v Royal Wootton Bassett Town FC (Uhlsport Hellenic League, Premier Div – 5 Mar 2022)




Results elsewhere on the day all but guaranteed Tuffley Rovers a position of safety, but they will be left to sweat just a little longer after a disastrous opening five minutes at Royal Wootton Bassett left with a mountain to climb and although they almost did find, Neil Mustoe’s side fell to a fifth defeat in six Uhlsport Hellenic League games at The Gerard Buxton Stadium.

Rovers arrived at their Wiltshire hosts’ venue with a severely depleted squad, as the suspended Warren Mann joined Joe Shutt, Ashley Davies, Sammie Hicks, Aaron Basford, Joshua Aldridge and Ashley Bird in being unavailable to travel. Mustoe was able to recall Lewis Bainbridge, Jacob Geddes and Laurie McNally, as he also handed a first league start to young striker Tomos Shyamapant, who has been prolific for the club’s Development Squad and U18s this season.

Whatever Mustoe had expected from the afternoon, it is unlikely he could have predicted what would unfold in the first five minutes of the game.

First, Liam Wright conceded a free-kick near the touchline deep in Rovers territory and John Mills’ low cross the front post was met by Bassett’s Sam Packer, whose deft touch took the ball way beyond Jack Copland and high into the net to make it 1-0.

Sixty seconds later, Bailey Gallagher broke clear into space and as Copland came rushing out from his area the Rovers man fouled the Bassett forward and was perhaps fortunate to stay on the pitch, with the match officials satisfied that Joel White and Geddes were in a position to ensure the hosts weren’t denied an obvious goalscoring opportunity.

If the Rovers keeper and his colleagues in claret and blue thought their bacon had been saved, that all changed when Mills stepped up to curl a wonderful free-kick into the top corner of the net, to make it 2-0 with less than five minutes on the clock.

Matt Bennett went close with another effort fifteen minutes in and arguably should have done better when he found himself in space twelve yards out but his shot drifted well wide and Rovers were spared falling further behind.

Rovers did eventually settle into the game, without conjuring any clear chances, and almost fell behind three minutes before the interval, as Mills saw his effort crash against the frame of Copland’s goal before the young Tuffley keeper got down to keep out Bennett’s follow-up.

That his team went into the half-time break still holding hopes of a comeback was testament to an improved performance, but Mustoe was left to survey the wreckage of an opening period that acted as a microcosm of Rovers’ defensive frailties over the course of the season to date.

When the teams came out for the second period hope was not limited to what was a relatively slender margin in the hosts’ favour because a wind that had assisted Royal Wootton Bassett in the first period was now very much at Rovers’ backs. Whether they could make good use of it was the matter for debate and the opening stages saw Mustoe’s charges fall short of matching the Bassett effort, as Ed Cavanagh and his defence saw off any threat with relative ease.

However, a free-kick awarded eleven minutes into the half brought hope. Few present would argue that Liam Smith’s free-kick was an attempt on goal but a well struck ball into the Bassett area was well assisted by the wind and the ball flew beyond Cavanagh and into the same top corner Mills’ free-kick had settled into during the first half. 2-1 to the hosts and it appears to be ‘game on’.

If the events in the infancy of this game had been illustrative of Rovers’ defensive vulnerability during the season, what came sixty seconds after Smith’s goal – his first in Rovers colours – summed up their greatest problem. Another set-piece caused mayhem in their area, as Mills’ cross found Macaulay Dodson and although Copland saved the initial attempt on goal, Adam Corcoran was on-hand to bundle the ball home, making it 3-1 in the progress.

Liam Wright seemed supercharged in response to the goal conceded and twice went close with long-range efforts that had Cavanagh scrambling across his goal. Neither effort troubled him but suddenly there was hope that Rovers still had plenty to offer in terms of threatening the Bassett lead.

Yesh Lomotey’s appearance from the bench came as a result of Jack Beardsell suffering with a dead leg and it was the Rovers substitute who breathed life into the game, on 79 minutes, as he struck a wonderful effort from 25 yards that dipped and swerved before thumping into the inside of the Bassett goal.

Rovers continued to press thereafter but a mixture of resolute defending from their hosts and some indecision in attacking positions, meant that Mustoe’s side ultimately ended on the wrong end of a five goal encounter, but they left with their pride restored as a gutsy second-half display nearly brought them a share of the spoils.

A draw between Calne Town and Lydney Town, as well as defeats for Hallen and Chipping Sodbury Town, meant Rovers stayed 16th in the table and barring a miracle from Calne, who would need to win their remaining four games to have any hopes of avoiding a finish in the relegation places, Rovers should continue to an eighth consecutive season in the Premier Division in 2022/23.