Rovers open their Isthmian League campaign with an emphatic second half performance against Met Police
A blustery afternoon was spent at the impressive Imber Court ground, with our hosts, Met Police joining the Isthmian South Central League this season, from the Southern League Premier Division South. Almost perfect pitch conditions, and only the wind to contend with as far as the weather was concerned.
The only other meeting between these two sides, saw Met Police win 3-1, in the FA Cup First Qualifying Round in 2020. Highly important that Rovers bounce back from their disappointing FA Cup exit last Tuesday, and put in a performance that will lift their spirits, and demonstrate they are worthy of a decent finishing spot in this league.
Minor changes from the mid-week game against Burgess Hill, Aaron Jenkins and Ben Holden start for the unavailable Charlie Martin and Siao Blackwood; under-18 star Matt Feeney-Hill makes his first team appearance on the bench, alongside Gideon Acheampong, Isy Nzelo, Gabriel Oduniake and Louie Erotokritos Staussi. Noah Africa and Liam Holden, both unavailable.
The game got off to a pacy, but even start, with Met Police kicking off with the wind behind them, toward the north end of the stadium. The first opportunity fell to the Met, whose no7 Elijah Williams finds himself in space from a pass by Daniel Stewart. One on one with James Dillon, Williams slips the ball to Dillon’s right, to be denied by the post, Courtney Swaby sweeping away to safety.
After 6mins Rovers are awarded a free kick 30yds out, but the kick was defended by the Met wall. Good link up by Aaron Jenkins and Nabeel Ghannam recycle the ball, but the cross to Antonio Simeone was not quite there. Chances for both sides in the early exchanges.
Sustaining the pressure, a great long ball from Ghannam finds Danny Divine on the right, the wind keeping the ball in play. Divine’s cross finds Jenkins who brings the ball down, but his shot is blocked. The rebound falls to Max Oldham who slips past his man into the box but runs into solid defending. The Met eventually clear the ball, but only as far as Simeone. With the through ball to Ghannam, our no10 muscles into the crowded box, and wins a corner. Swaby takes, and Bertie Lloyd heads goalward, but keeper Liam Beech gathers safely. Beech’s poor distribution, provides the chance for Matt Tanton to lob over the defence, onto Jenkins whose shot is palmed away. A great passage of play from Rovers, but as yet no reward.
On 15mins, after a poor clearance out of the Rovers’ defence, Bayley Mummery finds himself in space. Dillon comes out to narrow the angle, which was enough to put the no8 of his stride and his shot was blasted straight into our goalkeeper’s arms.
Mid-way through the half, Ben Holden wins the ball in middle of park and swiftly plays out to Swaby on left wing. Swaby crosses to Ghannam on the right of the penalty area, but he is unable to make it count. As the Met were trying to play out of defence, Conan Torpey picks the pocket of the Met right back, just outside the Met box. His shot was blocked, but landed back out to Ghannam whose shot hits the post. Getting closer.
In another great combination, a header from B.Holden finds Torpey, who brings it down with his back to goal, plays wide to Oldham, who takes it to the by-line and crosses. Beech just gets a hand to it, turning it away for a corner. Another telling corner from Swaby finds Jenkins, but he heads over the bar.
We go into the break even, but Rovers’ enjoying most of the possession and more of the chances in front of goal.
The second half commenced with a substitution by Met Police, Alex Body replacing Charlie Brown.
Within 3mins Rovers open the scoring. Torpey took a challenge far out on the left, resulting in a free-kick to Rovers, which Swaby swung toward the six yard box. Jenkins rose to it, finding the gap between two defenders, firing his header past keeper Beech, who stood no chance in stopping it.
4mins later, following a second substitution by the Met, Shekinah Reid replacing Lois Degand, Oldham won a corner from a deflected shot on our left. Swaby again delivers a perfect cross, which Divine met with some force, again heading past Beech. Rovers’ have certainly started the half on the front foot.
On 63mins, smart play from Mason Galloway splits our defence, Dillon palming his shot away. Met Police then start to raise their game, Galloway again testing our defence. With 20mins of normal time to go, Gabriel Odunaike replaces Torpey after an injury sustained in the Met Police penalty area.
On 72mins, a free kick is awarded to Rovers just outside the Met Police penalty area. Against a five-man wall, Simeone stepped up for the responsibility of taking the kick, as I recall not something the Rovers faithful would have witnessed so far during his tenure at the club. His left-foot shot powered into the top left corner, unstoppable.
Debutant Matt Feeney-Hill then replaced Jenkins who had contributed more than his fair share this afternoon. The young mid-fielder was instantly involved, and showed great composure on the ball. His control and flick-on set Odunaike goalbound, but his shot was pulled wide.
A poor challenge on B.Holden by Steward results in a yellow card each, for the foul and resulting reaction. The official did well the calm the situation, which could have been worse for Stewart. On 81mins our second debut this afternoon, Isy Nzelo replaces Tanton, who was on a yellow card.
Late in the half, Swaby pings a great ball out to Nzelo on the left in plenty of space. His through-ball to Ghannam just outside the 18yd box, gives the tricky no10 room to turn and weave his way through the defence and slip the ball under the keeper for goal 4. He’d been waiting for that moment all afternoon, and fully deserved to get on the scoresheet.
At the final whistle, 4-0 to Rovers’, with the away side dominating the second half, leaving Met Police no opportunity to respond. 3 valuable points, and a great start to our League campaign. It has to be said that the officials too had an outstanding game today, their decisions throughout were accurate and fair.
The SCR doubters predicted our final position for this season at the foot of the table, and Met Police 11th. Too soon to say this won’t happen, but on today’s performance one would hope it’s a sign that we will be better than that. Can’t get ahead of ourselves so early on, but can celebrate not only the result, but also the manner in which it was conducted.