v Lydney Town (Uhlsport Hellenic League, Premier Div – 12 Mar 2022)




The Town, much like the Rovers, have endured a most difficult season. Tuffley had the disadvantage of having to start the season by playing a string of away matches while their Glevum Park pitch was being treated. Lydney were able to play at their Recreation Ground but lost four of their opening five league matches there as well as losing five of their first six away fixtures too. So, both clubs have spent much of the season worrying about the clubs around them in the table rather then setting their sights on catching and overhauling clubs above them.

On this penultimate weekend of the Hellenic season, both knew that their safety from relegation was pretty much assured before Tuffley went to Fairford on the final day while Lydney finished with home matches against Hallen and Longlevens. Lydney’s biggest win of the season came when they trounced Tuffley 4-0 back in December so the home players would have ample reason for wanting to reverse not only that result but also the scoreline.

Ultimately, Fairford’s win at Calne Town meant that the Wiltshire club could no longer catch Tuffley or Lydney but of course neither players nor officials of the clubs who met in Gloucester knew that at 3pm. Town’s 1-0 victory moved them above their hosts to complete a double over Rovers, for whom this was a 13th defeat from their nineteen home fixtures in the League.

It was a good toss to win on this chilly and windy afternoon and Lydney chose to defend the goal at the south end of the ground believing that playing with the wind behind them might give them an advantage in the opening period. Conversely, of course, this advantage might then be used by Rovers in the second half but as things turned out the wind dropped somewhat after the interval and home goalkeeper Jack Copland, who had struggled to get both distance and direction on a lot of his clearances in the opening forty-five, also encountered the same problem in the closing 45 minutes, when a number of his kicks went straight into touch, as in the first half.

This wasn’t a pretty match to watch and probably not to play in either. In trying to be both objective and honest, this performance by Rovers wasn’t anything that hadn’t been seen before in the weeks and months leading up to it. Six home defeats by a single goal since the middle of November had seen more often than not tight defending when either a lapse in concentration or a flash of brilliance by an opponent led to a goal. Sadly, despite having in Copland a last line of defence who has had a quite outstanding season, there hasn’t been enough composure in midfield or attack to create chances at the other end of the pitch. Today was a good example of that. Jack Beardsell worked gamely on the right flank but apart from an early cross which was headed wide by Ashley Bird he was unable to repeat similar accuracy with later crosses, which was partly caused by the wind. Short passes from midfielders trying to connect with attacking team-mates were picked off by opponents and long passes were usually comfortably headed away by central defenders.

The visitors settled into an early rhythm and were ahead before the first quarter of the match had been played, Matthew Board pouncing on a through-ball to round Copland and prod the ball home. Board worked hard for his team throughout as did the experienced Declan Morley-Lyne, against whom Demilade Yussuf received a yellow card for needlessly pulling his shirt.

Young Tomos Shyamapant, who had struggled to cope with far more uncompromising defenders than he normally encounters in the U18s League, was replaced by Joshua Aldridge at the start of the second half and for a brief period Rovers, thanks to Aldridge’s passing ability, started to get a foothold in the game. When Town’s Lewis Thompson had to leave the field with an injury, he was replaced by Charlie Powell.

As the match moved into its final quarter, Beardsell had a weak shot which was comfortably gathered by Jamie Merry in the Lydney goal. Merry had a quiet afternoon because far too few shots were fired at him and he only had to really extend himself once when punching away a last-minute Aldridge corner from the left which dropped near his back post.

Another excellent U18s player, Tomas Williment, came on for Liam Smith and Rovers’ last throw of the dice saw Yeshaya Lomotey replace Demilade Yussuf, this causing a reshuffle of the Tuffley defence with manager Neil Mustoe barking out the re-arrangement from the touchline, but it was too little too late.

Although Lydney didn’t seriously threaten to score again, they found it as comfortable to hold on to their lead as several other visiting teams had done at Glevum Park.

Considering the atrocious way they started the season, Lydney have done extremely well to rise into a position of safety. Tuffley have also guaranteed that they will play in the same division next season but must be concerned that they have lost nearly 65% of their league fixtures. Of equal concern must be the paucity of their goals return, an average of just 1.08 goals per game. With a bit more experience, young forward Shyamapant is capable of resolving the latter problem but the manager has somehow got to make Rovers a harder team to beat. Missing club captain Macaulay Herbert for almost the entire campaign was a big blow, a blow slightly eased by the way Joel White fitted smoothly back into central defence, usually alongside the extraordinarily talented Jacob Geddes.

The new pitch has held up extremely well but ultimately, as at any club, it is the personnel who perform on that pitch who will determine a club’s progress and in that respect maybe Tuffley have some tough decisions to make about who represents them next season because while statistics can be manoeuvred they do not usually lie and Rovers’ figures for the season which is about to end are, frankly, not good enough for a club of their ambition and status.