v Bradford Town (Uhlsport Hellenic League, Premier Div – 15 Jan 2022)




In their 28th Uhlsport Hellenic League fixture of the season Tuffley Rovers faced a Bradford Town side they had recorded one of their six league victories against during a challenging season for the Gloucester side. That win, as far back as 2nd October, had been Rovers’ third in the league and was one of six in all competitions to that point. It was also notable because the hosts on that occasion had claimed a clean sheet for the first time in the 2021/22 season.

That victory at Glevum Park had come during an autumnal run of good form that might have given the Rovers faithful hopes of a positive campaign. It had been in September and October that then manager Rich Cox had presided over a run of fourteen competitive games, eleven in the league, that brought two FA Vase victories (as well as an exit in the First Round Proper), as well as eighteen league points.

Fast forward 3 ½ months and Cox has relinquished his role, after failing to gain a point during November and up until his departure following defeat to Corsham Town on 18 December 2021. New manager, Neil Mustoe, had managed to guide his squad to a much needed victory over Shrivenham seven days earlier, but a midweek defeat at home to Roman Glass St George had undermined confidence and the fragility amongst the young squad available to him for the visit to Bradford-Upon-Avon was there for all to see, with a crushing defeat illustrating the challenge Rovers face if they are to move away from the relegation places and avoid a nervy end to the season.

By contrast to Rovers’ position, Town had maneuvered their way from eighth after that defeat in October to sit in second place when they hosted Mustoe’s side on this Saturday in January.

The visitors arrived at Trowbridge Road with a depleted squad. Ashley Davies, who had been so instrumental in the win over Shrivenham, was absent due to work commitments, whilst Joel White was only fit enough for a place on the bench. The third from Rovers’ small pool of experienced players, Warren Mann, was able to return to the side after suspension.

With Sam Mendes and Liam Wright also out – another two casualties confined to the treatment room – there were returns to the starting line-up for Joe Shutt and Tom Spencer, alongside Mann.

Had the opening 18 minutes of the game been the only action witnessed by a passing spectator then it might have been something of a surprise to hear the final score. The damage, on an afternoon that was otherwise competitive in spells, was done by a 45 minute spell between the first and sixth goals of the afternoon, as the hosts produced a ruthless demonstration of finishing, albeit against a defence which was, at times, as porous as the final scoreline might suggest.

Mustoe might genuinely have cause to feel a little hard done by, as several key decisions went against his side, but he will have left Bradford-Upon-Avon safe in the knowledge that his side fell well short against the standard set by the hosts.

The first two key decisions to go Bradford’s way saw Rovers appeals that the ball had gone out of play ignored, before Jake Brown’s run ended with him falling to the turf under pressure from Dom Kent, leading to the second decisive moment of the afternoon, as the match official, Mr Brenchley, awarded a penalty to the hosts. Ross Lye stepped up to take the spot kick and sent it into the right-hand side of the goal, as Jack Copland dived in the opposite direction.

Within ninety seconds it was 2-0 and once again not without some controversy. A long ball upfield saw Mann knocked to the ground by a challenge from Charlie Walton, and the ball ran through to the prolific George Box, who showed plenty of composure as he waited for Copland to make his move before lofting the ball past the Rovers keeper and into the back of the net. Mann protested that he had been fouled and was sent to the sin-bin for his over-zealous complaint.

By the 27th minute it was 3-0, as Brown headed home Rob Hobbs’ corner kick. Six minutes later Box had his second of the afternoon and then Brown added to his account with a goal on 43 minutes that made it 5-0, with all the goals coming in 25 minutes.

Cheltenham Town scholar Spencer, who had a chastening experience on his return to the Rovers line-up, failed to appear after the interval, meaning Josh Aldridge dropped into the back four and Demilade Yussuf joining the action in the centre of midfield.

The changes seemed to bring some respite for Rovers and although Town continued to have the better of the play they failed to score in a busy opening to the second half. However, it felt inevitable that further goals would come and Box duly obliged, completing his hat-trick in the process, as he headed home Lye’s free-kick to make it 6-0 on 58 minutes.

When Walton made it 7-0 there were still 12 minutes, plus added time, to be played and Rovers’ travelling support must have feared that the afternoon could only have got worse. As it was, Mustoe’s young charges battled through to the end of the afternoon and when Jacob Geddes headed home Aldridge’s corner in injury time it offered scant consolation on a difficult afternoon, but did mean the game ended with a brief moment of celebration for those who had travelled from Tuffley to cheer on their side.