v Cribbs (Uhlsport Hellenic League, Premier Div – 8 Oct 2022)




(ATT: 64)

A much improved team performance, against the Hellenic League Premier Division’s only unbeaten team, will have buoyed the Rovers faithful amidst any disappointment provoked by a second consecutive league defeat, with Richard Luffman’s Cribbs sustaining their second place in the league table courtesy of a 2-1 defeat that owed much to a dominant first half performance.

Mustoe changed his formation following the previous week’s defeat at Hereford Lads Club and opted to play three centre-backs and wing-backs, in a line-up that owed changes to tactical decision making as much as form. Kieran Squires earned a first start in a month and Shayne Bradley was recalled, as Mustoe’s selection relegated Mason Lewis and Jack Beardsell to the bench. Ryley Mace got a rare opportunity to start, with Warren Mann suspended.

Almost straight from the kick-off the visitors showed their intent, as they earned a throw-in deep in Rovers territory and unleashed a potent weapon – one which would ultimately influence the game – as full-back Josh Bennett hurled the ball into the centre of the penalty area, and when it was missed by the crowd of players, it bounced through to Simon Murray at the back post and he looked set to score, only to be denied by a good stop from Elliot Jones in the Rovers goal.

Fifteen minutes in another Bennett set-piece followed a similar trajectory and once again landed in Murray’s path, courtesy of a deft touch from Ryan Crouch, and the prolific marksman took advantage of being in acres of space, as he smashed the ball past Jones to make it 1-0.

Cribbs continued to peg Rovers back but the hosts’ defensive unit – Paul Azubilla, Macaulay Herbert, Ashley Davies, Ryley Mace and Kieran Squires – stood firm, with Squires twice throwing his body in front of ferocious efforts around the edge of the box.

Whether their efforts were undone by a moment of brilliance or a huge slice of good fortune, only Bennett will know, but he showed he has more in his armory than a long-throw, as he extended the visitors’ lead. Crouch almost conjured enough space to fashion a chance on goal, but he was crowded out and the Cribbs full-back lofted the ball over Jones, from an acute angle and it landed in the Rovers net. 2-0 after 23 minutes was probably justified on the basis of possession, albeit Rovers’ courage might have deserved better.

Mustoe’s side have been more resilient this season and they managed to keep Cribbs at bay as the half progressed, with chances few and far between, and a 30 yard effort, that flew safely over Jones’ bar, from Ryan Cainey the closest they came to extending their lead as half-time approached. On 40 minutes they did think they’d extended their lead, as Charlie Dashfield’s shot was saved by the rebound tucked away by Joe Hillard, only for the Assistant Referee’s flag to deny him.

As it was, there was another goal before the interval but it came from Rovers. Mace showed an excellent touch and burst of pace to take him past Nick Jones, before he flashed a low cross/shot across the face of goal and Cribbs’ keeper Rob Brown could only palm the ball into the path of Shayne Bradley, who smashed the ball home to make it 2-1 on 43 minutes. When the half-time whistle sounded shortly after, Cribbs might justifiably have felt that they should have been in control of the match, but their opponents now had a route back into an absorbing contest.

The second period started in similar fashion to the first. Cribbs were on the front foot and, once again, Bennett’s long throw-in created the first chance. This time, Rovers half-cleared an effort but only as far as George Kellow, whose low shot from the edge of the area was well struck but straight at Jones, who saved comfortably. Shortly after Crouch headed narrowly wide, as Cribbs pushed for a two-goal cushion.

Rovers then introduced new signings Kieran Alder and Dan Beasley, replacing Callum McGuirk and Ryan Dobbins, as Mustoe looked for a way back into the game.

Hillard had two great chances for Cribbs as the half progressed but on both occasions he produced shots that were tame and directed straight at Jones, who saved comfortably. Squires then headed Birkett’s corner narrowly wide, although in truth the set-piece had been slightly overhit, making it difficult for the Rovers defender to make proper contact.

As the game wore on Rovers arguably looked the more likely to score another goal, whilst Cribbs turned to the counter attack as their main threat. Dom Kent and Birkett both had efforts blocked, as Rovers pressed, before Kellow saw a chance turned away and over the bar, as Squires did well to get between him and the goal.

Mustoe then introduced Mason Lewis and Jack Beardsell into the action, replacing Kent and Squires, as he looked for the elusive equaliser, although the next chance fell Cribbs’ way, only for Hillard to waste another chance from the edge of the box.

Chances started to come for both teams, as Beardsell skewed an effort wide before Cribbs’ substitute, David Duru, drew a low save from Jones.

As the game moved into its final stages, Birkett crossed and Bradley found himself in space at the back post, but Kellow got his body in the way and although Rovers players appealed for a handball decision, the referee waved away those pleas. Moments later the final whistle sounded and whilst Rovers could reflect on a solid performance against one of the favourites to win the Hellenic League they ended the afternoon without any points for the second successive week.