v Thornbury Town (Uhlsport Hellenic League, Premier Div – 17 Sept 2022)




(ATT: 47)

The 2021/22 season had seen Tuffley Rovers beaten twice by Hellenic League Premier Division new boys Thornbury Town, during a campaign that too often saw the Glevum Park outfit wilt under the slightest pressure from their opposition.

A reasonable start to that last competitive season had seen the side managed by Rich Cox record three clean sheets by the start of October, but a shocking decline in form ultimately led to Cox’s departure in December and although his successor, Neil Mustoe, had been unable to arrest the slump completely (although he did enough to keep the side in the Premier Division) or solve the defensive frailties – with just one clean sheet in the cup evidence that problems remained – there was evidence of change, as The Rovers became harder to beat as the season wore on.

Mustoe has continued to steer his squad in the right direction since the start of the 2022/23 season and if a fourth clean sheet in eight league fixtures isn’t evidence enough of how resilient his side have become under his stewardship, the contrast between this win over Thornbury and two lame defeats last term would be obvious to all who wanted confirmation of the progress that has been made.

This was not a vintage performance, nor will it live long in the memory. In truth, Rovers defeated a Thornbury Town side who looked likely to struggle this season and did nothing to dispel any notion that one point gained from seven previous league outings was an unfair reflection of their season to date. However, defeat them they did and that ensured that some momentum is building for Mustoe’s side and it allows them to look down the table at a side who they had been looking up at for most of the previous season.

After a midweek victory in the Hellenic League Floodlit Cup, where Mustoe had given an opportunity to several players short of starting time, the Rovers manager made several changes to his line-up, with Warren Mann, Sammie Hicks, Jack Beardsell, Ryan Dobbins and Ashley Davies all recalled to the starting eleven.

Dom Kent had an early chance for Rovers but his shot, after a late burst into the Thornbury penalty area presented a chance, was blocked by Nathan Sage and cleared to safety.

Rovers were very much on the front-foot, without clear chances, and the it wasn’t until the 22nd minute that they had another chance of note, as Mason Lewis found enough space to get a shot away that was angled across the goal, forcing Mackenzie Welsh to make a diving save to turn the ball away for a corner.

Beardsell had the other notable chances for Mustoe’s side in the remainder of the first half, twice heading narrowly wide, first from Lewis’ cross and then from a wonderful outswinging centre from Mann.

When the two clubs had met at the start of the 2021/22 season Rovers had arguably had the better of the first period, only for their hosts to start the second period well, score twice and then go on to win the game. The early stages of the game after the interval might have left some of the travelling support with concerns of a repeat but despite having a healthy share of possession, Town could not carve out a clear chance and the score remained at 0-0.

As with the trend around keeping clean sheets being reversed, Rovers have now found an ability to eek out chances, although the lead they managed to gain on this occasion owed much to an error by the normally reliable Tom Webb, who badly under-hit a back-pass, allowing Beardsell to nip in and poke the ball beyond keeper Welsh and into the bottom corner of the Thornbury net, to make it 1-0 shortly after the hour mark.

Substitutions followed for both teams, with Shayne Bradley, who had scored twice in the midweek victory, introduced for Dobbins and he offered a different sort of attacking threat, which seemed to cause Town’s defence far more problems.

With ten minutes remaining, the pressure eventually told and after Bradley had put his marker under pressure, a huge punt upfield from Elliot Jones ran through to Kent, who calmly finished beyond Welsh, to record his first goal of the season and make it 2-0 to the visiting team.

Jones had to be alert to deny the hosts as the game moved into its final stages and Kent struck the post with another effort on goal, but the score remained unchanged, allowing Rovers to celebrate a well deserved three points that took them to 11th in the Premier Division and moved them seven points ahead of a Thornbury Town side who sit bottom of the table, with a solitary point, having played a game more.