v Longlevens (Uhlsport Hellenic League, Premier Div – 30 Aug 2021)




Against the odds, given Longlevens’ excellent start to their Hellenic League season and coming into the game without a single point and with a depleted squad, Tuffley Rovers managed to secure a draw in the latest El Glossico derby on Bank Holiday Monday.

After a third league defeat of the season at Shrivenham two days earlier, Rich Cox was forced to juggle his resources once again, with a growing injury list that included Macaulay Herbert, Jacob Geddes, Liam Wright, Billy Romais, Rudi McKinnon and Jamal Lawrence, amongst others. With Harry Walker, Xander Jones and Lewis Bainbridge also unavailable, Rovers were left with only Laurie McNally as a recognised defender and Cox started the game with a back four made up of midfielders Joe Shutt, Warren Mann and Josh Swales alongside McNally.

In addition, full debuts were handed to Matt Butler in attack and Liam Smith in midfield. The bench was made up of three youngsters – sixteen year olds Demi Yussuf and Tomos Shyamapant, alongside back-up keeper, seventeen year old Jack Copland – and Yeshaya Lomotey, who was searching for fitness himself after a lengthy lay-off.

The hosts lined-up with former Rovers Development Squad manager Michael Palmer in the dug-out, after his summer move to Levens, and with five former Rovers players in their starting eleven and another two on the bench.

Despite fielding a depleted squad, Rovers were competitive in the early stages, although they needed to show bravery in defence to keep their hosts at bay. Callum Brain wasn’t regularly called upon but did make two excellent stops, from Will Emery and Brad Martin, that kept the scores level.

The pressure exercised by the hosts was building and it wasn’t a complete surprise when Brad Martin gave the his side the lead, 37 minutes in, with a finish that gave Brain no chance.

Given their record in the season to date and the long list of absentees, it might have been anticipated that Rovers would fold at this point, but they quickly found their way back into the game, scoring shortly before the half-time interval.

A ball lofted deep into Longlevens territory wasn’t cleared, as Ben Williams’ tame header didn’t make any distance, and Dion Ellis-Clark netted his first goal for the club, as he brought it down before rifling the ball beyond the hapless Kane Winman and into the top corner of the Levens net.

Eight minutes after the restart, early pressure came to bear as the veteran Dave Merrick was afforded way too much space and time before stroking the ball past Brain and into the net, to make it 2-1.

As in the first period, those expecting the young Rovers side to give up where to be served up a real surprise as their next attack saw Aaron Basford produce a clinical, low struck shot that went beyond Winman, who didn’t dive despite the ball seeming not to be completely out of his reach, and into the bottom corner of the net.

With almost thirty minutes left to play an observing neutral might have expected Longlevens to reassert control and come away with the points and it looked more likely when emergency centre-half Josh Swales became the latest injury victim, as he limped off with a hamstring injury. Shortly after, Matt Butler, who had put in a tremendous shift as Rovers’ lone frontman, was also withdrawn, with the two substitutions meaning Yussuf and Shyamapant were introduced into the action for their debuts.

Despite concerted pressure from the hosts, who wasted several opportunities to take all three points, Rovers held firm and when the referee called time on proceedings a first point of the season accompanied a result and performance that could be the kick-start Cox needed after the challenges that accompanied the start of the season.