Page, Pinder and Cooper-Smith all find the target
By Gary Brigden
Despite not being at their fluid best, Rovers picked up all three points in a hard fought win at Knaphill on Saturday.
The hosts started brightly and in the opening minute a free kick into the Rovers area was only half cleared, and Sheridan Campbell fired a snapshot over the crossbar. Minutes later and with Rovers well off the pace a long clearance by George Rowley caught the makeshift centre back partnership of Tommy Smith and Asa Rixon a little flat-footed but Martin Smith, under pressure from the recovering Rixon poked his effort wide of the right hand post.
It was therefore against the run of play that Rovers took the lead on 10 minutes, a long Rixon ball found Phil Page, and in spite of two defenders in close attendance, he jinked left and right before guiding an effort beyond Aaron Holt to give Rovers the lead.
On the quarter hour Rixon was caught over-playing out of defence and had the ball nicked off him by George Frise. Held up by Smith he managed to get a shot away bringing a good save out of Ollie Ellaway low to his right.
The hosts were generally having much the better of things in the opening 20 minutes, but the one save aside Ellaway was relatively untroubled, whilst Rovers with the pace and movement of Page and strike partner Marlon Pinder were keeping the Knaphill defence on their toes.
Knaphill should have levelled on 25 minutes, a tremendous crossfield ball by Jack Leighton picked out the very lively Connor Blanchard, but his shot was tame and comfortable for Ellaway. Campbell then also had a half chance from the edge of the area easily saved by the Rovers keeper.
Just shy of the half hour, good work between Ollie Twum and Malachi Robinson ended with a Robinson cross being fired over the bar by Page. The benefit of two bang in form forwards was highlighted three minutes later when a Nes Bellikli free kick was guided home by Pinder at the back post for 2-0.
Ellaway saved well low to his left after neat interplay by Frise, Leighton and Smith. Ellaway then did well to tip a fizzed effort by Blanchard over the bar, and Rovers went in at the break pleased to be two goals to the good.
Rovers were forced into a change at the interval, with the injured Rixon being replaced by the now free from suspension Craig Hastings, but they were out of the blocks quickly in the second half, and had increased their lead to 3-0 within a couple of minutes of the half starting, again it was Pinder and Page involved, and this time Page raced through on goal, calmly fired low beyond Holt, bringing up his 100th goal for Rovers, in only his 98th appearance.
Hastings and skipper Matt Farrell both found their way into the book on 52 minutes, with Hastings pinged for deliberate handball and Farrell for his protests, but Rovers were now firing on all cylinders, and increased their lead to 4-0 on 57 minutes. A clearance by Holt crashed into Page's head, and into the path of Pinder. The Rovers man was left with plenty to do, but took his shot early and fired low beyond Holt for 4-0.
Page made way for Daryl Cooper-Smith on the hour, but it was Knaphill who struck next.
Neat play in the middle of the park found Joshua Barry on the left, and he curled a delightful effort over Ellaway, giving the hosts a consolation goal, or so we thought. However it was game on a minute later when Rovers lost possession in the middle of the park, and Smith curled another superb strike over Ellaway for 4-2.
The hosts continued to press, but fortunately the Rovers defence rediscovered its form, and was able to clear its lines under some heavy Knaphill pressure.
Rovers made their final change on 75 minutes, with youngster Mike Hill coming on for the excellent Pinder, as Rovers looked to stop the Knaphill fightback. Maclean went into the book on 77 minutes for a mistimed tackle, before Rovers sealed the win on 85 minutes.
Hill collected the ball just outside the area, shaped to shoot, before picking out Cooper-Smith, he in turn beat a couple of defenders before calmly firing low to Hunt's left for 5-2. A minute later and Hunt did well low to his right to stop another Cooper-Smith shot.
Bellikli found his way into the book for kicking the ball away late in the game, and Rovers saw the game out and picked up all three points, and moved to the top of the table, albeit from two games more than second placed Chertsey Town.