v Longlevens, 29 August 2022 (Uhlsport Hellenic League, Premier Division)




(ATT: 222)

Longlevens and Tuffley Rovers played out a competitive 0-0 draw at Sawmills End on Bank Holiday Monday, although Neil Mustoe’s side could have cause to feel slightly aggrieved after a Mason Lewis effort was incorrectly adjudged not to have crossed the Levens line, although they can also feel relieved that a late effort from Brad Martin struck their bar, rather than settling the tie in the hosts favour.

Rovers arrived at Longlevens short of their summer signing and talismanic defender/midfielder Noah Smerdon, with the player having moved to Bishops Cleeve the week before, but Mustoe would have former captain Macaulay Herbert and another long-serving player, Liam Wright, back in his line-up. Herbert, who had missed almost 12 months after a horrific shoulder injury, would prove to be a pivotal performer in a game where both defences would ultimately come out on top.

Longlevens fielded a very different looking squad to the one that had been seen in most of their 2021/22 fixtures – a series of summer departures, alongside a raft of new arrivals evident – but they had some very familiar faces, too, with Martin and Ollie Long amongst their long-serving contingent, whilst they included Adam Bloomfield, Luke Troke, Matt Sysum and Tommy Callinan in their starting eleven – all four former Rovers players.

The list of former players lining up wasn’t exclusive to the hosts and Mason Lewis and Callum McGuirk started for Rovers, the first after appearing for Levens in pre-season and the latter having spent the previous season with them.

Familiarity can often impact on the game and there have been many occasions when a draw between these sides – or even a narrow victory in one side’s favour or the other – has been a drab affair. Despite the 0-0 scoreline, this was a game that had plenty of attacking intent for he 222 spectators in attendance and but for the width of a line or the frame of a goal it may have ended very differently.

Clear chances were few and far between but the pace of the game was frenetic early on. Longlevens were arguably the better side in the opening stages and Jordan Alderman, Bloomfield and Martin all spurned chances to open the scoring. By contrast, Rovers carved few chances but were tidy in possession until they entered the final third. That it remained scoreless at half-time wasn’t a complete surprise but any score would have been equally unsurprising.

The second period swung more in the visitors’ favour, without a flurry of chances for Mustoe’s side. Half chances came and went without a change to the scoreline, and when Lewis picked up the ball, after Ryan Dobbins had drawn Long away from the ball, he beat Sysum comfortably before crashing a shot against the bar. The ball bounced down towards the line and it was almost impossible to know whether it should have been a goal. No Rovers players appeared to celebrate the effort – in part because they were challenging for the ball that had bounced up in the six-yard box – and by the time Levens’ keeper, Dan Troke, had smothered the ball it was confined to history.

If Rovers felt any sense of grievance that this effort had been ruled out, they had equal reason to feel relief as the game entered its last throes, with Martin’s shot against the bar as close as either side came to scoring after that and the conclusion of a game that was far more absorbing than the 0-0 scoreline might appear to suggest.