Firsts back up to second
By Gary Brigden
Despite falling behind early on, the lads rallied and were good value for their 3-1 win over a very good Abbey Rangers side.
The visitors took the lead on only three minutes, when the in-form Sean Bradley latched onto a misplaced Craig Hastings pass, beat Guy Baskerville to the ball, put on a move on Ollie Ellaway before firing home from close range.
Rovers should have levelled three minutes later, the influential Neset Can Bellikli drifted across the face of the Abbey backline before threading an incisive ball through to Ollie Twum, he toe-poked the ball beyond Liam Stone, but the Abbey keeper pulled him down earning himself a yellow card and Rovers a spot kick. However Josh Uzun's strike was well saved by Stone and the visitors remained ahead.
Abbey should have increased their lead on 11 minutes when a corner was met by a free header by Sam Hangar but he could only plant his header wide of the left hand upright. This signalled the start of an SCR onslaught, first up Bellikli fed Twum again but his cross was deflected behind for a corner, this was half cleared, but Uzun could not direct his effort on target.
Bellikli was pulling strings, and scores were level on 18 minutes, after his delightful cross was met powerfully by the head of the diminuitive Aidan Brown.
Rovers continued to press, Callum MacLean found Bellikli with a rangy cross-field ball on 21 minutes, and his cross was just headed wide by Brown, but Rovers did not have long to wait to take the lead. On 23 minutes a long ball forward by Matt Tanton led to hesitation between Stone and Hendrie and as both left the ball for the other Twum toe-poked the ball beyond the keeper for 2-1.
Rovers were dominating, and on 35 minutes could have gone further ahead, when Maclean and Adam Allen linked up well, with Allen being set away on the right, and his low driven cross was inches ahead of the on-rushing Brown.
At the other end the Rovers backline was holding firm, although Bradley was continuing to be a menace with his pace and trickery, and on 39 minutes a fizzed effort by Robbie Kersley went just over the crossbar.
Two minutes before the break, and only good defending by Hangar prevented Brown from getting his second, as he almost latched onto a Twum near post cross.
Half time came with Rovers 2-1 to the good, but slightly regretting missed chances.
Rovers were forced into a half time change with the injured Maclean being replaced by 18 year old Kyle Henry, but Rovers continued to hold the upper hand. A Bellikli free kick was just too far in front of Brown and on 49 minutes great link up by Henry and Brown released Malachi Robinson, but again his cross into a dangerous area was not capitalised on by any Rovers player.
Abbey made a double change on 56 minutes with Spencer Maw and Luke Robertson replacing Hendrie and Bradley Thomas, and this seemed to inspire the visitors and they started to put Rovers on the back foot. Elliott Firth pinged in a decent free kick on 60 minutes, but a great last ditch header by Hastings cleared the danger.
Twum got beyond George Davies, and went down in the area, but any penalty claim was waved away by the referee, and a couple of minutes later Hangar went into the book for scything down the flying winger just inside the Abbey half.
Twum and Bellikli then linked up just outside the Abbey area, and from Bellikli's dinked ball Uzun saw his effort go narrowly wide of the left hand post.
Abbey started to put Rovers under more pressure, and on 63 minutes Allen had to be alert to clear Joe Macklin's knockdown from a dangerous free kick.
Brown made way on 65 minutes for Phil Page as Rovers looked to give Abbey different problems, but it was the visitors who went close on 67 minutes, a low cross shot by Firth requiring a superb block by Allen, and a minute later Ellaway was on hand to gather the Bradley strike from the edge of the area.
Twum, Tanton and Henry linked well to create a chance for Uzun on 67 minutes, but both efforts were blocked, and from the corner Page put a header wide of the right hand post. Abbey then replaced Davies who had been given a torrid afternoon by Twum, with the prolific Harrison Deacon.
Rovers gave themselves a two goal advantage on 72 minutes, a Bellikli cross was initially well defended, but Baskerville turned the ball goalwards, and a nick off a defender took it beyond Stone for 3-1.
The visitors upped the pressure, and almost responded immediately, but Ellaway made an excellent stop to deny Bradley from reducing the deficit. Robertson then weaved passed a couple of players then found Bradley, who in turn set up Maw but his shot was half blocked by Hastings, with Ellaway making the save.
Rovers made their final change on 82 minutes, with Uzun making way from Jordan Gallagher. Almost immediately Bellikli was caught in possession midway inside the Rovers half, but Kersley fired an effort over the bar when there looked to be better options available.
Five minutes from time and 9 headed wide of the right hand post, as Abbey continued to push for a way back into the game. In stoppage time Kersley fed the onrushing Firth but his strike was well saved by Ellaway, who then did well to claim a loose ball from the resultant corner.
Full time came with Rovers securing all three points in an excellent game. Both sides played some great attacking football, and once again it was a good advert for the Combined Counties league.