v Hallen (Uhlsport Hellenic League, Premier Div – 5 Feb 2022)




After a recent upturn in their form, Tuffley Rovers welcomed Hallen to Glevum Park on Saturday; a game that the neutral might have anticipated would go in the home side’s favour after they had picked up four points from their previous two games, whilst the visitors had won just twice all season, avoiding defeat just six times in twenty-nine league games.

When ninety minutes of football had concluded, Hallen travelled home with three points and Rovers will be left looking nervously over their shoulder, not so much at the victors from this fixture – who still have a 13 thirteen point deficit on Neil Mustoe’s side – but at the sides below them, notably Calne Town who gained a point and now trail by eight points with a game in hand.

Mustoe’s side still have enough of a gap between them and the relegation places to mean they don’t yet need to panic but tough fixtures lie ahead, with games against high-flyers Westfields, and Westbury United to come before they face Stuart Jones’ side for a second time on 22 February, with that midweek trip to Hallen coming before the final four games against Cribbs, Royal Wootton Bassett Town, another of the strugglers Lydney Town and then a final game against Fairford Town on 19 March.

In all likelihood, if Mustoe can lead his troops to four or five additional points that will potentially be enough to guarantee safety, but this was a game he might have hoped for a result from and will be disappointed not to have taken at least a share of the spoils, not least because his side were rarely tested and wasted several good chances on goal.

Having secured points against Bishops Cleeve and Hereford Lads Club, the Rovers boss was forced into only one change, as Sammie Hicks was ruled out with injury, meaning Aaron Basford was recalled to the starting line-up.

The visitors had a very early sight on goal, as Jordan Ricketts unleashed a shot from distance but it was too high and Jack Copland was able to watch it sail over the Rovers bar.

That chance aside, Rovers held the territorial advantage in the early stages but the game was punctuated by a series of stoppages for fouls, including two that called the match officials into punitive action, with one caution apiece for Hallen’s Jordan Greenwood and Rovers’ Liam Wright.

Basford and Harvey Greenslade both had half chances but each skewed their opportunity well wide and the game remained goalless.

Neither side was creating many opportunities but Rovers might have had a penalty shortly before Wright received his caution, as Greenslade went down under Leo Eglin’s challenge just inside the penalty area, but the referee waved away the appeals from the Rovers players.

Wright’s challenge to stop a break by Hallen immediately after, resulted in a free-kick that was lofted high into the Rovers box and after Martin Stowell had won a header the ball found its way across the Rovers box and into the path of the unmarked Saul Jarrett, who needed no second opportunity to hammer the ball home past Copland from 7 yards.

Josh Jenkins might have made it 2-0 shortly after, as he latched onto another loose ball from another set-piece but his effort went across the Rovers goal and out of play.

With neither side particularly threatening the opposition goal the score remained 1-0 when the interval arrived.

A little under 15 minutes after the interval the scores were levelled. Warren Mann played a lovely pass to out the ball into Greenslade and the forward got to the ball just before the Hallen keeper, Harry Thomas-Barker, drawing a foul that the referee would have been hard pressed to miss. Mann stepped up to take the penalty and calmly dispatched it high into the net.

Based upon the pattern of play that should have been the catalyst for Rovers to go on and secure all three points and it looked like a matter of time as chances came their way in quick succession. Ashley Bird spurned the first of several clear opportunities, turning the ball over the Hallen bar from three yards out.

Moments later a corner was headed on by Ashley Davies and into the path of Joel White, but the experienced Rovers centre-half missed the ball, before it cannoned off the far post and back into the path of Thomas-Barker who gathered the ball at the second attempt.

Rovers continued to press but a staccato affair full of stoppages remained wide open and it was the visitors who struck the next meaningful blow. Another set-piece went deep into Rovers territory and the defensive fragility that has been the hallmark of their season was exposed once again, as Jarrett was afforded too much time and space, giving him an opportunity to hammer the ball low into the net to make it 2-1 with ten minutes remaining.

Like the wolf in the Three Little Pigs fairy tale, Rovers huffed and puffed in search of an equaliser but they eventually ran out of time and Hallen were left to celebrate a third victory of their season when time was called. Mustoe will be left to reflect on a missed opportunity to ease the pressure on his side but, in the context of the situation he faced when taking on the role, his side can still feel a measure of confidence that their destiny now remains in their own hands.