Match Report: Tanners shoe in a winner

An early second half goal for Leatherhead was enough to take the points

On a damp and dismal February evening, Rovers face Leatherhead at Fetcham Grove, hoping to continue their run of decent results against play-off candidate teams. Leatherhead recently lost heavily to South Park in the Surrey Cup, but have had a string of 1-0 wins in the league and currently sit in fourth position. Though winning 17 of their 26 games, Leatherhead have only scored 6 more goals than Rovers, having themselves only won 8.

A familiar line-up for Rovers tonight, Sam Roberts in goal, defenders Antonio Simeone, Bertie Lloyd, Ben Holden and Matt Tanton. Daryl Coleman, Ashley Sheppard, Max Oldham, Lindell Stewart and Ollie Twum in midfield, with Aaron Jenkins as striker. On the bench, Oscar Williams, Charlie Martin, Tariq Straker, Noah Africa and Malachi Thomas.

Before the game commenced, I was approached by a lady who had brought her young son to experience his first senior game. Answering her questions I explained that we play in yellow, and the home team in green, who was who on the pitch, where they played, and that it was likely to be a close contest. She asked for a photo opportunity with our captain, who gladly obliged. Very refreshing. This is where the dream starts for the next generation of footballers.

Rovers start the game with confidence, on a slightly slippery surface. Daryl Coleman called upon early showing strength in the middle of the park holding off his man, passing back to Antonio Simeone. His chipped pass falls nicely for Lindell Stewart, who holds the ball up well, and back-heels a great pass to Max Oldham. The cross was inviting, but was met with no Rovers presence in the box.

An early foul by Alpha Diallo on Ollie Twum, gives Rovers a free-kick from about 35yds on the left, but Coleman’s delivery is easily claimed, uncontested, by keeper Marco Underwood. With just 5 minutes gone, after an offside call against Tyler Cox, Simeone takes quickly finding Oldham on the left flank. Oldham passes down the line to Twum, who cuts inside and weaves into box, his progress cleared by a defender. Matt Tanton picks up the loose ball, drives forward and crosses, but again no Rovers shirt in sight.

Leatherhead from the start played a good passing game, keeping possession well, but Rovers pinning them back to their own half in the opening exchanges. A long ball to Cox on their left gives the left wing-back his first opportunity. Cutting inside, he lays off to Jamie Splatt, who in turn finds Daniel Hector, the shot only a couple of yards wide. From the goal-kick, Tanton passes down the line to Stewart, who beats his man slipping the ball through to Twum, his cross again is greeted with no Rovers threat. On the counter, Diallo on the right puts in a great cross, which Simeone heads clear to Tanton. Passing through to Twum, the speedy winger sets up Ashley Sheppard but his shot is blocked.

As the game progressed, Leatherhead were caught off-side on numerous occasions, giving a clear indication of their intent. As an observer, it looked like only a question of time before they get one of these right. A block and clearance by Tanton falls to Oldham, who slips a great ball through to Stewart, but his rather flicked shot was ineffective. From Underwood’s distribution, Cox drives down the right, squaring the ball to Hector, but his shot is blocked. In the ensuing melee, Sheppard is drawn into a foul on the edge of the box. Ghas Sow steps up to take, drilling his strike low and around the wall, but Sam Roberts gets down to it well, denying the opportunity to take the lead.

On the break, Cox, who was becoming more and more instrumental in the game, drives down their left hand side, passing inside to Ollie Cook, his shot just wide of the right hand post. With 30mins gone, Leatherhead again on the attack from a quick free-kick, sees Splatt pressing forward, passing outside to Diallo. Delivering a great cross to Sow, his shot is well saved by Roberts.

Ten minutes on, a foul by Oldham gives Leatherhead a free-kick just outside the Rover’s box, in a very similar position to the one conceded earlier. This time Sow went high, but skyed it over the bar. As the first half played out Splatt was cautioned for kicking the ball away, subsequent to an offside decision against Cox, and Bertie Lloyd picked up a yellow for the same infringement, having conceded a corner. The kick was drilled into the box, Rovers clearing for Twum to break, but his progress halted by a foul from Luther Williams, who was then also cautioned. Just before the break, Noah Africa replaced Coleman who had succumbed to an earlier injury.

A very even first half, Leatherhead having far more possession, but Rovers frustrating the hosts by good defending, but not finding much in the final third.

The second half gets underway with an early strike from Sow cleared off the line by Simeone, after a pass from Cox on the wing. Chasing the clearance Stewart is dragged back by Sow, earning the Leatherhead striker a yellow.

Rovers up the ante in a good spell of pressure, Oldham and Twum combining well on the right winning a corner. Oldham’s delivery is destined for Simeone, but just headed clear by Cook, giving Rovers a throw on the right. Ben Holden launches long, and after a tussle in the area Rovers win another corner. Oldham’s near post effort is headed straight back out, giving Rovers a second chance. Far post this time, and Simeone’s header across the box is cleared away by Trevan Robinson, the long ball is chased down by Diallo on the right, but Tanton clears into touch, the ball last seen heading south to Dorking.

In the 56th minute, Leatherhead finally make the breakthrough they’d been striving for. After a good build-up by the hosts, Sow drives through midfield passing wide on the left to Cox. Cutting inside, the ex-Rovers winger chips a brilliant cross over to the far post, finding Robinson. Squeezing between two defenders his header looked for the world like it looped over, but as the ball descended it nicked the front of the crossbar and deflects out to the edge of the six yard box, where Omarr Lawson, first to the ball, slams it home. Before the restart, Tanton is replaced by Tariq Straker, our left back sustaining an injury earlier in the game.

Leatherhead, now with their tails up, have the cushion to step up a gear. A long ball from Williams into the box is chased by Robinson, but Roberts gets there first and clears, sending Oldham off on the left, but is dispossessed by Hector. His long ball finds Diallo on the right, turning inside Noah Africa intercepts and clears. Keeping up the pressure, Williams then drives through the middle, passing wide to Robinson. The striker turns his man, Roberts palming his shot round the post. From the corner Simeone heads to clear.

Just over the hour mark, Aaron Jenkins and Stewart combine on the left setting Sheppard up for a shot, but Underwood smothers the effort. From the keepers throw, Holden intercepts, flicking the ball into the path of Oldham. From his cross, Stewart holds the ball up well, winning a corner. Oldham’s delivery is only partially headed clear by Wiliams, Robinson’s overhead kick sending past the halfway line.

With 15mins remaining, a great interception and pass by Africa sets up Oldham on the left, who passes inside to Jenkins. His fierce strike is spilled by Underwood, but there was no Rovers follow-up to capitalise. Substitutions inevitably create a pause in the game, Trey Masikini replacing Lawson for Leatherhead, and Charlie Martin replacing Sheppard for Rovers.

As the time runs down, a Holden long throw into area is flicked out, Tariq Straker heading back into the mix. Diallo clears to Hector, but Africa beats him to it and puts a lovely ball through to Oldham. On any other day Oldham’s pass would have been picked up by Charlie Martin, but this time was just too strong. Absorbing a lot of pressure, Rovers keep Leatherhead at bay, denying opportunity to increase their lead before the final whistle brings the game to a close.

So, another 1-0 win for Leatherhead and another slim defeat for Rovers. A point would have been handy, but we didn’t create enough chances, so shouldn’t feel hard done by. The major concern was the exit of two key players due to injury. Unfortunate, certainly, but what impact will it have on the remaining games? Only time will tell.