v Westbury United (Uhlsport Hellenic League, Premier Div – 19 Feb 2022)




An 80th minute goal from Player/Manager Ricky Hulbert ultimately proved enough to separate promotion chasing Westbury United and their visitors, Tuffley Rovers, on an afternoon where the performance of Neil Mustoe’s side betrayed the thirteen places separating the teams at the end of the afternoon. That will be of little consolation to the Rovers manager, who knows his side will need to pick up points soon if they want to avoid being sucked into a relegation battle on the final days of the season.

Having arrived at Westbury’s Meadow Lane shorn of several experienced players, Mustoe might well have anticipated a tough afternoon. Sammie Hicks, Ashley Davies and Liam Wright were all unavailable for selection, although Jacob Geddes did return to the line-up and Lewis Bainbridge was fit enough for a place on the bench. What followed was a performance full of grit and determination – two qualities that had been absent at times during the season – but short of the creativity that lies behind a fairly paltry return of 51 goals in 40 competitive games this season.

With Wright unavailable, Mustoe selected Joe Shutt at right-back, resulting in a recall for Ashley Bird in attack. The addition of Geddes offered some defensive steel, with Harri John moved into a more familiar central midfield role after he had played at full-back in the defeat to Westfields.

Both sides struggled in the early stages, as a gusty wind blew across The Meadow, but it was Rovers who snatched the lead, as early as the 7th minute, when Shutt picked up a poor clearance, took a touch and then unleashed a shot from 30 yards that had the support of a stiff breeze and rocketed into the Westbury goal, beyond Mark Bowden, to make it 1-0.

Josh Aldridge gave Dominik Kent the chance to make it 2-0 a few moments later but the Rovers midfielder shot over the bar when well placed on the edge of the box.

That miss was to cost Rovers, as the hosts won a free-kick out wide on 18 minutes. Ashton Shanley swung the ball into the box and after Westbury skipper Dan Price had won a header, Joel White’s clearance struck Joe Stradling, who then managed to direct a low shot beyond Jack Copland and into the net to make it 1-1.

Rovers were forcing chances but Bird saw a header saved by Bowden, before Aaron Basford and Jack Beardsell went close with efforts from just inside the Westbury area.

When the interval arrived the score remained all square and it might have been justifiable for Mustoe to fear the worse, as the conditions in the second period would be in the hosts’ favour.

Instead, his side remained competitive. Thomson went close for Westbury, drawing an excellent save from Copland, before Shutt hit another shot from distance that went narrowly wide.

Both sides then went on to trade blows and although Westbury were arguably creating more chances, Rovers more than matched them and regularly threatened to restore their earlier advantage.

As it was, Callum Demkiv eventually found enough space to put the ball into the Rovers box and when the visiting defence didn’t clear it fell to Hulbert. Despite not making a clean contact, the Westbury man made enough of the opportunity to turn the ball across the goal and into the corner of the Rovers’ net, to make it 2-1.

The final ten minutes saw both sides attacking with zest. Jack Biddescombe went close for the hosts and Basford, as well as late substitute Tomos Shyamapant, both had efforts on the hosts’ goal that were blocked by some desperate defending.

As it was neither side could find another goal and Hulbert was left to celebrate a strike that had secured three points and moved his squad up to third in the table, whilst Mustoe was left to contemplate another defeat, although he’ll be buoyed by a performance that offered plenty of hope ahead of his side’s crucial visit to bottom club Hallen on Tuesday evening.