Match report: The Champions march on

In a second half horror show Rovers’ cave to Champions Chertsey Town

Rovers’ last game at Church Road, Whyteleafe, hosts League Champions Chertsey Town. The Curfews secured top spot last weekend after their emphatic 3-1 win over Ascot, but will not be resting on their laurels, and will be keen to show why they are deserved League Leaders. Rovers record against Chertsey has been good this season, holding them to a draw over 90 minutes on two previous occasions, only missing out on penalties in the 3rd Round of the Surrey County Cup.

Rovers team this afternoon comprises of Sam Roberts in goal. In defence, Gideon Acheampong, Antonio Simeone, Bertie Lloyd and Isy Nzelo. Midfield, Ben Holden, Ashley Sheppard, Max Oldham, Noah Africa and Jayden Smith, with Samuel Marks up front. On the bench, Oscar Williams, Conan Torpey, Lindell Stewart, Aaron Jenkins and Louie Erotokritos Staussi.

In a respectful guard of honour, comprising of Rovers players and young mascots, Chertsey are welcomed onto the pitch by their hosts, with applause from around the ground. But then it was down to business. Good defending from both sides from the outset kept the game on an even keel for a long period. Chertsey’s Toby Little beats the offside shout, passing through to Oliver McCoy, but he can’t get past Gideon Acheampong, winning an early corner. The delivery skims over the penalty area to the far post, Ben Holden clearing downfield.

A good clearance from Bertie Lloyd to Samuel Marks gives our striker time to hold the ball up well, laying off to Max Oldham, who puts the Chertsey left back Alex Fisher under pressure, winning a corner. The corner-kick is headed away, McCoy bursting through midfield playing out to Conor Lee on their left. Noah Africa’s challenge on Lee, in the Rovers’ right-hand corner, is deemed a foul by the Referee, but looked anything but. Taken quickly by Reece Robins to the edge of the box, Wayne Ridgley’s shot is skyed way over the bar.

After quarter of an hour, another fine clearance by Lloyd is flicked on by Marks finding Holden. The through ball to Africa is perfect, but the pass from Africa is just out of Jayden Smith’s reach. From the goal kick Acheampong presses down our left, passing inside to Ashley Sheppard. Working his way across midfield, Sheppard plays out wide to the right to Africa. His cross looked like it hit the arm of a defender; Rovers’ appeal – nothing given.

A Holden interception is passed on to Smith down our right side, the cross just evading Africa. The loose ball is picked up by Isy Nzelo but bundled out for a corner. Oldham reaches the far post finding Holden, whose header comes off the back of a defender for a corner on the right. The keeper, Nicholas Jupp, does well to claim Oldham’s second take, distributing out left for McCoy. Cutting back to Lee, the shot is palmed away by Sam Roberts. Leading up to 20mins, a second great interception by Holden is passed through to Sheppard, who sets Oldham off down the right. The cross was spot on, but Smith’s header is just over the bar.

With play going end-to-end, a ball over the top for McCoy sees him one on one with Roberts, just outside his penalty area. Roberts gets to ball first, chesting it away, but the inevitable clash brings him down. 5 minutes on and a free kick for Rovers is drilled in by Antonio Simeone, but is blocked, putting Chertsey on the front-foot, with Robins and McCoy bearing down on the Rovers 18yd box. Nzelo blocks with a great challenge, and Lloyd sweeps up.

With the nip and tuck continuing to be the hallmark, a great exchange between Simeone and Nzelo on the left sees the cross cleared back up the line for Ridgley, but Acheampong is fast the stop him in his tracks. On a counter, a great one-two with Marks gets Smith into the Chertsey penalty area. Laying off the Sheppard, the shot just off target.

A second penalty shout on the half hour, Simeone intercepts a Chertsey through ball playing wide to Holden. His pass over the top into the 18yd box sees Smith muscled off the ball, but the Linesman and Ref were not interested. Soon after, Roberts palms away a great strike from McCoy, the loose ball blasted over the bar by Lee.

