v Fairford Town (Uhlsport Hellenic League, Premier Div – 17 Aug 2022)




(ATT: 90)

Neil Mustoe might well be relieved to have been away on holiday, causing him to miss a game for the first time since his appointment in January 2022, as it saved him from seeing his side throw away an ideal opportunity to build upon their win in the previous Hellenic League outing against Lydney Town; instead capitulating to a Fairford Town side who scored twice in second half injury time, in a game that saw both sides reduced to ten men.

After a comprehensive win against Lydney Town the previous weekend, Rovers arrived at Cinder Lane in buoyant mood. By contrast, their hosts came into the game with a single league point to their name, after two defeats and a draw in their opening three league fixtures.

Rovers made one change to their starting eleven, as Callum McGuirk replaced the injured Dan Lander, with Ritchie Warden, Mustoe’s Assistant Manager, looking after the squad for the evening.

The game was a relatively even affair in the opening 20 minutes, with both sides having a share of possession, although few chances of note were registered. As it was, with Rovers on the front foot at the time, it was Fairford who took the lead, on 22 minutes, as former Rover Jamal Lawrence launched a solo counter attack that saw him leave Kieran Squires in his wake before sprinting 50 yards to roll the ball past Elliot Jones to make it 1-0.

Warren Mann made a great block on the line to keep out another Lawrence effort but the game was now becoming fractious, with Town’s players and management hounding the referee, and it was not a complete surprise when Luke Jones was sin-binned for one comment too many on the stroke of half-time.

The second period started with a chance for Ryan Dobbins, after Joe Wright, the Fairford keeper, misjudged the bouncing ball but he recovered sufficiently to deny the Rovers man a clear shot and the ball was eventually struck wide of the goal.

Wright’s counterpart, Jones, made a great stop to deny another former Rovers man, Ross Langworthy, who then contrived to put the rebound wide when he might have made it 2-0.

Squires, who had been at fault for the first goal, then produced a tremendous clearance after Jones had been caught in no-man’s land.

Another former Rover was then the next player to incur the wrath, or impatience, of the match official, as Aaron Basford was sin-binned, before Jones received a second caution (sin-bin aside) and was sent from the pitch. Fairford Town Manager, Jamie Reid, was unimpressed and was subsequently dismissed for a protracted verbal assault on the referee.

Rovers were now on the front foot and Squires headed a corner narrowly wide of Wright’s goal, and the neutral might have thought this was the visiting side’s game to win. As it was, Squires’ next intervention was to turn the game the hosts’ way.

After Sammie Hicks, McGuirk and Birkett dallied in moving the ball through the midfield, scorer Lawrence burst in and stole possession, with Rovers’ defence flat. Although Noah Smerdon was racing back to recover, he was in too wide a position and Squires was left in a foot race with Lawrence that only one person was going to win; well, at least until the Rovers defender took the unlawful option of dragging Lawrence back, which meant his evening ended with an inevitable red-card and Fairford although denied a second goal were at least faced with parity of numbers.

They exploited the situation with their next attack, as Langworthy responded quickest to a loose ball in the Rovers box and poked the ball home to make it 2-0 after 74 minutes and that was looking like ‘job done’ until Smerdon met Birkett’s corner on 88 minutes to reduce the arrears. In-between Rovers’ substitute Yeshaya Lomotey should have scored but dallied and tried to beat one man too many as he worked his way towards goal.

With normal time complete and the game moving into an extended period of injury time, Rovers contrived to concede two more goals, a second for Langworthy after a penalty from Danny Gudger. The scoreline probably flattered Fairford but was also illustrative of a capitulation from Rovers that meant they lost a game that at one stage looked like theirs for the taking.