v Longlevens (Uhlsport Hellenic League, Premier Div – 27 Dec 2021)




A solitary goal from visiting Longlevens captain Shaun O’Connor decided this local affair in front of a bumper Bank Holiday crowd of over three hundred. Rovers are still firing blanks in front of goal but this was a much more compact performance than the one against Corsham nine days earlier and should give the newly-appointed management team of Neil Mustoe and Ritchie Warden enough encouraging signs to work on in the New Year even though the team desperately needs to be picking up points again very quickly because if it does not it can expect to be caught and overtaken by the three clubs immediately below them in the table.

Matches between the two Gloucester clubs in this division tend to be quite tight affairs without many goals and this match continued that trend. There were several former Rovers players in the Longlevens squad and although that sort of familiarity can lead to rather feisty confrontations that wasn’t really evident until the closing stages when Rovers had a player sent off for a pretty wild challenge.

Tuffley kicked off playing down the slope but both teams won early corners. The ‘Levens corner was taken by Luke Troke and the ball certainly moved in the air and was drifting inside the far post when Jack Copland grabbed it to make a clean catch.

Eight minutes had passed before there was a sniff of a chance. Brad Martin got his head to a free-kick taken by Troke on the left but when the ball reached Will Emery he could only drive his shot wide of Copland’s left-hand post.

Five minutes later Jamal Lawrence found himself in the clear when a long ball forward reached him but he was being put under pressure by a defender and maybe got his shot away a little earlier than he needed to, an effort which was comfortably saved by Ellis Parker.

Midway through the first half Warren Mann fouled Dave Merrick as Longlevens built up a move on the right. Troke’s free-kick drifted over everyone in the penalty-area before smacking against the far post; this led to an almighty scramble as defenders tried to clear the ball but instead led to Merrick getting a shot away which was deflected for a corner.

Just after the half-hour mark the visitors took the lead. O’Connor moved menacingly forward into the final third of the pitch and exchanged passes with Martin before driving in a right-footed shot which was deflected off debutant Scott Nicholls and out of Copland’s reach and ended up in the far corner.

There was a flurry of activity soon after the goal as Longlevens threatened to increase their lead. Ex-Rover Rudi McKinnon fired in a ferocious shot from the left which was screaming into the far corner until Copland flew through the air and somehow diverted the ball onto his crossbar and away from immediate danger. Two minutes later Martin passed to Emery on the right and the cross was met by Cameron Williams who could not get over the ball properly and headed it over the crossbar.

Just before the interval Rovers had two decent opportunities to equalise. Lewis Bainbridge ran from deep inside his own half down the left and hurdled a couple of attempted tackles while still retaining possession of the ball before getting in a tame shot which Parker dealt with comfortably. Then Nicholls moved up when Rovers were awarded a free-kick on the right but he could only head Josh Aldridge’s cross wide of the goal. So ‘Levens held on to take their narrow lead into the half-time break.

The visitors moved forward with purpose early in the second half and this led to two corners, the second of which was headed wide by Williams. Rovers won a corner themselves shortly afterwards and Aldridge’s flag-kick led to a fierce drive from Nicholls which Parker acrobatically turned aside. Rovers’ shortcomings in front of goal were well documented and they again failed to create enough decent opportunities for themselves even though their big centre-forward Lawrence worked hard for little reward. Lucas Price had an effort that should have drawn the scores level, but Parker made another superb save to keep his side in front.

Both teams made substitutions as the match entered its final third. Warren Mann was brought down heavily and limped away but Rovers had made their three changes by then so the Tuffley veteran had to see out the match. The same fate befell Ethan Dunbar for the visitors.

Time was nearly up when Mann flew into a challenge on O’Connor for which referee Mitchell Terry pulled a red card out of his pocket. Rovers had to play with a man less for what little time remained but Longlevens remained composed and disciplined and continued to work hard to protect their narrow lead with the three points earned moving them level on points with Westbury United in eighth place although they have played three matches more than the Wiltshire club.