v Worcester Raiders (Uhlsport Hellenic League, Premier Div – 19 Oct 2022)




(ATT: 178)

A first visit to the magnificent Sixways Stadium will be a treat for most Hellenic League Premier Division sides this season, but that is where the joy ended for Tuffley Rovers in this midweek clash, as Neil Mustoe’s side ended up on the wrong end of a five goal reverse, against a team who showed quality in the attacking third that surpassed anything the visiting side had faced during the season to date.

Already deprived of Warren Mann, who was recovering from a concussion, Mustoe was also without the experienced Ashley Davies and had to include Macaulay Herbert in a three-man defence, despite the player struggling to recover from a bout of food poisoning.

Mann and Davies’ absence prompted recalls for Dan Lander, who was back after an injury lay-off, and Callum McGuirk; whilst Dan Beasley was only fit enough for a place on the bench and saw his place taken by Ryan Dobbins, who had been unavailable for the weekend draw with Shrivenham.

With five minutes of the game starting, Rovers trailed. After a failure to clear the ball upfield, Raiders’ Cooper latched onto the loose ball, rolling it into the feet of Jordan Murphy, who turned Kieran Squires with ease, before firing a low shot beyond Elliot Jones and into the corner of the net.

Jones was helpless to prevent Murphy’s effort from finding the net, but he made a terrific save to deny Stratford, who curled a shot goalwards from 20 yards after 12 minutes.

Rovers were defending resolutely as the half continued but lost Herbert on 26 minutes, as he succumbed to the illness that had dogged him during the week. He was replaced by George Driver-Dickerson, who was making a first appearance in the Hellenic League Premier Division.

Shortly after, as Raiders continued to press Rovers back, Timmins saw his header from a corner pushed away from goal by Jones, who was already proving to be a more than adequate last line of defence. He reinforced that status with another excellent save from Timmins, who once again found enough time and space to hammer a goal bound shot from 25 yards.

As the half drew to a close there was one final effort from Murphy, whose beautifully flighted free-kick from the edge of the Rovers penalty area cannoned back off the bar and away to safety.

Mustoe introduced Mason Lewis for Dominik Kent at the interval, but the game continued as it had before the interval, with Jones proving Rovers’ saviour as he denied Murphy, before Raiders’ substitute, Silva, screwed a good chance wide of the goal.

Rovers’ substitute, Lewis, was already proving a handful for the Raiders defence and might have levelled the scores after bursting through the hosts’ defensive line, but keeper Young was alert to the danger and dived in front of the wide-man and diverted the ball away from goal.

Murphy then drew a sensational save from Jones, who dived in the air and turned the ball over the bar whilst at full-stretch.

Chances came and went for the hosts but Rovers appeared to be remaining resolute, only for the game plan to be undone in the space of 180 seconds. First Silva found himself with a simple tap-in after Shay Willock’s cross had created a chance for Murphy that was initially blocked, before falling into Silva’s path; then Willock turned scorer, as he powered his way through a series of challenges before poking a shot beyond Jones and into the net.

With 8 minutes remaining, Rovers’ Paul Azubilla was adjuged to have fouled Silva, although the Rovers man was convinced he had not, and Murphy made it 4-0 as he poked home the loose ball from a yard out. Five minutes later, another call went Raiders’ way and debutant Driver-Dickerson was sin-binned for his protests.

Moments later, Squires produced an excellent block to deny a Raiders attack, before the follow-up saw Cooper strike a shot that deflected off Henry Birkett, an looped past Jones, whose desperate attempt to recover and push the ball away ended too late, as the ball was adjudged to have already crossed the line.

A 5-0 reverse was hard on Rovers, in one sense, but had it not been for an inspired performance from Jones, the damage could have been much worse on a night to forget for Mustoe’s men.