v Flackwell Heath (Emirates FA Cup Preliminary Round – 21 Aug 2021)





Almost four years to the day since they recorded a memorable FA Cup Preliminary Round comeback victory over Leighton Town, Rich Cox’s Tuffley Rovers side almost repeated the feat as they once again came from two goals down, although on this occasion the late winner, as conjured up by Sam Hill on 19 August 2017, was beyond them and their tie with Flackwell Heath will go to a replay at Wilks Park on Tuesday evening.

Cox made several changes to the team that had been defeated at Corsham Town seven days earlier, with debutant goalkeeper Callum Brain selected ahead of Adam Clark and Macaulay Herbert returning to skipper the side after recovering from injury, with Josh Swales moved to the bench. Harry Morgan and Sam Mendes were also recalled, with Aaron Basford unavailable and Dion Ellis-Clark only selected as a substitute.

The visitors were a familiar foe, after many meetings in the Hellenic League before they moved to the Spartan South Midland League as part of the FA’s Restructure in the summer, and had recorded a 2-1 victory over Cox’s side when they last met early in the 2020/21 season. However, less familiar was the venue of the tie; with Glevum Park still subject to drainage works the game had been moved to Brimscombe & Thrupp’s ground.

Kick-off was delayed by fifteen minutes after the visiting side were held up in traffic on the M4 but the long journey didn’t appear to have a detrimental impact on their early activities and they had the first chance of note, when Mo Ceesay’s header from Benjamin Fraser’s free-kick drew a terrific low save from debutant Brain in the Tuffley goal.

Marcus Richardon’s side had definitely started the game with a greater attacking threat but Rovers themselves also made occasional threatening moves into The Heathen’s territory, with Joe Shutt prominent, without either team troubling the opposition goalkeeper.

The visitors did come to life shortly before the interval and Ashley Howell drew another good stop from Brain, after good work from Tyler Gregory, the moments later Alan Ackerman drew another good save from the Rovers keeper. Jack Taylor then rounded off the first half with another effort that allowed Brain to show his quality, as he beat a powerfully struck shot away from the Rovers goal, ensuring that Cox’s side got to the interval with the game still goalless.

Almost immediately after the interval, Mendes’ swerving corner kick went beyond everyone, only to hit the frame of the goal and bounce to safety, before Jonathan O’Sullivan made a good save to keep out Lewis Bainbridge’s low shot.

A few moments later, Liam Wright was withdrawn from the action after picking up an injury and replaced by Lucas Price, who returned to the side after recovering from an injury picked up in the warm-up at Corsham.

Flackwell Heath’s first half performance had seen them regularly supply the ball to the pacy Aiden Higgs, playing wide on the right-hand side, and they finally opened the scoring, on 56 minutes, with their wide-man at the fore.

Bainbridge, who had been excellent for Tuffley at left-back, made a rare error and once Higgs had got away from him he showed enough composure to whip a superb cross into the six-yard box, into the path of Taylor, who forced the ball home from close range.

As if making an effort to atone for that error, moments later Bainbridge worked his way into the opposition box, before unleashing a powerful, rising drive that O’Sullivan kept out with a splendid fingertip stop that pushed the ball away from goal. Rovers then introduced veteran Warren Mann, in place of Rudi McKinnon, as they looked to find a way back into the tie.

Morgan, who had been instrumental in many of the hosts’ attacking moves, then produced a moment of magic out wide, before flashing a ball across the face of the Flackwell goal, but beyond his teammates and away to safety.

In their next attack, the visitors extended their lead, with a goal very similar to their first, albeit from the opposite side of the pitch, as Taylor repaid the favour to Higgs, who scored from close range to make it 2-0 on 66 minutes.

Facing a mountain to climb, simply to stay in the tie, Rovers needed a swift response and it came in the form of a close range header from their captain, Herbert, who got enough on the ball, from a corner from the recently introduced substitute Swales, to see it into the goal, despite protests that the ball hadn’t crossed the line.


What followed was an end-to-end contest, as Flackwell looked to kill them game off and Rovers tried to find a way back in. The Heathens’ Simeon Weekes might have killed them game off with a couple of close range efforts, before Taylor put the ball over Brain’s goal when he should have scored, but Rovers’ reward for their own adventure came, with two minutes of normal time remaining, as Price marked his return with a well-struck shot beyond O’Sullivan, after great build-up play from Bainbridge, Shutt and Morgan, as well as a crucial touch from Mann that moved the ball beyond the last defender and into the scorer’s path.

Lewis Price goal v Flackwell Heath

The final moments were then played out, without either side finding a winning goal, and they will resume an excellent tussle at 7:45pm on Tuesday evening.