Virginia Water v Tuffley Rovers, 3 August 2019




Twelve months after a newly assembled squad were put to the sword in Tuffley Rovers’ opening day Uhlsport Hellenic League fixture, by Royal Wootton Bassett Town, another much changed squad visited Stag Meadow, Windsor, and although for much of the game they looked to be on course for another comprehensive defeat, a brave performance and late rally enabled the Gloucester side to return home with a point.

With manager Mark Pritchett absent from the game, his assistant Rich Cox took charge of affairs and travelled with a squad containing up to six potential debutants, as well as a new captain in Macaulay Herbert. As it was, four of the new signings were selected for their first starts, including 17-year-old keeper Alex Avenell, who was joined by full-back Jai Maisey, centre-back Declan Earwaker and Jack Beardsell, who had moved from Fairford Town in the summer. The other two signings, Ellis Waugh and Martin Smith started on the bench.

There was nothing much to separate the sides in the opening ten minutes, although Herbert went close with a sixth minute header, from a Beardsell free-kick, that flew narrowly over Matt Jones’ goal.

The hosts were beginning to have an increasing share of the possession, but Rovers might have taken the lead had Jake Rhodes made a better connection with Earwaker’s long free-kick to the back post, but his header was poor and fell well wide of the Virginia Water goal.

By now Ceri Jones’ side were putting their visitors under constant pressure, with a series of long throw-ins and corner kicks challenging the Rovers defenders. Although Cox’s charges stood firm on several occasions, the pressure eventually told and it seemed somewhat inevitable that the first goal would come. Thirteen minutes in, Finn Evered rose highest to power home an unstoppable header from Josh Hill’s corner, with Avenell helpless to prevent the ball going into his goal.

With the score in their favour, the hosts looked to mount a series of attacks, punctuated by their use of Evered’s huge throw-ins designed to pepper Avenell’s goal, with Hill and Joe McBride both going close with shots from 20 yards, whilst Rovers had rather less convincing efforts from Sam Hill and Beardsell, with neither effort troubling Jones in the Water goal.

Defender Evered was at the heart of much of Virginia Water’s best moments and he very nearly scored with a spectacular overhead kick six minutes before the interval, although Rovers would have been grateful to see a clean connection fly well wide of their goal.

That let-off wasn’t sufficient warning for Rovers and within two minutes they were punished for some complacent defending, as a ball to the back post wasn’t dealt with and when Jake Baker set the ball back, McBridge was in acres of space and hammered a low shot beyond Avenell, to make it 2-0 as the sides headed into the interval.

The second period didn’t see an immediate improvement from Rovers and they were grateful to both Earwaker and Avenell for interventions that kept the hosts out. Such had been the disappointment of the Rovers performance that it wasn’t until the 58th minute that they registered their first shot on target, with an Adam Bloomfield shot comfortably saved.

Courtney Hamilton was introduced to the game, replacing Bloomfield, on 70 minutes and Rovers’ luck appeared to turn almost immediately, with two moments that would prove pivotal. First, the hosts appeared to have made it 3-0, as Louis Sanders put the ball away, after Jack Hall’s shot was saved, only for the goal to be ruled out with the scorer adjudged to have been in an offside position.

Rovers then went up the other end and after they had applied enough pressure to earn a corner, they finally created an opportunity to get themselves back in the game. Beardsell’s corner kick was too high for his team-mates attacking the ball, but when Warren Mann collected the ball, found a yard of space and swung over a delightful corner to the back post, Earwaker rose imperiously to head the ball powerfully down and beyond Jones’ attempts to keep the ball out of the net.

Both sides then traded blows, without further clear chances, and with 14 minutes remaining Cox made a second change, as Luke Troke replaced Dom Kent. Within 5 minutes, the change paid dividends, as Rhodes’ clever pass found Troke, who showed great footwork to create space, before hammering a shot high into the roof of the net, with Jones statuesque in the face of the shot.

There were tense moments for both sides in the closing moments, but the game ended with Rovers looking more likely to score, but leaving with a point that was arguably undeserved given the balance of play over ninety minutes.