v Malvern Town (Uhlsport Hellenic League, Premier Division – 5 Oct 2021)




A stunning second half comeback saw Tuffley Rovers salvage a deserved point after they had trailed Hellenic League, Premier Division leaders Malvern Town 3-0 at half-time.

After registering an excellent 1-0 victory over Bradford Town the previous weekend, Rovers came into the fixture at the HD-Anywhere Stadium full of confidence, but manager Rich Cox oversaw a combination of enforced and tactical changes to his line-up that meant five alterations in the starting line-up. Lewis Bainbridge was absent injured, whilst Warren Mann and Tristan Haswell were injured. Despite this, Cox relegated Lucas Price and Aaron Basford to the substitutes bench, as part of a tactical adjustment, although they were joined there by the welcome return of Jamal Lawrence, who had been absent with injury since scoring in the opening game of the season at Thornbury Town.

From the outset, the hosts were on the front foot and Matt Turner had an effort on goal within sixty seconds, which although high and wide, served as notice to Rovers that they were likely to be tested against their high-flying opponents.

With their next attack, Harry Clark swung a ball across the penalty area and although it eluded Turner, his original target, the ball arrived at the feet of Joe Bates at the far post and he cut back inside Rovers’ Billy Romais before hammering a powerful shot back across Adam Clark and into the net, to make it 1-0 after just 3 minutes.

It wasn’t all one-way traffic in a frenetic opening period and Rovers’ Yeshaya Lomotey should have equalised but miscued an effort from close range, after arriving to meet a wonderful cross from Joe Shutt.

Chances were coming thick and fast, with Rovers offering a counter-attacking threat, whilst Malvern were using the pace of their wide players to try and break through a defensive line well marshalled by skipper Jacob Geddes.

Bates and Clark were to combine again, on 28 minutes, before teeing up Dave Reynolds for an effort that was well saved by Rovers’ keeper Clark. Moments later Turner and Reynolds created space but the young Rovers defence recovered well and eventually crowded out the attacking threat.

Lomotey was then forced out of action, after falling under a robust challenge, and replaced by the returning Lawrence.

It appeared as though Rovers would head into the interval with every chance of getting something from the game but those plans unravelled in the final 3 minutes of the first period, as they conceded two further goals.

First, the otherwise excellent Geddes was caught in possession and inadvertently brought down Bates, allowing Turner a chance from the penalty spot that he didn’t waste, sending Clark the wrong way to make it 2-0.

Then, in the closing moments of what had been a positive first-half performance, a Rovers attack broke down and a lightening fast Malvern break ended with Reynolds hammering a shot inside Clark and his near post with such venom that the Rovers keeper barely had time to react.

At 3-0 down, visiting the league leaders, it might have been easy to sense this evening might prove as tough an assignment as the young visiting side had experienced in their only recent league defeat, a 5-1 destruction by Brimscombe & Thrupp, and the second period saw Malvern immediately show further attacking intent.

If Rovers needed something to break the intensity of their hosts’ play it came in a surprising form, as 10 minutes into the half one Assistant Referee picked up an injury, forcing him out of action to be replaced by an unused player from the Malvern Town squad, Carrick Hill.

Turner then wasted a great chance to make it 4-0 as he shot wide of goal, from close range, after a good save from Clark, then Reynolds too missed a good chance, firing high over the goal when well placed.

Somehow Rovers found some spirit and when Josh Aldridge fed Lawrence, the former Cheltenham Town forward showed bags of composure before firing under Keiron Blackburn and into the net, to make it 3-1 after 71 minutes.

Clark and Town substitute Louis Loader both had chances to re-establish a three goal cushion, but by now Rovers were building momentum and eventually the pressure told, albeit in a moment of controversy three minutes from the end of normal time.

When Shutt curled an effort towards Blackburn’s goal, it struck the bar and bounced down, before Brennan Denness-Barrett was first to react and force the ball home. He initially looked to have been flagged for being in an offside position, but once the match official and his assistant conferred, the goal was awarded with Shutt’s effort adjudged to have crossed the line, triggering protests from the hosts who were outraged to find themselves with a narrow lead.

Blackburn was particularly incensed and as the game moved deep into injury time it might have been that his concentration was broken, as he came to claim Aldridge’s free-kick, collided with his retreating defence and dropped the ball into the path of Archie Woodall, who forced the ball home to make it 3-3 and earn Rovers a point that they arguably deserved but were perhaps fortunate to have claimed.