v Bishops Cleeve (Uhlsport Hellenic League, Premier Div – 16 Oct 2021)




In a match played at Evesham United’s Jubilee Stadium, due to the ongoing pitch works at Cleeve’s Kayte Lane home, the temporary hosts and their visitors played at out an entertaining game that had much to offer, despite the lack of goals on the day.

Both sides were affected by injuries and absentees that meant they showed changes from their midweek fixtures. Notably, one of the former Rovers players, Luke Merchant, was absent from the Cleeve goal after picking up a head injury against Roman Glass St George, although he was replaced by the experienced Sam Gilder between the posts. Former Rovers manager, Mark Pritchett, did line up for Paul Collicutt’s side, with another ex-Rovers, Kieran Alder, on the bench.

Again, Rovers fielded a side showing several changes. Warren Mann was missing with injury, whilst Xander Jones and midweek goalscorer Jamal Lawrence were both unavailable. Fortunately for Rovers’ manager Rich Cox, he was able to recall his three Cheltenham Town work experience players – Josh Aldridge, Archie Woodall and Brennan Denness-Barrett – who were available again after missing the draw against Calne Town due to their commitments at their parent club.

The game started with Bishops Cleeve firm favourites, sitting second in the Premier Division table and seven game unbeaten run in the league, against a Rovers squad that had been beaten 9-1 at Hereford Lads Club only seven days previous. Cox’s side had regained some pride – and probably a little composure – after coming from a goal down to draw with Calne Town in the week, but this was a Gloucestershire version of David v Goliath based upon the comparative standings for each club.

Cleeve were the first to establish a foothold in the game, with Harrison Reeves curling an effort on goal that went narrowly wide of the post on 8 minutes, but whilst the game was fast-paced and end to end, there were no clear chances early on.

Reeves had another half-chance that was well saved by Rovers’ young keeper Jack Copland, before Lewis Bainbridge’s perseverance helped him fashion a half-chance on 33 minutes, although he elected to go for the near post, hitting the side netting in the process, when a shot across Gilder might have been the better option.

Jack Watts then combined well with Jordan Annear before firing high over Copland’s bar, as Cleeve began to stretch the Rovers rear-guard, who responded with a stout defensive display that belied their goals against record in the season to date.

On 37 minutes came the best chance of the half, as Dom Kent broke through the Bishops Cleeve defence and although Gilder made a good block tackle, the ball went out to Denness-Barrett, who struck the ball well from 35 yards, as he aimed for the unguarded net, but his shot was possibly struck to well and kept rising until it cannoned away off the Cleeve crossbar.

Before the end of the half Rovers’ young backline had produced more commendable defensive work, with Jacob Geddes, Joel White and Woodall all making good blocks, with Copland also producing another quality save to deny Annear. That the score remained 0-0 when the interval arrived was more a reflection of defensive quality from both sides than either being blunt in attack.

When the second period commenced, Reeves had been substituted and replaced by former Rovers man Alder, Basford chance early in second period but it quickly settled again into a familiar pattern, with both sides showing plenty of quality in both attack and defence but with those attributes restricting cancelling each other out when it came to the creation of clear goalscoring chances.

Rovers’ Aaron Basford, back at his former Evesham United hunting ground, had an effort on goal five minutes into the period but it slipped narrowly wide of Gilder’s far post and out of play.

Annear had another chance, on 61 minutes, but it was well saved by Copland, then Basford had another chance that this time stung the palms of Gilder but was cleared to safety again.

As in the first period, Rovers carried an attacking threat and they might have scored through both Joe Shutt and substitute Dion Ellis-Clark, but it was Copland who then took centre stage in the closing quarter of an hour, producing some stunning goalkeeping as Cleeve ramped up the pressure.

Saves from Annear and substitute Elliot Kennedy set the tone, but the Rovers stopper consistently came under pressure as the hosts launched a series of attacks that required him to intervene and also launched in a plethora of huge throw-ins and crosses that tested the entire Rovers defensive unit, but ultimately ended with Copland intervening to quell Cleeve hopes.

In the dying moments, Liam Wright had an effort from distance that went narrowly over Gilder’s bar and when the final attacks from Cleeve were snuffed out, the match official, Mr Turner, called time on an absorbing contest that could have gone either way but ultimately ended in a share of the spoils.