to gather the ball before Kent could get a shot away. Almost immediately at the other end Morgan made yet another telling contribution by heading on his goalkeeper’s clearance leaving Simmo with a clear run on goal and he dribbled past Merchant before tucking the ball into the net with his left foot.
Going three goals behind ten minutes into the second half would normally be the point of no return for most teams but Rovers’ response was sustained and courageous although until the 68th minute it brought no real reward, until Alder got on the end of a Lewis Bainbridge cross from the right and directed a neat, downward header past Watkins in the visitors’ goal. Flackwell took off forwards Morgan and Simmo and replaced them with Leius Sinclair and Ashley Howell as they worked hard to protect their lead. Rovers sent on Joel White for Lawrence and Adam Bloomfield for Kent and it was the second of these substitutes who ensured that the game had quite a tense finish when he raced on to a through-pass, skipped past Watkins and pushed the ball into an empty net.
Sadly, for the scorer and his team-mates, time was nearly up at this point and moments later the final whistle went to the great relief of the visiting players who had been in control for almost an hour yet nearly only ended up with one point instead of all three, but both teams should be commended for the entertainment they provided under very difficult conditions. This five-goal affair had been a fine advertisement for the Hellenic League.
Berks & Bucks Intermediate Cup
AFC Aldermaston Reserves 4 Letcombe 3 (away view)
The match was played in very heavy rain on a pitch that was only just playable and cut up badly. Letcombe scored in the fourth minute when a cross from Josh Fowler eluded home keeper Kevin Butcher and hit the crossbar, James Wright tapping the rebound home from close range. Letcombe created more chances, but then gave away three goals in the space of fifteen minutes. A long ball was not cleared, allowing Michael Porter to race through the middle and equalise, and Chris Allen gave Aldermaston the lead following another missed clearance. Lucquan Small increased the lead soon afterwards with a fierce shot from 20 yards, which keeper Danny Joyce got a hand to but could not prevent from entering the net.
Top scorer Josh Fowler had to be replaced by Callum Stockley-Phillips at half time because of an ankle injury, but the second half saw a completely different Letcombe team. Luke Polding reduced the deficit early in the half, running onto a through ball and rounding the keeper before scoring from a narrow angle. Captain Sam Mulvey was outstanding in midfield for Letcombe, and he was unlucky when a back post header from a free kick came back off the upright. Aldermaston added a fourth and appeared to have made the game safe, but Letcombe would not be denied. Luke Polding again reduced the arrears with a low shot from 15 yards, and home keeper Kevin Buicher made two saves from point blank range to prevent an equaliser.
Letcombe will reflect on a spirited second half performance, but a poor first 45 minutes left them with a mountain to climb, but they almost reached the summit. Letcombe return to league action in the next two weeks, entertaining Fairford reserves on Saturday 13th before they make the short journey to Faringdon on 20th.