v Slimbridge (The Emirates FA Cup, Extra Preliminary Round – 6 Aug 2022)



SATURDAY, 6 AUGUST 2022 (ATT: 186)

This was a dream draw for the hosts with a local Southern League club coming up to Gloucester for the afternoon, but there were certainly words of warning to be heeded by Neil Mustoe’s squad, because apart from winning at Windsor in the Extra Preliminary Round in 2021, Rovers had lost their three previous matches at this stage of the competition to Harefield United (2020), North Greenford United (2019) and Colney Heath (2018).

In addition to that, the last Southern League team to visit Glevum Park in an F.A. Cup-tie, Swindon Supermarine in 2017, had inflicted a heavy defeat on their hosts but the visitors’ status on that occasion had ensured a 200+ attendance at Glevum Park and Rovers would certainly be hoping to emulate or better that five years on.

Slimbridge arrived in Gloucester with four former Rovers players in their matchday squad with three of them making the starting eleven. One of them, Jacob Geddes, would have a significant impact as the match reached its closing stages. As ordinary time moved into added-time, Rovers were on the brink of a sensational victory over their Southern League neighbours, but even after Geddes’ headed equaliser, Slimbridge roused themselves for one final push and were rewarded when substitute Marley Thomas cut in from the left and fired an unstoppable shot past Elliot Jones for an amazing finale to an absorbing afternoon’s entertainment.

Things were much quieter at 3pm as the teams trotted out on a warm afternoon in front of a crowd that was, in fact, just short of the two hundred mark.

The Swans’ tricky right-winger and former Rover Joe Shutt had an early chance to run at former team-mate Warren Mann but, interestingly, chose not to. When a similar opportunity presented itself a couple of minutes later, Joe raced past Mann but was deliberately fouled by the Tuffley captain. So Round One to Mister Shutt and an intriguing tussle which lasted for most of the afternoon.

Chances were few and far between at both ends until Mann combined with Henry Birkett and the latter’s cross from the left was met with a firm header from Jack Beardsell at the far post, which visiting goalkeeper Lewis Adams caught comfortably. After a Slimbridge shot had flown high over Elliot Jones’ crossbar, Mason Lewis shot narrowly wide from the left after breaking through Slimbridge’s defensive line.

No more real chances came until half an hour had been played when, after a neat passing move involving three or four players, Will Hawes shot narrowly past the post with his left foot. Following a Slimbridge corner on the right, Shutt’s cross was headed wide by Myron Turner before a Tuffley free-kick taken by Birkett was reached by Noah Smerdon, but he could only head the ball out of play. So, the first half ended without a goal being scored.

Early in the second period Ben McLean shot wide for the Swans after Demilade Yussuf had lost possession in midfield. When Rovers won a corner on the left, the ball drifted beyond the far post but Lewis was unable to get a touch on the ball.

As the match reached a point at which substitutions would be made on a very warm afternoon, Rovers’ choice of the man to come on after a mid-session water-break was the height, power and experience of 42-year-old Shayne Bradley. What an impact he would make as the match moved into its final quarter! A delightful Bradley flick on halfway sent Ryan Dobbins racing down the right-hand channel and when he squared the ball across the Slimbridge penalty-area another substitute, Ryley Mace, controlled the ball before placing it past Adams, who was unable to recover from the position he had taken up a few seconds earlier.

Dobbins, who had worked like a Trojan all afternoon, came off and the Swans made changes as well as they tried to retrieve something from the game. Before Rovers went ahead there had earlier been an enormous scramble on their own goal-line when Jones saved a shot then lost the ball but recovered to make a second save before watching a third Slimbridge effort get hacked away from danger, but the pressure was mounting.

Mann was cautioned for chopping down Hawes and Slimbridge won corners on both sides. From what seemed likely to be the final play in normal time, a left-wing corner was met by Geddes at the far post and his firm downward header rippled the net after passing a motionless goalkeeper.

At that point both teams would probably have settled for a replay, but the momentum of equalising so late pushed Slimbridge on. When the ball reached Thomas near the left touchline, there seemed no immediate danger, but the substitute cut inside, danced into the penalty-area and hit a sublime shot up and over Jones into the far corner. It was a goal fit to win any game … and it won this one.

Every player in both teams gave their all during a frenetic second half. Rovers could have managed the match better after going ahead but their opponents just wouldn’t give up. It is a cruel way to lose and an uplifting way to win. It wasn’t just Slimbridge’s team that won. The game of football was a winner too. Rovers will play worse and win; Slimbridge will play as well and might not. That is what sport is like. In defeat you have to lift yourself to avoid what happened here happening again any time soon.

Rovers have just three days before Malvern Town come to Glevum Park, the Hillsiders having also drawn their opening league match of the season in the midweek before the FA Cup-ties. Both urgently want that first three points of the season but Rovers have the motivation to quickly get Saturday’s heartbreak out of their systems.