v Studley FC (Bluefin Sports Challenge Cup – 2 April 2022)



Tuffley Rovers win 4-3 after penalties


Studley FC, situated in Warwickshire close to its border with Worcestershire, arrived in Gloucestershire with the justifiable swagger of a club which had just clinched the Hellenic Division One title with one match to spare. They would receive the acclaim of their own supporters for that achievement at their final league fixture against Cheltenham Saracens on Easter Monday but first there was the little matter of a cup-tie to negotiate against one of the clubs they might be meeting in Hellenic Premier action next season, Tuffley Rovers.

Rovers had endured rather than enjoyed a difficult season before pulling clear of the bottom two clubs  but, like their visitors, would be interested in assessing today’s opposition in a knock-out game before possibly meeting them again with points at stake in a few months’ time.

This was not a match for the football purist even if the afternoon ended in the excitement and drama of a penalty shoot-out. Based on today’s evidence, if these two clubs meet in League fixtures in 2022-23, they are likely to be very tight affair because neither goalkeeper had to use up much energy until the lottery of the spot-kicks came along, with both defences and attacks cancelling each other out during the initial ninety minutes of play.

Aaron Basford got proceedings under way with Rovers playing towards the dressing-rooms end of the ground. The hosts won an early corner, which was taken by Joe Shutt, on the right; by the time the ball was recycled Shutt had moved to the corner of the penalty-area, from where he tried an ambitious curving shot with the outside of his right boot which flashed just past the far upright.

Studley’s immediate response saw Jake Bloomer’s free-kick on the left being headed narrowly wide by Harvey Smith. Bloomer’s long throw-ins from the left did cause Rovers some problems and he even moved over to the other side of the pitch to take them from the right-hand side as well to ensure that the threat remained a consistent one.

With Rovers having slightly more of the play efforts off target were an unfortunate part of the first period. Shutt set up Jack Beardsell whose shot cleared the crossbar by some distance before the same fate befell Dominik Kent. Then Shutt tried a low shot from about thirty-five yards out which went narrowly past Brendon Bunn’s right-hand post. These were encouraging signs from the home players, whose lack of goals in home matches this season had been all too apparent.

After Jack Cresswell had shot over the bar at the open end of the ground, a tempting cross by Lewis Bainbridge from the right was narrowly missed by Ashley Bird on the edge of the six-yard box and two of his team-mates running in behind him were unable to make contact with the ball either.

As Jack Copland raced off his line to clear a dangerous ball on the edge of his penalty-area, he collided with debutant Jordan Barry quite accidentally and the defender required some treatment before play could continue. Bainbridge was the next Rovers player to require treatment shortly before the interval when a clearance from the visiting goalkeeper smashed into his face from close range. One final shot from Beardsell went wide before the referee brought the first half to a close.

Studley ought to have taken the lead early in the second half. Smith set up Mark Magee, whose close-range shot was scuffed wide of Copland’s right-hand post. Then Dan Carter forced Copland to make a smart save before Rovers had a chance and Shutt’s long free-kick from the right was flicked over the bar by Beardsell.

Shortly after, Rovers won a free-kick on the right and Dale Edwards received a yellow card for being the offender. Then a foul on Edwards saw Harri John receive the same punishment. Bunn thumped the free-kick into Tuffley’s box and it was headed into the net but the goal was disallowed for an infringement.

Bainbridge fouled Cresswell at the mid-point of the second half and the yellow card came out once again. The next booking would be significant because it was Jake Bloomer’s second and as he trudged wearily back to the dressing-room Studley brought on Sam Jackson for Magee and would later replace Smith with Alfie Bloomer as they tried to freshen up their attacking options. Rovers had named three substitutes but none of them were called on.

Play became rather scrappy in the final quarter of the game but both teams were still looking for the win. Kent became the next player to be cautioned for an over-zealous challenge but spot-kicks to decide this cup-tie were looking more and more likely although Studley substitute Bloomer did his best to avoid them by heading narrowly over from about six yards out.

So just as at Newent five days earlier Rovers were again involved in a shoot-out to decide the winners of this cup-tie. Mann and Bloomer both scored, before Basford and Carter both saw their efforts kept out by the respective goalkeepers. Then Bird and Miller scored before Beardsell and Studley’s ‘keeper both missed. The final two kicks were successful, Shutt for Rovers and Cresswell for Studley.

So 3-3 and on to sudden-death it went. Bainbridge tucked his spot-kick away before Copland guessed right for the third time to thwart Sam Jackson and Rovers were through, albeit narrowly, by four goals to three.

Studley are worthy champions of their division and here in Gloucester they had a strong back-four which was very difficult to get through or round. They weren’t as potent in attack as they have been in league games (86 goals from 31 matches) but it was easy to see why they lose so infrequently. After two penalty shoot-out wins inside a week, Rovers will just be relieved to get through to the next round. Their overall performance was certainly an improvement on recent league matches but the fact that they score so few goals remains a problem that really needs to be solved before the start of a new season.

On a really chilly afternoon when the threatened precipitation from above didn’t occur until after the final whistle had gone, this was a better match to watch than its 0-0 scoreline might suggest.