Match Report: Not the result Rovers were looking for

Rovers’ ten men crumble to a well drilled Hartley Wintney side

Although Hartley Wintney’s season did not start as they might have wished, and recent results have not gone their way, they have won 5 of their 10 games this season.  Two wins more than Rovers and sitting 10th to Rovers’ 15th.  ‘The Row’ will be looking to improve their run of form today, as will Rovers, without a win in the last seven games.   We haven’t played Hartley Wintney since the 2016/17 season, back in the Combined Counties League, where Rovers lost 8-2.  Let’s see what fortunes today brings.

Our squad today again takes on a slightly different look, with Matt Tanton and Conan Torpey injured, Antonio Simeone and Jordan Wilson unavailable.  In goal James Dillon; Danny Divine, Isy Nzelo, Bertie Lloyd and Daryl Coleman as a back four, Ashley Sheppard, Ben Holden, Courtney Swaby, Max Oldham and Nabeel Ghannam in midfield, with Aaron Jenkins up front.  On the bench, Matthew Feeney-Hill, new signing Lindell Stewart, Charlie Martin, Gabriel Odunaike and Thomas Jones.

Rovers got the game underway, kicking off away from the main stand, and start on the front foot. A good ball from Daryl Coleman finds Max Oldham in space with time to set off Danny Divine on the right, Divine delivers into the box, but the keeper Callum Coulter safely intercepts. Aaron Jenkins then steals from their defender, crossing wide to Ashley Sheppard, who plays Nabeel Ghannam inside, but his shot is just over the bar.

After 10 minutes, Rovers give away a contested free kick in a dangerous position just outside our penalty area. Reece Wylie takes and passes back to Jenson Mansel, who sends a high ball to the right. George Winser heads back into the 18yd box to Jayden Smith, but Isy Nzelo defends well and puts it out for a throw.  With the play going from end to end, Ghannam crosses to the edge of the Hartley penalty area, which the defender couldn’t clear leaving Divine with a golden chance to open the scoring, but Coulter saves. Another great ball from Ghannam, passing inside to Jenkins on the edge of the box, as he drives forward it looked like he was impeded, but no penalty given. From Coulter’s distribution to George Wallace on their left, a good cross but cleared by Coleman, by only as far as Marcio Neves.  James Dillon saves the shot from Neves.

10 minutes later a great team move by Hartley, starting with Wallace pushing the ball wide to Winser, a smart exchange between Winser, Neves and Wylie gives Mason Obeng the chance to strike from 20yds out, the ball just clearing Dillon outstretched arm for 1-0 to the visitors.

From the restart Courtney Swaby plays a great ball through to Divine whose shot is blocked out, Ben Holden challenging for the deflection, but the ball is bundled out for a goal kick. From Coulters distribution Taylor Morgan wins a loose ball and puts in a low drive across Rovers’ penalty area, but a last ditch challenge from Nzelo denies Smith Hartley’s second.

In the 26th minute, Holden is dragged down off the ball giving away a free kick just in the Rovers half. Swaby floats a lovely ball into the Hartley penalty area, which is met with some venom by the head of Ashley Sheppard, but is headed clear.  Bertie Lloyd then heads to the far post, for Jenkins to roll over the line for Rovers’ equaliser.

The goal lifts Rovers’ game, with a number of runs at the Hartley back line. Jenkins, Ghannam and Oldham all testing the resolve of the visitor’s defence.  A spree of corners from Swaby almost putting the hosts one up. The keeper punches his second corner clear but it falls invitingly to Ghannam, whose volley just a whisker past the right hand post.

Just on the half hour, Dillon gets a caution for kicking the ball away after it had been flagged as a Hartley throw.  With the ball back in play, the tricky Obeng turns and plays in Wallace, splitting our defence on the left, his cross cut out by Dillon.  A quick distribution by Dillon, finds Ghannam on the break, and only desperate defending by Coulter keeps the score level.

With half time approaching, Hartley now raise their game a notch, Morgan, Neves, Jenson Mansel and Obeng linking up well across the width pitch, spreading the game wide, setting up Eiljas Bagdonavicius for a good shot, but wide of the post. In reply Oldham beats his man, threading the ball through to Jenkins, but just too far and Coulter collects. From his distribution to Morgan goes one on one with Dillon, but our keeper bravely stops him in his tracks.

With game looking pretty even, calamity strikes for Rovers. A cross by Smith finds its way to Mogan in the box, who turns and shoots to the vacant left side of the goal. Holden tries to block, but with his arm in (possibly) an unnatural position, gives away a penalty, and gets a straight red card. Harsh, as he really couldn’t do anything about it, but it did deny a goalscoring opportunity.  Morgan duly dispatches the penalty kick, sending Dillon the wrong way, and restoring Hartley’s lead. With an already depleted side, due to injuries and unavailability, to go down to 10 men while you’re still chasing the game searching for an equaliser, is a bitter blow. And to lose a player who had been key up to that moment, Rovers’ are now looking at over half the game to be played with 10 men.

The half time whistle couldn’t come soon enough. No doubt the break will involve some serious game plan changes for Rovers.

Soon after the restart, Hartley’s Liam Gavin squares to Winser, who threads a neat ball through to Wylie bursting into the box, forcing a great save from Dillon turning the ball round the post. As you would expect, Hartley were enjoying the majority of possession, and showing a great deal of patience in their build up play, testing Dillon when they can, whose job has become that much harder as more gaps appear in the Rovers defence.

On the hour, after increased pressure from Hartley, Morgan slips the ball passed Dillon after controlling a long ball over the top from Bagdonavicius. 3-1 up and any sign of resilience from Rovers’ looking more and more doubtful.  Thomas Jones replaces Sheppard for Rovers’ first substitution.

Swimming furiously against the tide, a now rare break from Rovers sees Oldham dispossess his man, breaking into the box finding Jenkins, but his shot drifted over the bar. Our chances are few and far between, but the ones we do get, we have to make count.   On the counter Neves does well on the right, and gets into the Rovers’ 18yd box, but Lloyd is there to snuff the threat out.

With around 15 minutes remaining, Matthew Feeney-Hill replaces the injured Nzelo, and for Hartley, Denny Roberts replaced Bagdonavicius. A good ball by Divine finds Jenkins in the edge of the box, who holds the ball up well, and passes out left for Matthew Feeney-Hill.  The young no8 does well in his approach, but his cross is cut out by Coulter.

With the introduction of Feeney-Hill, Rovers’ look sharper in the last third, seeking an opening with good exchanges between Jenkins, Oldham and Ghannam, but just the chance is just not presenting itself. In the 84 minute debutant Lindell Stewart replaces Oldham for Rovers.

Immediately following the substitution Hartley break, with Wylie and Neves linking up, seeking out Wallace, who drives his 25yd shot past Dillon into the bottom right hand corner for goal 4.  With 5 minutes to go, Hartley make their final substitutions, Isaiah Blankendal replacing Marcio Neves, and Nathanael Boakye replacing Mansel.

To add insult to injury, in the final minute Winser is put through just in our half and scores a blistering 20yd solo effort into the bottom right and corner, having shrugged off challenges along the way. The last move of the game, sealing Rovers’ fate at 5-1

Going down to ten men late in the first half could not have helped the Rovers’ cause this afternoon, and I doubt what few chance there were would have won the game, but there were chances, just not taken.