v Malvern Town (Uhlsport Hellenic League, Premier Div – 9 Aug 2022)



TUESDAY, 9 AUGUST 2022  (ATT: 124)

This would be the second league match of the 2022-23 season after both clubs had drawn their opening fixture in the mid-week before the F.A. Cup fixtures three days earlier. Rovers had drawn 0-0 at Brimscombe & Thrupp, while Malvern Town had drawn 2-2 with Westfields, attracting an attendance of over 300, to their picturesque stadium which is overlooked by the Malvern Hills.

The Hillsiders finished 3rd in their inaugural season in the Hellenic’s Premier Division in 2021-22 and took 77 points from their 38 league fixtures. Although that was 49 points more than their hosts this evening, Rovers had come from 0-3 down to take a point at the Langland Stadium in October but Town were too strong in the return match and won 3-0 at Glevum Park a month later.

Early-season matches are so hard to predict until a certain number of games have been played and some sort of pattern has emerged. While Rovers were suffering heartbreak in the FA Cup in their previous fixture, Malvern were progressing in that competition by beating Worcester City in front of nearly 900 spectators. Those cup results would have to be put to bed quickly because now important league points were up for grabs.

Ultimately, Malvern’s win was as comfortable as their 3-0 victory at Glevum Park nine months earlier. The only difference this time was that Rovers scored (in the opening minute) but rarely threatened to do so again. The Hillsiders passed neatly and accurately and broke with pace and purpose. In Matt Turner they had the game’s stand-out performer; an excellent target man who could also hold the ball up and distribute it well. His over-exuberance when making certain challenges is not a trait that will commend him to many but in many ways he is the perfect centre-forward, if such a position exists in the modern game.

Tuffley’s start was in complete contrast to the way they had finished Saturday’s cup-tie. Inside a minute Jack Beardsell timed his run down the right perfectly to stay onside and his inch-perfect cross on the run saw Ryan Dobbins peel away at the back post to plant a powerful header past Keiron Blackburn in the visitors’ goal.

Rovers only scored 40 league goals from 38 matches last term; only relegated Calne Town scored fewer (37). Averaging only one goal per league match is a worrying trend that needs to be changed. Despite the lift that such an early goal should have given them, they rarely looked like beating Blackburn again. Full-back Ryley Mace strode forward to unleash a powerful shot which narrowly cleared the crossbar in the closing moments of the first half; and a speculative shot by Jack Beardsell fizzed past the far post shortly before the final whistle. Rovers weren’t over-run by any means but were constantly having to regroup after surviving dangerous attacks to get ready for the next wave that would be coming towards them a minute or two later. In truth Town and especially Turner could have scored more but once they had taken the lead with an hour played they never really looked like relinquishing it because adding to it was always the more likely alternative.

Malvern’s equaliser was as tidy as Tuffley’s opener, Harry Clark finding space at the far post to convert an inviting cross from Ben Hayes. Town were awarded a lot of free-kicks in the first half but their delivery was often poor and didn’t give Elliot Jones much to worry about.

Henry Birkett went down inured as the first half came to a close but was okay to continue after treatment. The final action of the half saw Kieran Squires connect with a free-kick from the right but his header drifted harmlessly wide.

When Birkett was fouled by his opposing No.8 Joe Bullock early in the second half, the Tuffley player reacted petulantly by sticking out a leg in retaliation and the referee spoke to both players but did not brandish a card to either of them, but this started a bit of a running battle for a while and Bullock eventually saw yellow for fouling Birkett.

David Reynolds shot wide from a good position as the hour-mark approached but would soon be celebrating the success of a wonderful direct free-kick which flew high past Jones’ left side like a guided missile.

Rovers made changes to try to freshen things up and although Malvern also brought on substitutes it seemed to be more to run the clock down than for any particular tactical reason.

Just after the mid-point of the second period a third Malvern goal effectively sealed the points for the visitors. Jones might have done better with a cross which came in from the right but when he could only push the ball up in the air Harry Clark had a simple header from just inside the six-yard box.

Rovers have another chance to grab their first league win of the season on Saturday when Lydney Town visit. Malvern go to Hereford Pegasus on the same afternoon but already look to be one of the strongest teams in this division just as they were a year ago.