v Westbury United (Uhlsport Hellenic League, Premier Div – 30 Oct 2021)




During a huge reorganisation in the summer, Westbury United were one of six Western Premier Division clubs who were moved into the Hellenic Premier Division with the others being Bradford Town, Chipping Sodbury Town, Cribbs, Hallen and Roman Glass Saint George. Three other clubs moved in from Hellenic Division One West (Hereford Lads Club, Malvern Town and Thornbury Town) while two more (Calne Town and Corsham Town) arrived from the Western League Division One.

Westury were in twelfth place when the 2019-20 season was halted but in sixth when the following season also ended early. They had mode a solid start in 2021-22 with 7 wins and 2 draws from their opening 12 league fixtures but, like the rest of the division, have watched one of the other newcomers, Cribbs, rise quickly to the top of the table.

Rovers, however, were also in good shape coming into this fixture. Three wins, three draws and just a single league defeat in October had seen them rise up the table to thirteenth place with their latest success in the Hellenic Premier League being at Westfields, the club that was certainly heading for its championship with a 14-point lead at the top when the 2019-20 season was curtailed in March. The beauty of the Hellenic’s top division this season is that many clubs are meeting other clubs for the first time with points at stake and the travelling for the away clubs is less than it used to be as the clubs are now concentrated in a smaller area.

Tuffley’s colours were lowered for the first time in a home league match this season, although there have only been four such occasions so far. Westbury scored a goal fit to win any match in the first half, added two more in the second and eased to their fifth three-pointer on the road since the season began. Although even the Rovers players probably couldn’t explain it, the neat passing and good ball control which, when added to a resolute defence, had seen them accumulate so many points in October was very much lacking on the month’s penultimate day. United’s game-management was excellent and typified by the fact that Rovers’ Joe Shutt, normally a marauding winger, was forced to spend much of the second half in the right-back position as the visitors strengthened their grip on the match.

Westbury made a bright start in blustery conditions on a newly-laid pitch which had coped well with the ferocious downpour earlier in the day. Callum Demkiv had the visitors’ first attempt on goal in the second minute but, when his shot was blocked, Joe Stradling lashed the rebound high and wide.

United thought they had taken the lead a couple of minutes later. With the home defence seeming to expect an offside call, Jack Biddiscombe found himself free on the left and his fierce shot from twenty yards rattled the crossbar before bouncing away from goal as the forward appealed unsuccessfully to the assistant that the ball had gone behind the goal-line not in front of it.

Down at the other end Liam Wright had Tuffley’s first serious attempt on goal but his shot was palmed away for a corner by Mark Bowden. Shortly afterwards Westbury were unhappy when the same assistant did flag for offside just as Francois Allen converted Joshua Timbrell’s cross from the right.

Given their early pressure it wasn’t a surprise when Westbury opened the scoring after a quarter of an hour. Stephen Hulbert passed to Biddiscombe who in turn passed to Ben Griffiths and he controlled the ball tidily before unleashing a missile of a shot which flew over and past Jack Copland in the home goal.

When Hulbert whipped a cross in from the right Allen dived to meet the ball with his head but missed the ball by inches as United continued to assert their superiority at this point of the game. They were launching long balls down the right for Allen to chase and this kept Jacob Geddes and Joel White busy but headed clearances were more often than not pounced on by visiting players to create even more pressure on the home goal.

Warren Mann went down injured in the closing stages of the first half and was unable to continue after being treated on the pitch; Lewis Bainbridge came on to replace him. The final action of the opening period saw Demkiv cross from the right and although Biddiscombe’s deflected header was on target the ball was grabbed safely by Copland.

Substitute Bainbridge was seeing plenty of the ball on the left wing during Tuffley’s brightest period of the afternoon early in the second period. But more possession did not lead to any serious chances. Rovers brought on Jack Beardsell for Liam Smith and Jack took a corner which was headed off the line before United’s Allen received a yellow card from referee Chris Bounds.

Inside the last twenty minutes Westbury increased their lead when Biddiscombe cut inside from the left and hit an accurate drive inside Copland’s right-hand post. Before the restart Rovers replaced Brennan Denness-Barrett with Lucas Price while United took off Timbrell and put Joe Cummingham on in his place.

Beardsell then received a caution for an over-zealous challenge but United were calm in defence during another spell of Tuffley pressure.

With time nearly up Archie Woodall went down and was treated on the pitch but he had to play on because Rovers had already made all three permitted substitutions. Westbury sealed their win in the first minute of added-time when Biddiscombe’s hard work down the left led to Griffiths skipping around Copland and tapping the ball into an empty net.

It could be argued that the winning margin was harsh on Rovers but the three goals they conceded were more due to the quality of the opposition than any defensive inadequacies of their own. Westbury have made a very solid start to life in a different League and thoroughly deserved to return to Wiltshire with the three points they had earned after an impressive performance in which they got their tactics right from the first whistle to the last.