v Fleet Spurs (Buildbase FA Vase, Second Qualifying Round – 25 Sept 2021)




A much-changed Tuffley Rovers team took to the field for a serious competitive match at their own home for the first time since they had played Ardley United 361 days earlier. Repair work to the Glevum Park pitch had seen Rovers play their opening seven league fixtures of 2021-22 away from home in addition to three cup-ties and one cup replay which were also played away from Gloucester.

Hampshire club Fleet Spurs arrived having endured a difficult time since their transfer from the Combined Counties League to Division One of the Wessex League. Just a single point from their opening seven league fixtures, four of which had been lost by five-goal margins, were not encouraging statistics to bring up to Gloucestershire with them.

Teams who have never met before tend to sound each other out during the opening minutes of a match. Unfortunately, this sounding-out lasted for almost the whole of a first half which was pretty tedious to watch even if it did contain a couple of goals. By contrast, the second half was much better and contained most of this game’s major incidents and talking-points.

Fleet got the game going kicking towards the changing-room end but Rovers had the better of the opening exchanges until Aaron Basford went down injured but was able to continue without being treated on the pitch. Tuffley dominated the early possession with Dominik Kent having a really positive influence in midfield and Liam Wright pinging balls down both flanks for the wide players to run on to, a tactic which would have worked better had the home forwards not been caught in offside positions on several occasions.

The opening goal when it came was as scrappy as the play which had preceded it. Warren Mann made progress down the left and when he cut the ball back towards the near post it appeared to be defender Connor Allison who unluckily diverted the ball into his own net.

The Spurs were struggling to get through Tuffley’s defence but, when they did, Khoury Taylor missed a decent opportunity when he dragged the ball just wide of the goal. The visitors would soon rue that miss as Rovers won two corners in quick succession. From the second Jacob Geddes powered in a fierce downward header which was first saved then cleared, but the second goal soon arrived when Kent stole the ball deep on Fleet’s left-hand side, burst past his man to the byline and calmly rolled it across to Joe Shutt whose simple side-footed effort went past Aaron Bufton’s left side.

Nothing in the first half had really indicated a Fleet comeback from going two goals behind. But within a minute of the resumption they had pulled a goal back. Liam Smith dallied on the ball a second too long and in a flash Fleet centre-forward and captain Tom White had gained possession and clipped a shot across goal which beat Adam Clark and bounced in off the far post.

Rovers nearly restored their two-goal advantage when Geddes strolled forward for another corner and again reached the ball before any defenders but his header was comfortably claimed by Bufton.

The goal by White had given the visiting team belief and confidence they had shown little of before. Ethan Yewings set up White for a right-footed shot which flew over and the Tuffley defence, marshalled superbly by Geddes, found itself having to work hard to keep the visitors at bay. Further up the field Lewis Bainbridge ran clear from just inside his own half but his shot just cleared the far post. The referee called for a water-break when Bainbridge went down injured and he was almost immediately replaced by Dion Ellis-Clark. Fleet replied in kind by taking off Ryan Goddard and replacing him with Larry Briggs; a few minutes later they took Taylor off and brought Rhys Master on.

At the three-quarter point of the match it looked as if the next goal would be decisive whichever way it came.  Things were getting tense off the field as well as on it and Rovers’ Dave Strain was ordered to leave the dug-out by referee Dan Forrester. Joe Shutt’s corner from the left was cleanly caught by Bufton at full stretch but another corner by the same player and from the same side was cleared and saw Fleet break into a menacing position before the assistant’s flag alerted the referee to the fact that Shutt’s corner had been taken from outside the quadrant. When the corner was re-taken it was third time lucky for Geddes whose header this time fizzed out of Bufton’s reach.

Liam Smith went down injured but Rovers had already made all three permitted changes. Ellis-Clark missed a good opportunity to put the tie out of Fleet’s reach completely. With time almost up White scored a second for Fleet after a goalmouth scramble and immediately rushed to reclaim the ball as the Spurs looked for an even later goal that might send this tie to penalties.

Rovers hung on to claim a place in the First Round Proper and a decent crowd starved of competitive football at this ground for just short of a year had ultimately enjoyed an absorbing contest in which the second half was a lot better than the first.