v Worcester Raiders (Uhlsport Hellenic League, Premier Div – 1 Nov 2022)




(ATT: 73)

The Raiders were promoted to the Hellenic’s Premier Division at the end of the 2021-22 season in rather a round-a-bout way. After finishing in second place of Division One in the regular season they reached the play-off final, in which they were defeated 3-0 by Hereford Pegasus. However, Cinderford Town were not relegated from the Southern League because Walton Casuals withdrew from it. So, the Worcestershire club took the place of the club from the Forest of Dean as the third club promoted from Division One, along with champions Studley and Pegasus; Studley moving to the Midland League.

The Raiders wasted little time in getting used to life at a higher level by scoring five against Fairford Town at Cinder Lane in their opening league fixture, a total they have since repeated against both Shrivenham and this evening’s hosts Tuffley. They have scored in all thirteen of their Hellenic fixtures so far, thirty-six in total of which an amazing twenty-two have come in eight matches on the road.

In complete contrast, successive home defeats in five days have seen Rovers slip to second from bottom because of the point that Longlevens took from Corsham while they were surrendering 0-5 to Roman Glass at Glevum Park. Between the two Gloucester clubs sit Mangotsfield United, whom Tuffley will visit in their next league match after this evening’s encounter with the Raiders. The proverbial relegation six-pointer awaits The Mangos and The Poets at the weekend.

For the third time in four home matches Rovers were unable to hold on to a precious lead and, yet again, a goal conceded in the dying embers of a game deprived them of taking something out of a league fixture when it came to points won. This was, however, a strikingly more positive performance than the abject one which had seen them lose three days earlier. For the passion and resolve they showed on a dreadful evening of almost incessant rain, they certainly deserved more reward than they ultimately got.

The Raiders continued their impressive record of scoring in every league match this season but they had to dig deep in the second half to turn a single-goal deficit into a victory which moved them up to third place in the table.

Shayne Bradley’s recent effective cameo appearances as a substitute saw him restored to the starting line-up; and there was also a familiar name in Tuffley’s goal in Luke Merchant, who had signed as cover for the absent Elliot Jones.

Worcester got the match under way and won an early corner on the left before Louis Monaghan had their first shot on goal which flew over from a tight angle.  At the other end Bradley fired wide for Rovers before a neat move involving Harry Stratford and Jade Ferron led to a Raiders corner on the right. Isaac Cooper’s flag-kick went hard and low to the edge of the penalty-area but Stratford’s shot was clutched cleanly by Merchant.

The visitors were playing with the confidence that comes from being on a good run of results and slick passing meant that they were able to quickly turn defence into attack; but the hosts were defending resolutely even if they weren’t able to create any decent scoring opportunities themselves.

A couple of minutes after Jordan Murphy had fired wide of Merchant’s right-hand post a scramble in the Worcester box led to Bradley driving a ferocious shot past Ryan Young in the visitors’ goal. That put Rovers in front with six minutes until the interval.

Merchant had to make a close-range save as the opening half ended but the hosts went in at the interval one goal to the good even if neither goalkeeper had really been extended so far.

As the rain lashed down even more heavily than before the Raiders introduced Luke Gaffney at the start of the second period. Within thirty seconds, Kieran Alder and Joey Haswell combined down the right but Callum McGuirk’s ambitious overhead kick drifted harmlessly wide. Then Haswell was just unable to connect with Bradley’s inviting cross from the left as Rovers worked hard to create a second goal.

Merchant was far busier now as Worcester’s yellow waves of attack pressed for an equaliser. What led to it was a corner on the left which Rovers players furiously protested should have been a goal-kick in their favour. When Cooper’s cross came over, it was headed down and in by Brogan Halpin, who was at the heart of most of the good things created by the visitors.

After the usual multiplicity of personnel changes made by both teams in the second half, there was almost a sense of inevitability about what happened next considering the way so many of Tuffley’s matches end in misfortune. A deep cross from the right was headed in at the far post by one of the Worcester replacements, Vanyson Da Silva.

As the game moved into added-time Young had to make a scrambled save on his own line to prevent an equaliser. When Rovers won a very late corner, Merchant ambled upfield to add his presence to Rovers’ attacking options. The corner was cleared and Silva raced down Tuffley’s right with the home ‘keeper seventy yards away from his goal.  Fortunately for him, Silva ran out of space as he continued down the wing and was unable to play a decisive pass to a team-mate.

Several players from both teams confronted each other angrily after the final whistle with nothing in particular sparking it off other than possible personal feuds which had developed during the ninety minutes.

Five away wins from nine is an impressive statistic for the Raiders to boast a third of the way through the season, but five defeats from seven at home is miserable for Rovers to look at, especially as Mangotsfield now have a point more and a marginally better goal-difference before the two teams meet in South Gloucestershire at the weekend. Meanwhile, the Raiders move on to Wootton Bassett hoping to put real pressure on Malvern Town and Cribbs above them by securing three more points on the road, those two clubs meeting on the same afternoon.