Match report: Thatcham on their Mettal

A first half goal for the hosts affirms an 8th place finish, and denies Rovers improving on 14th

For the last game of the season, Rovers visit Thatcham Town’s Waterside Park Mettal Stadium for a game that could see a 13th place finish for the travelling side, which is only one below our self-predicted position of 12th. Thatcham’s squad has recently been depleted, through injury and suspension, but three successive away wins have helped them seal a top-half finish.

So, for the last time this season, Rovers’ line-up comprises of Sam Roberts in goal; Isy Nzelo, Antonio Simeone, Bertie Lloyd and Gideon Acheampong in defence; in midfield Noah Africa, Ashley Sheppard, Ben Holden, Max Oldham and Jayden Smith, with Samuel Marks up front. On the bench, Daryl Coleman, Lindell Stewart, Aaron Jenkins and Oscar Williams.

From the kick-off, both teams created good early chances, but failed to convert them. Thatcham went close with Clive Gwavava cutting back to Jordi Ebanda, his volley flicking the outside of the far post.
Sam Tanner and Gwavava then orchestrate a great cross into the box from the right, but is picked out of the air by Sam Roberts. From Roberts’ distribution, Rovers win a free kick for a handball, which Antonio Simeone takes quickly to Jayden Smith on our right. Smith plays out to Gideon Acheampong on the edge of the box, but his shot was well blocked.

On 10mins, from a free-kick, Thatcham’s Andrew Matthews gets a firm head on it, but Roberts is just able to turn the ball round the post. The corner is well defended by Simeone, his clearance finding Smith who gets round his man on the right, delivering a lovely ball into the box, but Thatcham’s defence clear to touch.

On a Rovers counter attack, Ashley Sheppard and Simeone link up well, pressing into the Thatcham half. The through ball picks out Noah Africa, but he is pulled down just outside the penalty area. The free kick is taken quickly by Simeone, sending Max Oldham down our left flank, but Thatcham stand him up well.

With 18mins gone, a great delivery from the Thatcham keeper, Callum Smart, finds Tanner on the edge of the Rovers penalty area. Tanner’s low cross from the right finds William Ramirez, who takes a touch and drills a shot low into the left corner. 1-0 to the hosts.

From going a goal down, a good response from Rovers sees Simeone send a long pass to Smith on the right, who did well to keep his feet and keep it in. Turning inside, he sets up Acheampong whose fierce strike is deflected out for a corner. Swinging the ball in, Oldham’s take finds the head of Bertie Lloyd, forcing a great save from Smart, peddling backward to tip the ball over the bar. In response, from a Thatcham free kick just outside our penalty area, Jordan Brown had Roberts at full stretch to turn his effort round the post.

On the half hour, a great run and cross from Harvey Harry finds Tanner just inches away from turning it in on the far post, Rovers riding their luck. Isy Nzelo came close moments later, with a good header from a Ben Holden long throw, but Smart made it safe. Nzelo again had a chance from an Oldham free kick, getting his knee to the cross, but Smart again denies the effort.

Just ahead of half time, an incident you rarely see given, the Thatcham keeper, Smart, was adjudged to have handled the ball by drifting just outside his penalty area, earning himself a yellow card and a free kick for Rovers. Oldham chips the ball to Llyod, but his effort clears the bar. So, 1-0 at the break and nothing much between the two sides.

Rovers win a free kick almost straight from the restart, which Oldham takes down the right to Smith. Getting round his defender, Smiths cross just evades Samuel Marks, and is swept out for a throw-in. Holden’s delivery is headed away, but Rovers keep the pressure up with decent efforts from Africa and Lloyd. Keeping a high press is always a danger, and Thatcham catch Rovers on the break. A miscommunication on the halfway line lets Ramirez through with just the keeper to beat, but his low effort is palmed away by Roberts.

Winning the ball in midfield, Sheppard bursts through and plays a great ball down the line to Oldham, splitting the defence. Oldham’s cross is just out of reach for Marks, Smart just tipping it over the bar. Oldham’s corner is headed clear as far as Africa, but his first time strike crashes into a crowded box.

Africa again came close minutes later, after a throw from keeper Roberts finds down the right, then on to Smith. The cross was inch perfect, but Africa’s header didn’t have enough on it to make it count. On the hour mark, Jay Welch is brought down outside the Rovers 18yd box, giving Thatcham an opportunity. The ball is slammed into the wall, and eventually goes out for a corner. From the take, Matthews heads just over the bar.

Substitutions for both sides sees Oldham and Sheppard replaced by Aaron Jenkins and Lindell Stewart for Rovers, and for Thatcham, Brown and Harry by Dan Smith and Owen Clark. Followed quickly by a third for Rovers, Oscar Williams replacing Marks.

With the time ticking down, Smith does well to get past two defenders and forces a throw-in deep in the Thatcham half. Holden’s long delivery is headed out, but Acheampong pings the ball back into the box, Smith almost getting a foot to it. From a second long throw, Nzelo unmarked had a clear chance but his foot clipped a defender on the follow through.

In the 80th minute, after a Thatcham effort is snuffed out by Holden and cleared, Lindell Stewart pinches the ball from Muhamadou Ceesay on the edge of the Thatcham area, squaring to Oscar Williams, who was unlucky not to score, Smart palming his effort away. Then from an Aaron Jenkins free kick, into the box, Nzelo came close, flicking the ball over the keeper, but also over the bar.

Without a great deal more to delight the spectators, the Referee’s whistle soon signalled the 90 minutes were up. Not the ending to the season Rovers’ were looking for, but a 14th place finish still proved all the doubters wrong, who had collectively predicted that we would finish bottom of the league. With a new home in view, the Rovers faithful should already be looking forward to next season.