Match Report: Rovers so close to pinning back League favourites

An own goal, in first half added time, gives Leatherhead a free pass to top spot

So, after a hard fought draw against Ascot United at the weekend, Rovers welcome Leatherhead to Church Road in what promises to be another tough contest. On our previous three encounters, Rovers have failed to beat Leatherhead, drawing only once. Leatherhead’s form this season has been good, five games without loss with just a single draw, and aspire to be contenders for the League Title. Their squad tonight includes Tyler Cox, who last season was a Rovers regular, contributing to our mission to stay in this league, so should add an interesting dynamic to the game.

The Rovers squad today takes the same structure as the one that drew at Ascot, only Aaron Jenkins replacing the injured Conan Torpey, and Courtney Swaby retuning from suspension in place of Nabeel Ghannam. Joining Ghannam on the bench, Siao Blackwood, Isy Nzelo, Charlie Martin and new signing Mack Reilly.

From the kick-off, the ex-Rovers man Tyler Cox made his presence felt out wide on their left, forging out an early chance on goal, his cross cuts in to Daniel Hector but the shot is smashed over the bar. In reply, Rovers then had several forays into the Leatherhead half, creating chances and looking assured. A quick throw from Matt Tanton to Jardan Wilson gives him room to push the ball through to Courtney Swaby, but his shot from 18yds was scuffed, and went wide. Another good ball from Tanton on the left, sets Aaron Jenkins off driving to the penalty area, but is brought down for a free kick. Swaby floats the kick over to the left but is headed clear.

On 10mins, Wilson slides the ball through the Leatherhead back line, finding Max Oldham beating the offside trap, his terrific strike blocked by keeper Mikey Allen. A promising start by Rovers.

Realising Rovers were not going to roll-over in this game, Leatherhead slow the pace down, passing along their back line, waiting for chances to appear. A good ball from Trey Masikini on the left chipped over to the edge of the Rovers’ box, but Hector shoots over. From the goal kick, Swaby intercepts in the middle of the park, dispossessing the midfielder, and passes to Jenkins. His shot from 18yds is on target, but keeper dives down low turning it around the post. From the Swaby corner Allen punches the clear.

Rovers were not starved of chances, just not finding the finish. Just before the half hour, great individual skills from Oldham shaking off his man, crosses to Swaby, who steps round the defender and hits a lovely strike but just wide.

From a Leatherhead corner, Bertie Lloyd heads out for a corner on the opposite side. Fabio Camacho takes, this time lower and hard, Ben Holden clears with a strong head. Whatever pressure Leatherhead applied, Rovers continue to soak it up. At the 30 minute mark a free kick was awarded to the Tanners 25 to 30yds out after Masikini was brought down. Omarr Lawson and Fabio Camacho stand over the ball, Camacho’s take curling round the left of the wall but just wide of the post.

Further spells of Leatherhead pressure see a brilliant point blank save by James Dillon, denying Cox, the follow-up shot from Camacho skimming the left post. Moments later Alpha Diallo finds space on the left, and crosses to Hector in the penalty area but his close range shot is high.

In response, great inter-play by Oldham and Danny Divine on the edge of the Leatherhead box, gives Oldham room to shoot from a tight angle but Cox blocks. As the play goes from end to end, Lloyd gives away a free kick on the edge of our penalty area, which Omarr Lawson takes, but Antonio Simeone heads out for a corner. Camacho steps up to take, but again Holden heads clear.

On 44 minutes Jenkins makes a great challenge on a Leatherhead defender, setting himself up with a fine chance, but his first touch lets him down, pushing the ball too far ahead, harmlessly going out for a goal kick.

Half time was looming, another two minutes to be added to the 45.

Although Rovers were getting their chances, Leatherhead were enjoying the majority of possession, stroking the ball around in their own half, Rovers happy to let them, sitting back and waiting for them to break. The longer we can restrict them to their half, the better.

In the last seconds of added time, disaster struck. A ball threaded through to Masikini, with everyone looking for the offside, his cross seeking out Trevan Robinson was intercepted by Lloyd but deflected past Dillon. An own goal is a bitter pill to swallow, having defended so well, but we’ve all seen it happen at every level so many times. One of the burdens you have to bear, as a defender.

The second half started in much the same way as the first, with the visitors keeping possession, the hosts resilient in defence but still looking for chinks in the Leatherhead armour. An early Divine throw is headed out for a corner. Swaby’s swinging delivery is headed away as far as Holden, who lobs back into the danger zone finding Wilson, but his shot is snuffed out by the Leatherhead defence. From the clearance Camacho and Hector break into our half, with Robinson following up. The strike is left for Robinson whose cracking shot forces another fine save from Dillon.

A great period of pressure from Rovers in and around the Leatherhead penalty area from a Holden long throw saw Divine, Lloyd and Oldham working hard, searching for a breakthrough, with several attempts on goal charged down by the Leatherhead defence, but still no end result.

From a corner kick on the right by Swaby aiming for Simeone, a touch off a defender gives a corner on the left. This is cleared away and Leatherhead catch Rovers on the break with 4 against 3, but Jamie Splatt can’t keep his shot down, and a golden chance to go two up was squandered.

Around the hour mark, Rovers introduce fresh legs, Nabeel Ghannam replacing Oldham, and debutant Mack Reilly replacing Jenkins. Ghannam almost immediately involved, trying to skirt round the tall no6 Fikayo Atewologun goes down in the penalty area, with shouts for a penalty from both players and spectators, but not given. From the resulting throw by Holden, the clearance sits up for Lloyd to attempt an overhead kick, but clashes with a defender.

The rising confidence to press the Leatherhead defence in the final 15 minutes produces several chances for Ghannam, Simeone, Divine and Lloyd, stemming mainly from Holden long throws, but still unable to find a way through.

On 83mins a double substitution for Leatherhead, Junior Savane replacing Alpha Diallo and Kalani Barton replacing Cox. For Rovers, Tanton then gives way to Charlie Martin, sacrificing our left-back for additional potency up front.

In the 5 minutes added time, a good run from Divine on the right, plays Ghannam in, who turns inside onto his left foot, but his shot drifts just over the bar. Rovers’ last chance for an equaliser, but it wasn’t to be – not for the want of tying.

So the league favourites go home with 3 points, but they wouldn’t have without our help. There have to be some positives to take from that, hasn’t there?