Match Report: 2024 gets off to a disappointing start

After a solid first half, Rovers concede three early second half goals to a strong Marlow side

First home game of 2024 welcomes Marlow FC to Church Road for an evening Isthmian League South Central fixture. Marlow have been enjoying a good run in the league so far this season, averaging 2 points a game, though recent games have been tough for them. Rovers will be looking to extend their run of holding off top flight sides to earn at least a point.

The squad today welcomes the return of Danny Divine to our back line, joining Tariq Straker, Antonio Simeone and Bertie Lloyd, with Oshane Brown in goal. In midfield, Daryl Coleman, Matt Feeney-Hill, Noah Africa, Max Oldham and Nabeel Ghannam, with Aaron Jenkins as striker. On the bench, Matt Tanton, Lindell Stewart, Ben Holden, Samuel Williams and Christopher Alhassan.

In the opening minutes, Danny Divine pushes a great ball down the right side for Matt Feeney-Hill. A delightful dummy, from the Rovers no8, wrong-foots the Marlow defender, giving Feeney-Hill time to cross back to the edge of the penalty area. Aaron Jenkins cues his shot but is blocked, spinning out for a Rovers throw. Daryl Coleman takes, delivering deep into the box, but didn’t quite fall in our favour and is partially cleared. Noah Africa drives the loose ball back into the box, but again the danger is swept away.

On a Marlow break, Antonio Simeone defends deep on our left, with no choice but to concede a throw-in. Elijah Oladunjoye takes, and Coleman heads clear giving Marlow a throw on the opposite side, again taken by Oladunjoye. Tariq Straker, this time, glances a header away across the face of the goal for a corner. Meeting the high ball into the box Dawid Rogalski just heads wide of the post. From the goal-kick, Khalid Simmo and Rogalski press forward into the Rovers penalty area, but Brown smothers their chances. Brown’s distribution to Straker, is pushed forward to Nabeel Ghannam, creating havoc on the left. He does well to wriggle past the Marlow defence, but his pass to Jenkins is intercepted. Brandon Curtis and Kai Hamilton-Olise then press on their right, Straker blocking the cross. From the Oladunjoye throw, Benjamin Mulley just heads wide. Nip and tuck.

From a Straker throw-in on our left, Max Oldham beats his man, bursts into the box, and fires a great shot on goal, but it’s deflected out for a corner. Coleman’s delivery finds Bertie Lloyd on the far post, but his header across goal is nodded clear. Africa heads back into the danger zone, Marlow somehow clear it away for a throw. Again, Coleman’s throw is asking questions of the Marlow defence, but still they get it away. Africa again picks up the loose ball, and threads a neat pass in to Ghannam, who turns onto his right foot and shoots, the keeper Aaron Watkins getting down to it before it whistles inside the right post. Closest anyone has got up to this point in the game.

From Watkins’ distribution, Khalid Simmo finds himself just outside the Rovers penalty area, his shot blocked by Lloyd, spinning out for a corner. Again Lloyd clears, but Rovers are pinned back in their own half. Brown tips away a great Marlow cross, and Divine sweeps the ball on to Jenkins, who is pulled down on the halfway line. From the free kick and after a good spell of pressure from Rovers, Straker passes down the Rovers’ left finding Oldham, who jinxes his way into the box. Passing back out to Africa, who in turn sets up Ghannam, but the ball didn’t sit up favourably and he wasn’t able to get his shot away cleanly. On the recycle, Simeone is brought down, but Coleman’s free kick is just too long.

A Marlow free kick outside the Rovers penalty area is slammed into the wall by Curtis. Masters crosses the loose ball, which Brown gathers unchallenged.

The half hour brought with it a pivotal moment for Rovers. Lloyd threads a through ball to Jenkins, who turns past his man into the Marlow box and is brought down, the Referee immediately pointing to the spot. The tension around the ground was palpable, as Simeone shoulders Rovers’ hopes. But our golden opportunity hadn’t read the script and the ball was blasted over the bar.

As the remaining 10minutes play out, a Ghannam cross is deflected out for a corner, which Coleman takes. Lloyd heads back across the goal, which Watkins fumbles, the Ref deciding he was impeded. From the free-kick Curtis whips the ball across the Rovers 18yd box to Rhys Harper, Straker blocking his progress. From a quick Oladunjoye throw, Harper crosses and a spectacular overhead kick looked goalbound, but the flag was up for offside, mid-flight. The last chance of the half fell to Rovers, with Feeney-Hill again doing well to get a good cross in, the ball falling to Coleman, but his pass was just the wrong side for Jenkins.

Rovers go into the break with mixed emotions, having matched Marlow in all departments, and (dare I say) slightly edged it on chances to go ahead, but rueing their missed opportunity.

If there was a worse start to a second half, I’ve yet to see it. After such positivity in the first, within 2 minutes Marlow are ahead. Hamilton-Olise makes room on Marlow’s and crosses into the box, finding Rogalski who slips the ball past Brown, with what seemed unchallenged ease. With Rovers rocked back on their heels, they are unable to make any impression with two consecutive free-kicks around the Marlow penalty area. The first for a handball, the second a foul on Jenkins. Both chances squandered.

In the 56th minute, Simeone is robbed just outside the Rovers 18yd box, leaving Hamilton-Olise with just the keeper to beat. Brown was unable to keep it out, but did get a hand on it. Before they could catch their breath, Rovers slide further behind following a great piece of individual skill from Marlow’s Simmo, side-stepping through the Rovers’ defence, including the keeper, to stroke home their third.

With 3 goals out of nowhere, Rovers try to make amends, perhaps recovering a little from “rabbit in the headlights” syndrome, but with an enormous mountain to climb. Need to find three unanswered goals in 35minutes, having not found the net in the first 55.

Just over the hour, Rovers’ make their first substitution, Lindell Stewart replacing Africa. A great turn of pace by Feeney-Hill, gives him room to pick out a pass inside to Coleman, but his through-ball to Stewart was too long. Poor Rovers’ defending allows Simmo to set Hamilton-Olise free on the right, but his cross was easy for Brown to claim. Brown again saves any further Rovers’ blushes, by stopping a Benjamin Mulley strike, from yet another Hamilton-Olise cross.

A spirited run from Oldham, sets up Stewart from about 20yds, winning a free-kick. Ghannam takes short to Coleman and he shoots into a crowded penalty area. Oldham recycles the loose ball, but again there’s no way through.

On 70 minutes, a very poor challenge on Feeney-Hill stops the game, while the youngster receives treatment. Although the challenge went unpunished, it was clear that the Rovers’ bench felt it deserved to. Rovers then make a double substitution, Matt Tanton replacing Straker and Samuel Williams replacing Oldham.

With the foul on Feeney-Hill, there was very little left to capture the imagination of any onlooker, as though the life had been sucked out of the game. As the clocked ran down, Tanton and Feeney-Hill link up well on left, Feeney-Hill finding Stewart, but his shot is easily saved by Watkins. With that, the Referee brought the second half to a close.

In a game where it was important for Rovers to demonstrate a consistent level of form, the first half promised so much; the second made no promises at all.