By Jon Tanton
Rovers claim on all three points were dashed in the final minute
A crucial game for Rovers to win, in order to stay in contention for a relegation play-off slot, so important to start on the front foot and take the game to Thatcham Town.
With players returning from injury and suspension, and following from the loss to Binfield the previous week, the starting line-up was significantly changed. Matt Tanton and Bertie Lloyd come in for Temiloluwa Oledejo and Liam Holden respectively, Holden starting on the bench. Courtney Swaby replaces Siao Blackwood, and in midfield Tyler Cox, Nabeel Ghannam and Gabriel Odunaike also resigned to the bench, giving starts to Hermann Tehe, Marcus Marku and Zaid Ouaret Sorr.
Well, if a front-foot start was what was required, today was the day that saw it happen. From an early press Rovers win a corner on our left. Max Oldham curling his cross to the far right post, and Bertie Lloyd heading back across the six yard box, finding Danny Divine whose strike, taking a deflection, found the back of the net. 1 0 up in 3mins – a dream start.
From a foul by Matt Tanton in our far right corner, Jordan Alves’ free-kick evades everyone in the box and skims off the right hand post. Moments later a headed clearance from Tanton finds Oldham breaking quickly. His pass to Conan Torpey deftly flicked on to Hermann Tehe, but the Thatcham defence were equal to it.
Unfortunately, Rovers’ one goal advantage was short-lived as, on 12mins, after a moment’s hesitation and miscommunication at the back, allowed Muhamadou Ceesay to slip past Dillon and stroke the ball home for an easy equaliser.
The game swung from end to end with both teams carving out chances, but good defending denying any meaningful finish. A long clearance from James Dillon drops nicely for Conan Torpey, but he was unable to get a decent shot away.
Thatcham’s Alves and Harry Williams were a handful all game and caused problems for us on the break, but quality defending from Josh Okpolokpo and Bertie Lloyd denying any threat so far.
Around the half-hour mark, a chance to restore our lead was chalked off by the referee for an alleged handball. A break by Thatcham’s no9 Harry Williams needed a brilliant interception for Okpolokpo, his pass setting Swaby away, but he was pulled down. From the Swaby free-kick just inside the Thatcham half, the ball floated into the penalty area for Okpolokpo to bring down and tap home. Quite how this was adjudged handball will remain with the officials.
With sustained pressure from Thatcham, the next 10mins or so saw a series of free-kicks and corners from Alves and Williams, requiring quick reactions from Dillon, and for Bertie Lloyd to stamp his superiority in the air. A winning challenge by Tanton on Alves, on the edge of the box, saw the ball flick up onto Swaby’s arm, to huge appeal for the visitors – rightfully judged as accidental by the referee.
The game was becoming increasingly ragged towards the end of the first half. Callum Wellmouth picking up a yellow card for a challenge on Tehe, and a levelling up yellow for Divine.
So, all square heading into the break., but Thatcham finishing with far more possession.
After a quiet start to the second half it was Thatcham who went close on the hour, ex SCR man Martin linked up with Ceesay who sprung our defence, and he bought a great save out of Dillon. From the corner, Tanton cleared to Tehe, who set Oldham off on the right, his cross finding Marcus Marku, but his shot was narrowly over the bar.
60mins in, Thatcham’s Medford-Smith played in Ceesay, from the left side, who slotted the ball past Dillon, fortunately from a off-side position.
On 63mins, Tehe and Ouaret Sorr were substituted for Nabeel Ghannam and Tyler Cox. Although Tehe and Ouaret Sorr played well during their shift, the inspired double substitution paid immediate dividends. A cross-pitch pass from Tyler Cox on the left dropped nicely for Oldham, whose intricate passing exchange with Marku gave Oldham space to whip in a telling cross. The clever backheel from Torpey fell behind Nabeel Ghannam, who still had a lot to do, but showed great composure to turn 180, take a touch to tee-up and fire top right, leaving the keeper Toby Fisher no chance, and to restore our one goal advantage.
Shortly after the goal, Thatcham make substitutions replacing Williams with Ashley Howell, and Noah Coates with Dan Smith. On 71mins Torpey was cautioned for a late challenge, that could have been worse, leaving the away supporters feeling short-changed. Swaby, Torpey, Divine and Marku link up well in the middle of the park– but Marku’s effort was too close to Fisher.
A challenge on Torpey gives Rovers’ a free kick at a dangerous distance. Oldham and Marku poised ready to take, but Oldham’s kick punched well clear by Fisher.
Thatcham upped the pressure, continuing to press hard, resulting in a succession of corners, and throw-ins deep in our half; Rovers desperately trying to hold their advantage. On 80mins Okpolokpo did well to head clear from a Martin cross into the box.
With the clock running down, and with an air of inevitability Thatcham struck a killer blow. As Rovers defended on the left, conscious of not giving away a free-kick, Alves somehow lofted the ball to the head of the completely unmarked Issiaga Kaba in the centre of our penalty area. Kaba’s header was guided simply to the right of Dillon’s outstretched arm, to bring the score level at 2-2. A bitter pill to swallow at this point in the game.
With Rovers keen to get restarted, the game deteriorated somewhat as Thatcham had other plans. Content with a draw, perhaps, their delaying tactics resulting in a highly charged confrontation. The ensuing fracas saw a yellow card for Thatcham’s Ramarni Medford-Smith.
The game finished at 2-2, and again the game will be remembered as two points lost rather than a point gained, but not for the want of trying. There is still a chance, and while there is a chance, there’s hope.