v Fairford Town (Uhlsport Hellenic League, Premier Div – 19 Mar 2022)




A season that had started with a disappointing defeat away at a Town, ended in a rather symmetrical fashion, as Tuffley Rovers succumbed to a 25th league defeat in their final Uhlsport Hellenic League Premier Division fixture of the 2021/22 season.

Although there is still competitive football to be played before the season can be considered at an end, a campaign that started with Rich Cox at the helm, overseeing a 2-1 defeat away at Thornbury Town, ended with Neil Mustoe in charge of a 3-0 defeat at Fairford Town. Rovers’ place in the division they have occupied for seven seasons had been secured the previous week, by virtue of their hosts defeating and relegating Calne Town, so there was little to play for at Cinder Lane, with Jody Bevan’s side nestled in a comfortable mid-table position and with little prospect of moving in either direction.

What followed during the 90 minutes was a comprehensive victory for Bevan’s charges, and although Rovers had plenty of possession their Achilles heel, a lack of goals, once again the central issue. Knowing the squad he took over in January had scored just forty times in thirty-seven league games prior to this outing, and ended the afternoon without a further goal, Mustoe will probably know that the summer will need to be spent identifying ways in which to increase his squad’s creativity above all else. Add in the fourth leakiest defence and the story of the 2021/22 season is all too evident. That it concluded with a lackluster defeat was less of surprise, more an illustration of rebuilding work that needs to be undertaken once the season is over.

Fairford won convincingly, in terms of the margin of victory, and they deserved to do so. Rovers offered little threat, despite a reasonable share of possession. There was little to excite the 75 spectators in attendance, but the home support were at least able to cheer their side to victory, albeit they still have a game to play, following the postponement of their game against Westbury United in midweek.

After the defeat against Lydney Town seven days earlier, Mustoe was able to recall Joe Shutt and Warren Mann, in place of youngsters Tomos Shyamapant and Demilade Yussuf, who were substitutes on this occasion. That allowed Harri John to take his usual place in the midfield, alongside Liam Smith and Dom Kent.

Smith was at the heart of the most positive moves in the early stages, as Rovers matched their hosts. However, another persistent problem – an inability to defend set pieces effectively – meant that Rovers fell behind to Dan Bailey’s thumping header from Ian Herring’s corner-kick on 11 minutes.

By the 25th minute it was 2-0, as former Rovers forward Ross Langworthy raced onto a long distance free-kick from Sam Ayres, before coolly finishing past Rovers’ Jack Copland.

Before the interval arrived, Smith had picked up an injury, to be replaced by Yussuf, and although that deprived Rovers of arguably their best player in the first period, they successfully negotiated their way through to the interval without further damage being inflicted and it remained 2-0 when the referee’s whistle drew the half to a close.

Ten minutes into the second period the game was all but over. Fairford substitute Brad Bevan was felled by Copland and Langworthy got his second of the afternoon from the penalty spot, to make it 3-0.

Shyamapant and Yeshaya Lomotey appeared from the bench, as Rovers searched for an avenue back into the game, and they thought they had a late consolation, as Shyamapant tucked home the rebound after Ashley Bird’s effort had struck the post, but he was adjudged to have been offside and the afternoon ended with another scoreless afternoon for Mustoe’s side, the fifteenth time the Glevum Park outfit had failed to score in a league game in their 38 game season.

The season will end with a foray into the Hellenic League’s cup competition and whilst this may offer hope of a positive conclusion to the campaign, the likelihood is that it will be more profitable in helping Rovers’ manager to assess who might remain in his plans for 2022/23. The statistics would suggest that he will have a busy summer.