v Shrivenham (Uhlsport Hellenic League, Premier Div – 8 Jan 2022)




Seventy-four days, eleven Hellenic League games or after 990 minutes of football, Tuffley Rovers finally recorded a Premier Division victory on Saturday, Neil Mustoe’s first as team manager, albeit with the scoreline ultimately not as emphatic as it might have been, or probably should have been.

Two late goals from the visitors took a little gloss off a performance that had brought a long overdue victory for the hosts, in Mustoe’s second game in his new role, but after such a long spell without a league point few of those cheering on Rovers at Glevum Park would have cared too much about anything but the final score.

Miserable weather conditions in the days leading up to the fixture meant a pitch inspection took place at 12noon, but the game went ahead on a heavy surface, with Mustoe making several changes to the starting line-up after the defeat against Brimscombe & Thrupp on 3 January. If the Glevum Park faithful needed a sign that Mustoe’s reign might bring a change in fortunes, they were to be buoyed by the inclusion of a returning player, Ashley Davies, in the starting line-up after he signed from Southern League side Cinderford Town.

In addition, there was a return for influential centre-back Joel White, after a long spell out due to injury, a first start for another returning player, Ashley Bird, who last started on 26 August 2019, and a first appearance in Tuffley Rovers’ colours for Bristol Rovers scholar Harvey Greenslade, who had been signed a little over 24 hours before the game on a Work Experience arrangement.

As influential as Davies, Bird and White all proved to be, it was Greenslade who would ultimately prove to be the star of the show, almost as the game had begun.

Forty seconds into the game, Greenslade’s pace saw him move into a threatening position and he drew a foul from Rob Hendry, whose clumsy challenge pulled the new Rovers man to the ground just a few yards out from the edge of the Shrivenham penalty area, near the right-hand touchline. Fifteen seconds later, the ball was in the visitors’ goal as Josh Aldridge’s beautifully flighted free-kick found the new man, six yards out, and he planted a superb header into the corner of the net, with Shrivenham keeper James Foster helpless.

Just a few minutes later Greenslade might have made it 2-0 but he shot first time, after a defensive mix-up had given him an opportunity, when he might have run in on Foster’s goal. In a frenetic opening to the game. another attack that started with the Bristol Rovers man him produce a low shot that was blocked, before Lewis Bainbridge volleyed the rebound way over when he might have done better.

It wasn’t one-way traffic, despite Rovers holding the advantage, and a Hendry cross found its way to Tyger Hall at the back post, but his volleyed effort matched Bainbridge’s and Jack Copland was able to watch it go high over his goal.

Hall was to feature in the next chance for Shrivenham, shortly before the interval, but after Copland went down bravely, amidst a crowd of players looking to block the Hall’s attempt, the visiting player took a boot to the face and was forced out of action a lengthy delay for treatment.

When the interval arrived a few minutes later, Rovers lead after 45 minutes for the first time since they had hosted Chipping Sodbury Town on 19 October.

If there were any concerns about the narrow lead and the fragility of Rovers’ confidence, they took a huge step in the right direction just four minutes into the second period, as Will Ramsey roll the ball into Davies, whose low cross went through a crowded penalty area, before eventually reaching Greenslade, who needed no invitation to add his and Rovers’ second of the game with a poacher’s finish from four yards out.

The energy of Rovers’ attacking line, with Greenslade, Bird and Bainbridge all prominent in each attacking play, was causing Shrivenham plenty of problems and it might have been 3-0 after an hour, but Josh Gregory cleared off the line after Greenslade had sent Bainbridge clear of the visiting defence. A few minutes later Dom Kent might have put the game beyond doubt but Foster saved well.

It was 3-0 with nineteen minutes remaining, though, as substitute Jack Beardsell stole possession from another sub, Tyler Wilkinson, and his pass sat Greenslade away on goal. Foster made a good stop to deny the debutant his hat-trick but Kent lifted the ball over a desperate defensive challenge before striking an excellent shot past the Shrivenham keeper from close range.

If Greenslade had deserved a hat-trick it should have come five minutes later, after his bursting run into the box was stopped by a foul from Foster and a penalty was awarded. Unfortunately, his spot-kick was too close to the keeper and the Shrivenham No.1 then produced a superb save to turn away the rebound and keep the margin to three goals.

Foster made another good stop to deny Bird in the closing stages but that only seemed to be designed to keep the margin of defeat to a minimum than a save likely to prove important in the context of the game.

As it was, Shrivenham were to score twice in injury time, first through Tim Cook, who bundled the ball home from close range, before Ash Taylor headed home from a corner. That created a little unnecessary tension in the closing moments but Rovers ultimately stood firm but to bed one of the worst losing runs (if not the worst) in the club’s Hellenic League history and gained a very much deserved victory; the first of Mustoe’s tenure.