v Bradford Town (Uhlsport Hellenic League, Premier Division – 2 Oct 2021)




After fifteen games, spread over almost 20 months, since 25 January 2020, Tuffley Rovers kept a clean sheet in an Uhlsport Hellenic League fixture, in what will undoubtedly be remembered as a performance of two halves, both equally impressive. The first saw a performance full of attacking intent and intensity; the second a fine defensive effort, with a counter-attacking threat.

This game, a first home league fixture since 29 September 2020, saw the visit of Bradford Town, who are new to the Hellenic League this season and came into the fixture with five wins in their opening eight league games, including a crushing 5-1 win over Calne Town in midweek. Rovers were in decent form themselves, having lost just once in six games, although that had been in their last league outing at Brimscombe & Thrupp which ended in a 5-1 reverse.

There were two changes to the starting line-up for Rich Cox’s side, with Josh Aldridge (ineligible for the FA Vase game a week earlier) recalled and a returning Rover, Tristan Haswell, included after signing on a dual registration basis from Cinderford Town as he recovers from injury.

Both sides started the game on the front-foot, looking to attack at every opportunity, but early chances were at a premium. Joe Shutt hit a 10th minute shot that took a deflection before going narrowly over Chris Humphries’ bar but there was little other notable incident in the early moments, despite the offensive intentions.

In the 16th minute Humphries was forced into making the first save of the game, as Lewis Bainbridge showed excellent footwork to dance past several challenges before driving a low shot that the tall Town keeper managed to push away from his goal with an outstretched palm.

Four minutes later, Town had a chance of their own, as a long ball upfield found Harvey Baker, who put a clever backheel into the path of Charlie Walton, who in turn played a square ball to George Box but the normally prolific striker blasted high over under pressure from the recovering Jacob Geddes.

The game continued at a pace, with Rovers showing an intensity that had been missing from some of their early season performances, with the pacy trio of Lucas Price, Shutt and Bainbridge testing the Bradford Town defence at every opportunity. The visitors looked solid in defence and ready to exploit any opportunity to launch an attack on the Rovers goal.

Rovers’ keeper Adam Clark had been largely untroubled in the opening half an hour but he was called into action for the first in the 30th minute, as he got down quickly to keep out Baker’s effort, after Box had fizzed a low cross into the six-yard box.

With half-time fast approaching, Aldridge started the move with a superb ball inside the Town full-back, Luke Burman, and when Bainbridge struck the ball beyond Humphries, but cannoned away off the upright. The ball then found its way to Aaron Basford, who struck a superb low shot, which Humphries did well to keep out but the ball spun into the path of Bainbridge again and he put it into the unguarded net. Unfortunately, although Rovers thought they had the lead, Bainbridge had been in a position narrowly behind the Town keeper and with only the covering full-back Dawley on the line, was correctly adjudged to be in an offside position and the goal was disallowed.

The was the last clear chance of the half and the interval arrived without score but in a game that provided plenty of entertainment for the neutral.

Rovers started the second period with the same intent as had been demonstrated in the first period and took the lead ten minutes into the half. Liam Wright and Dom Kent combined to win back possession, before Shutt played an excellent pass out to Price, who opened up his body, swung the ball back into the box and into the path of the diminutive Shutt, who arrived unmarked to head the ball beyond Humphries and into the net from 10 yards out.

The hosts’ performance wasn’t all about attacking endeavour and the back three of Wright, Geddes and Haswell were in commanding form, snuffing out attacks and bravely winning a succession of headers and tackles to keep the increasing threat from Town away from Clark’s goal.

Humphries, who had been a solid presence in the visiting goal, then picked up a back injury in a clash with Bainbridge and it looked like he may have to withdrawn from the game but with no replacement keeper on the bench, he was able to continue after several minutes of treatment.

Town did then make a change, as Tyson Pollard came on for Dawley, and he was to prove a significant influence in the way the game developed, instrumental in much of the visiting side’s play after entering the fray, almost scoring within two minutes of his introduction, only to see his volleyed effort go narrowly wide.

The intensity had shifted for Rovers and they were now producing some excellent defending, supported by Clark, who came to the fore making a good save from Box, who fired a low shot that the Tuffley keeper forced over the bar with an outstretched foot.

Bainbridge then had to be withdrawn from action, after picking up an injury, and he was replaced by Brennan Denness-Barrett. Shortly after Liam Smith and Yeshaya Lomotey were introduced for Basford and Price.

As time began to ran out, the visitors continued to attack and Clark had to make a smart stop from Walton, before the same player headed against Warren Mann and onto the Rovers bar from the resultant corner. Seconds later, following the subsequent corner, Clark made another good stop to deny Town again.

Geddes was showing how crucial he was to the hosts, after returning from injury seven days previously, and made a series of well-timed defensive blocks as the game drew nearer to a close and Clark, who had won back his place following a recent injury to Jack Copland, made another great stop in the closing moments to deny them an equaliser.

As it was, Rovers showed a mettle that has not always been evident this season and secured three valuable points as they look to climb the league table, but also three points that marked a successful return to Hellenic League football at Glevum Park.