Match Report: Rovers just edge it at Church Road

Two goals, one at either end of the second half, seal the win for Rovers

This fixture will be something of an unknown quantity, as Casuals have made wholesale changes since the recent appointment of their new manager, Paul Barnes. Only one player remains in the visitors’ squad from our first meeting in mid-September last year, so no-one will be in any position to predict an outcome. One thing is for sure, the new-look squad will be keen to turn around their uninspiring first half of the season, and whatever the result, could have implications for either side.

Rovers, on the other hand, field a more or less unchanged side, with one major exception. Ollie Twum returns to the squad as a recent signing, which will hopefully add to the energy already within the side. With Oshane Brown in goal, Ben Holden, Bertie Lloyd, Antonio Simeone and Matt Tanton in the back line, Ollie Twum joins Daryl Coleman, Ashley Sheppard, Max Oldham and Aaron Jenkins in midfield, with Charlie Martin up front. On the bench, Tariq Straker, Matt Feeney-Hill, Nabeel Ghannam, Isy Nzelo and Christopher Alhass.

From the whistle the game proved to be keenly contested, with both sides seeking early chances. Punctuated by a plethora of free-kicks, it was obvious how important it was to take the upper hand.
An interception by Matt Tanton is passed down the line to Ollie Twum, who tests the Casuals right back. Turning inside he passes back out to Ashley Sheppard on the overlap, but Sheppard’s through ball is blocked for an early Rovers corner. Daryl Coleman takes, launching over to the back post, finding Bertie Lloyd, whose goalbound header was tipped away by keeper Daniel O’Donovan. Max Oldham picks up the loose ball, but his shot is driven over.

With the ongoing midfield battle Sheppard drives through the centre, but is brought down just outside the centre circle. The free-kick taken by Coleman searches for Lloyd, but O’Donovan claims. The keeper’s distribution sets off Nebay Haile and Jason Kaate, but great defending all round from the Rover’s back four keeps them out. Tanton sends a long ball down the left to Oldham, whose chip to the far post just squeaks past the post.

Another free kick to Rovers, again just outside the centre circle. Coleman this time finds Oldham out to our right and does well to win the throw. Ben Holden takes, and only a brave header from Casuals’ centre-back clears the danger.

On 17mins a challenge on Coleman gives both teams time to draw breath, while Coleman is treated. The frequency and intensity of the challenges, as yet, not considered enough for the Referee to punish. 3 minutes later, Haile is played in on the Casuals right by Kaate, cuts inside and shoots, but his effort is brilliantly tipped over by Oshane Brown. A great save, but for all the world looked offside from the original pass. Their corner was well defended by Lloyd.

A free-kick, this time to Casuals, is blocked by Holden and his clearance gets the ball out to Aaron Jenkins, but his first touch was too close to keeper. Just prior to the half hour, Quade Taylor goes into the book for another infringement. The free-kick is headed out of the Casuals penalty area, but Holden recycles to Oldham who sets off on a great individual run, the resulting shot deflected off a defender making it easy for O’Donovan to claim.

35 minutes into the game, Kaate finds space on the right and drives in a cross from tight angle. Brown tips the ball away from what would have been an easy tap-in on the far post. Following a caution for Ayomide Majekodunmi, six minutes later, Tanton floats a pass down the left flank for Jenkins. Turning inside, he puts Charlie Martin through, only to see his placed shot rebound off the post, and cleared away.

Just before the break, Rovers finally find the net. A great ball by Sheppard plays in Jenkins on the right, who provides an exquisite cross for Twum to head home. Best move of the game for Rovers’, but to their disappointment ruled offside.

From the restart, Rovers are on the front foot. Three minutes in, from a Holden long throw, Lloyd heads over the box, and Antonio Simeone’s shot almost gets through. Twum also has a go, the ball eventually bobbling out to Sheppard. Sheppard’s pass to Coleman puts him in the clear, but his shot ricocheted back out. Sheppard wins the loose ball and slips his pass between two defenders for Jenkins to run on to. Taking the ball to the corner and rounding his defender, Jenkins smashes a shot from an impossibly acute angle, leaving O’Donovan no chance. Rovers take the lead.

Two minutes later Jenkins is given a chance to double his tally. A great through ball from Coleman finds Charlie Martin, who couldn’t quite turn toward goal, but pushes out wide to Jenkins, but his shot hits the side netting. Only a miraculous double save from Brown kept Rovers’ lead. After a poor backpass from Twum, Haile has two point-blank shots blocked by the Rovers keeper, Tanton clearing away the debris.

In the 56th minute, a long ball from Simeone wins a throw on the right, which is taken quickly to Oldham bursting through the Casuals midfield, but is dragged down by Jakob El-Hage. Oldham steps up to take, but his shot from 30yds just clears the bar. Within 2 minutes Tanton picks up a caution for an innocuous challenge, after the rebound from another shot from Oldham puts Casuals on the break.

Casuals build up some pressure on the hour, with Thibault Abie sending Balai-Antonio Dembele down the right. His cross headed clear by Simeone, which wins a throw for Rovers. From the Holden throw, Jenkins and Martin probe the penalty area, the ball spinning out to Coleman who is fouled before he could get his shot away. From 40yds Coleman floats the free-kick, Twum getting a good head on it. Falling nicely to Oldham, his shot is well saved by O’Donovan.

Both sides introduce fresh legs on seventy minutes, Ashley Paul-Robinson coming on for Adam Pollock for Casuals, and for Rovers, Nabeel Ghannam for Martin. As the game began to pick up in pace, a potential game-changing moment, as Tanton is brandished a second yellow and the inevitable red. It was a caution no doubt, as he had little choice but to bring down Haile, however it was the previous (soft) yellow that caused the damage. With Casuals a man up, searching to exploit their advantage, and Rovers protecting a lead, Oldham is replaced by Tariq Straker.

With time on the ball and Rovers re-adjusting, Casuals build on their possession. A corner is headed clear by Holden, Lewis Taylor nodding it straight back, but Simeone manages to get deflect it away. Just after 80mins Ghannam impedes Paul-Robinson giving Casuals a free-kick just outside the D, but the Casuals substitute fires his effort just wide.

As if to make amends, two minutes later, Ghannam pulls one out of the hat. Making the best of a poor Casuals backpass, Ghannam is first to the ball, rounds the keeper, both centre-backs, and another defender, then hammers the ball into an empty net.

With the clock now running down, Rovers keep up the pressure despite being a man down, Jenkins drawing a great save from O’Donovan, which otherwise would have put the game beyond Casuals’ reach. On 90minutes Jenkins is replaced by Christopher Alhass, who, after a smart exchange between Sheppard and Ghannam, gets his own chance to test the keeper, but O’Donovan palms away for a corner. Taken by Coleman, the ball drops for Ghannam but his shot is blocked, for Rovers’ last effort of the game.

This won’t go down as our best performance this season by any stretch, but it was a far more cohesive team effort than we’ve seen recently, and, most importantly, we got the job done.