Five star show in the wind
By Gary Brigden
Despite the gale force conditions, Rovers turned in a controlled performance when easing to a 5-0 win away at struggling Walton & Hersham on Saturday.
Darren Salmon and Donny Rennalls made one change from the side that had beaten Southall the previous week, with Matt Farrell back and available, replacing Adam Allen. The bench saw four changes, with Luke Fenlon, Matt Ferdinando, Marlon Pinder and Aidan Brown all coming in, Mason Seagroatt, Phil Page, Ben Senior and Alberto Lubango made way.
Rovers kicked into the teeth of the wind in the first half, realistically knowing that a 0-0 or single goal deficit at the break would leave them in pole position. As it turned out, it was an excellent performance that largely took the sting out of the Walton attacks, albeit with one or two scares.
The hosts as expected started fairly brightly, and after seven minutes Malachi Robinson was forced into some good defensive work, conceding a corner, when up against the lively and very tricky Tyreke Leslie. From the corner the ball was half cleared to Simon Offei but his shot flew high over the crossbar.
Craig Nelson pulled down Sean White on nine minutes, and you had the farcical situation of Pat Kirby repeatedly having to bring the ball back to where it was due to be taken from as the wind kept moving it away. Eventually the kick was taken and went straight into the wall, and White's follow up was straight down Ollie Ellaway's throat.
Matt Tanton was scythed down by Conor Symon on 15 minutes, earning the Walton player a yellow card, and setting him up for a difficult time against the marauding Ollie Twum. From the free kick Rovers wents close, Twum played the ball in, Farrell and Asa Rixon went for it on the line, but keeper Liam Allen did well to bravely claim the loose ball.
Rovers took the lead on 20 minutes, Twum cut inside from the right before hitting a vicious strike away to Allen's left and into the bottom corner for 1-0.
It was 2-0 on 26 minutes, and again it was Twum on the scoresheet. A long ball held up in the wind, but enticed Allen from his goal, the keeper completely missed his clearance, and Twum fired home from a tight angle to give Rovers some breathing space.
Leslie did well just before the half hour, having got beyond both Guy Baskerville and Craig Hastings he was left one-on-one with Ellaway, and the Rovers keeper did well to keep out the effort and preserve the lead. Seb Osei-Obengo fired goalwards from distance and force a corner after a deflection off Nelson, and after a scramble Rovers were able to clear.
Ellaway did well to clear a dangerous Kriby cross on the half hour as the hosts upped the pressure in their quest to get back into the game. Ellaway saved well from Andrew Demby on 35 minutes, before Rovers effectively sealed the game a minute later. Tanton burst down the left, his low cross found Rixon who neatly set up Daryl Cooper-Smith and he fired home for 3-0.
Cooper-Smith then went close on 42 minutes when his rasping shot stung Allen's hands before eventually being claimed by the keeper and Rovers went into the break 3-0 up.
At 3-0 at the break and going with the wind, Rovers felt fairly secure, and knew sensible play would see them to victory. Walton made a change at the break introducing Arif Hattabi for Demby.
Twum had a decent shout for a penalty on 52 minutes when he was caught by Symon, but play continued, without too many protests from Rovers it has to be said. Rovers did suffer a blow on 53 minutes with Kyle Henry turning his ankle and making way for Marlon Pinder.
Twum was continuing to cause problems whenever he was on the ball and after Cooper-Smith fed him on 55 minutes he cut inside Symon and put a rasping effort just wide of the left hand post. Back at the other end and Aaron Bryan did very well on the left, and his low cross was well defended by skipper Hastings, with Osei-Obenga poised to reduce the arrears.
Leslie acrobatically volleyed wide on 57 minutes, and it was to be his last action as he made way for James Robertson. At the same time Offei made way for former Rovers man Gus Lukuni.
Cooper-Smith hit the crossbar with an audacious chip on 58 minutes. On the hour a great cross by Osei-Obengo almost found Hattabi but for a timely block by Baskerville, as Walton continued to try and find a way through.
Twum was hauled down by Sam Marfo on 72 minutes, but the free kick came to nothing, and with 15 minutes remaining Rixon made way for Luke Fenlon, on for his debut.
Tanton forced a good save out of Allen on 79 minutes, before Twum was unceremoniously dumped to the floor by Osei-Obengo, earning Rovers a free kick, but surprisingly no card for the offender.
With ten minutes remaining their was a welcome return to action for the fit again Matt Ferdinando, on in place of the excellent Nelson. Almost immediately it was 4-0, this time Twum cut inside Marfo before driving an effort through Allen for a superb hat-trick.
Osei-Obengo bought a good save out of Ellaway on 85 minutes. Baskerville had a shot cleared by Symon on 89 minutes and the rebound was put wide by Robinson.
Rovers completed the scoring in stoppage time, a long ball out of defence, we shall call it a pass not a clearance, by Hastings, caused confusion between Jordan Simmons and Allen, and with the area vacated, Cooper-Smith trotted in and rolled home for 5-0.
A great win in difficult conditions for the lads and one they must build on.