As the half draws to a close, Rovers have an Oldham strike cleared off the line, after a through ball from Africa, and a late corner from Oldham finds Holden on the far post, but his downward header is claimed by Jupp. Goalless at half time, Rovers not daunted by the visitors, but judged on chances the sides were very evenly matched.

The second half gets underway with Chertsey pressing on their right wing. Lee’s cross is blocked by Acheampong, winning a corner for the visitors. The set piece is curled in nicely giving Rueben Collins a free header, but his effort flies over the bar. A quick free kick by Simeone to Oldham on the left wins a throw deep in Chertsey’s half. Holden’s delivery is headed clear by Collins. Acheampong drives the ball back into the 18yd area, forcing a mistake by Ridgley which Oldham was just unable to exploit. Oldham is then brought down by Little, from a pass down the line by Simeone, giving a free kick to Rovers just outside the Chertsey penalty area. Oldham finds Lloyd on the far post who heads back across the area, Gianluca Botti heading clear for Chertsey.

Just ahead of 60mins, Wilfred Omperon replaces Alex Fisher for Chertsey, as Rovers win another free-kick on the half-way line. Sheppard’s strong delivery into the box is headed out by Chad Goulter, catching us on the break with Sheppard in pursuit. At the expense of a free-kick Sheppard and Holden disarm Chertsey. Their set-piece is whipped in, Simeone getting a solid head to it, but only as far as McCoy, who, on the turn, blasts over the bar. From the goal-kick Marks wins the ball in midfield, pushing out to Oldham, then down the line to Holden. A great through ball from Holden finds Smith, who chips over the Chertsey defence, but just too high for Marks.

The deadlock is finally broken just over the hour mark. A good through ball for Goulter is judged on-side while the Rovers’ backline appeal, Goulter calmly lobbing keeper Roberts for 1-0. It felt like a goal was coming, but the hosts seemed rocked on their heels that it was against them. Still reeling Rovers concede again. Wilfred Omperon, who had just come on, dazzled down their left wing, the spectators losing count of the number of step-overs, as he drove into the box. Squaring to Robins, the shot looked like it had been stopped on the line by Roberts, but the linesman flagged in. Two quick goals – both avoidable.

In the 69th minute Conan Torpey replaces Smith for Rovers, and a double substitution for Chertsey, Gareth Chendlik replacing McCoy and Louis Degand replacing Robins. Playing with even more urgency, Rovers were searching to pull one back. Africa holds the ball up well in the middle of the park, rolling the ball into the path of Sheppard on the left. After a trademark blistering run on the left, Sheppard turns inside but his shot skewed past the post. A great ball from Simeone again finds Africa who chips into the box for Marks, who almost gets his shot away. From the clearance, Nzelo again finds Marks, who flicks on to Oldham. turning inside, Oldham couldn’t find the finish he needed.

Conan Torpey picked up a caution for a provoked incident in the 77th minute, the frustration within the Rovers’ ranks now showing. Introducing fresh legs Lindell Stewart then replaced Oldham and Aaron Jenkins for Africa. Within 5 minutes, Torpey was given his marching orders for an over-zealous challenge on Gareth Chendlik. Rovers down to ten, with only 8 minutes left to play.

Needless to say, any impact the substitutions could have made were rendered impotent after the red card, Aaron Jenkins and Lindell Stewart both having chances within the Chertsey penalty area, but it was not enough. Although Rovers second half performance wasn’t up to the level shown in the first, they did well not to concede further having been reduced to 10 with time still on the clock. Not the result Rovers were hoping for, and a second half that fell short of the promise made in the first.

There will be an element of lament leaving Whyteleafe, who have been good landlords over the last 2 seasons, but the prospect of returning home to Sutton, to groundshare with Carshalton Athletic, must now be a positive focus for the team, the management, the background staff and volunteers, but most of all for the supporters who have made the journey to Church Road through thick and thin since the start of the 2022/2023 season. Rovers’ future at Carshalton awaits.