v Hereford Pegasus (Uhlsport Hellenic League, Premier Div – 3 Sept 2022)




(ATT: 50)

Tuffley Rovers paid the price for thirty minutes of arguably their worst football this season, as they slumped to a disappointing 4-1 defeat at newly promoted Hereford Pegasus.

Early in Neil Mustoe’s reign, following his appointment in January, he probably had worst days (or evenings!), with some thumping defeats for the squad he’d inherited. This was different in so far as Mustoe has now re-shaped the squad and instilled a resilience in the group that makes scorelines like this surprising. On this occasion, the performance wasn’t poor from start to finish but the opening half an hour was poles apart from the dynamic seen previously this season and a defeat was not undeserved.

The build up to the game, which had only been confirmed by the league seven days previous, was far from ideal but Mustoe was still able to field a strong squad and would have expected better. For a variety of reasons the Rovers boss was without Liam Wright, Dan Lander, Ryan Dobbins, Mason Lewis, Shayne Bradley, Kieran Squires, Yeshaya Lomotey and Ashley Davies, all of whom might have started on another day. The consequence was that although Mustoe could field a largely familiar starting line-up his bench was made up, with the exception of Liam Smith, of players who might normally feature in the club’s Development Squad.

Elliot Jones had to make a good stop in the opening 45 seconds and although that was an early warning it wasn’t heeded as Cawley Cox was gifted an opening goal as Scott Nicholls dithered on the ball and the Pegasus forward found himself through and able to make it 1-0 after just six minutes.

Pegasus used their goal advantage as a stimulus and might have extended the scoring on several occasions, before Cox had his second of the afternoon, latching onto a loose ball after Jones had blocked Carlos Moreira’s initial effort. In truth, the Rovers keeper might have done better but his attempted block was pushed back into Cox’s path, an offer the grateful striker showed no intention to waste.

Three minutes later, on 33 minutes, it was 3-0 as Jordan Williamson exposed Rovers’ frailties again. Mustoe had, by then, seen enough and changed his formation, withdrawing Dom Kent from the midfield and adding debutant Paul Azubilla into the action, to reinforce his defence.

That reshuffle appeared to do the trick and the interval came without any further damage being inflicted on the scoreline.

Mustoe might have got his message across during the break, as his side came out on the front foot and Jack Beardsell drew a save from the Pegasus keeper in the opening moments, before the hosts’ frustration in not being able to sustain their own intensity showed and they had a player sin-binned.

Pegasus then wasted a glorious opportunity to extend their lead, before Jones and then Azubilla found a way to deny Moreira and Cawley.

Rovers pressed and should have had a corner. The officials awarded a goal-kick and the game was completely over as a contest thirty second later, as Moreira led a quick break up field and set-up Cox, who completed his hat-trick. 4-0 and 18 minutes remained.

As it was, Matt Butler entered the fray, amidst a sea of substitutions and managed to finish from the edge of the box after good work from Ryley Mace. The same player then put the ball into the side-netting in the closing moments, after creating an opportunity for himself, as Rovers finished with an attacking flourish.

It was a case of too little, too late and Rovers ultimately found themselves on the wrong end of a 4-1 defeat that leaves them 14th in the table after six games.