v Hallen (Uhlsport Hellenic League, Premier Div – 22 Feb 2022)




After 90 minutes play at the Auen Tips Stadium, this Uhlsport Hellenic League fixture ended with a scoreline which was a perfect reversal of the conclusion to the fixture between the two sides when they had met 17 days earlier. It left Stuart Jones, the Hallen boss, knowing his side have a mountain to climb if they are to avoid relegation from the Premier Division, whilst his opposite number, Neil Mustoe, ended the evening knowing his side were now on the cusp of safety, having climbed to sixteenth place in the table.

When the teams had come together at Glevum Park on 5 February a Saul Jarrett brace saw the visiting side take the points. On this occasion it was a double from another player, Rovers’ Jack Beardsell, that once again meant three points were the property of the visiting team.

Mustoe started the evening by naming an unchanged starting eleven, after a performance offering much promise in the defeat at Westbury United the previous Saturday, despite the availability of Sammie Hicks and Liam Smith who returned to the squad after missing the previous game. Youngsters Tomos Shyamapant and Laurie McNally retained their place in the squad after impressive seasons in the Rovers U18s and Development Squad.

His side appeared to repay his faith and Beardsell had an early shot, after he’d battled his way to the edge of the Hallen area, but Ben Wilshire was quick to react and deflected the ball away from goal.

In the opening quarter of an hour both sides had a healthy share of possession, although some enterprising play usually ended with a stray pass that meant neither Hallen’s Harry Thomas-Barker or Rovers’ Jack Copland were troubled in goal.

Warren Mann is now a familiar face in the Rovers defensive line, but he still carries an attacking threat and when he beat Jarrett to a ball out wide, he was tripped as he looked to cross and won the award of a free-kick near the touchline but parallel with he edge of the Hallen penalty area. Joshua Aldridge stepped up to deliver a beautifully measured free-kick and it was Beardsell who rose highest to head the ball past Thomas-Barker and into the net, to make it 1-0 after 19 minutes.

That was Beardsell’s first goal for Rovers since rejoining the club in October 2021 and his first in their colours since he netted twice against Fairford Town in January 2020.

Shortly before the half hour mark Hallen might have equalised but Jarrett’s effort struck the bar before a game of goalmouth pinball ended with Harri John producing a block that took the ball away from goal and kept the Rovers lead intact.

It was Rovers who had the next chance of note, as Joe Shutt delivered a wonderful cross from the right, which was met by a powerful and towering header by Rovers goalscorer, but this time Beardsell was denied by the bar and the score remained at 1-0 as the game reached the interval.

The second half started with the visiting side on the front foot and Ashley Bird had a chance, only to see his shot blocked by a defender and the game then settled into a pattern where Rovers produced most of the attacking threat but Hallen looked to exploit opportunities on the break, with Jarrett producing another shot on goal that went wide of Copland’s goal.

Mustoe introduced Hicks, for Dom Kent, before further changes a few minutes later, as Shyamapant and Smith entered the action as replacements for Aldridge and Aaron Basford.

It was Hicks who contributed to the next crucial moment for his side, when his corner caused chaos in the Hallen defence, with Thomas-Barker fumbling the ball on the edge of the six-yard box, and although Jacob Geddes’ appeals for a penalty, after he fell under pressure, were denied, Beardsell picked up the loose ball, cut inside his marker and hit a shot that took a wicked deflection off Matt Davis that lifted over Thomas-Barker and into the Hallen net, to make it 2-0 with 74 minutes played.

Hallen got a goal back with 7 minutes to go, as Leo Eglin latched onto a loose ball after Rovers failed to clear a corner and that was the cue for some desperate defending in the closing moments, including six minutes of added time, that ultimately proved enough for the visitors to hold out in their quest for three points.

It is still a little early for Mustoe to feel assured that his short spell as interim manager has already delivered against the primary objective of maintaining Rovers’ Step 5 status, but this win means that his side have taken a huge step in the right direction with the end of the campaign is in sight.