Match report: The Row deliver a bitter blow

A hard fought contest with play-off wannabies Hartley Wintney ends in the hosts favour

This afternoon Rovers visit the Memorial Ground, Green Lane, the home of Harley Wintney FC; a ground with a dramatic rake, and known to be the undoing of many a competent side. The Row are currently sitting in 7th place, but have played more games than any other side in the league. Their recent results have been mixed; losing Thatcham Town, Uxbridge and Binfield, but winning against Badshot in late January and a decent draw against Leatherhead.

With the Rovers’ casualty list getting longer, James Dillon, Conan Torpey, Daryl Coleman and Matt Tanton, all out with longer term injuries and unlikely to return to finish the season, tweaks to the line-up were required. Sam Roberts remains in goal, Tariq Straker comes in for Matt Tanton, Antonio Simeone and Bertie Lloyd as centre backs, Ben Holden on the right. In midfield, Max Oldham, Mal Thomas, Ollie Twum, Lindell Stewart and Ashley Sheppard. Aaron Jenkins as frontman. On the bench, Samuel Williams, Oscar Williams, Noah Africa, Charlie Martin and Louie Erotokritos Staussi.

After a respectful applause in memory of Michael Hartnett-Bowler, a long-serving supporter of the club, Rovers kick-off up the slope, and it wasn’t long before the visitors were in trouble. Shortly after Tayo Oyebola had a flicked header just go wide of Rovers left post from an early free-kick, a great through ball, plus a miscommunication between defence and keeper, lets Oyebola in one-on-one with Sam Roberts. The young keeper was caught between a rock and a hard place, bringing down the Hartley no10 just inside the penalty area. After the inevitable caution for Roberts, Conor Lynch stepped up for the spot-kick and dispatched it confidently into the bottom right corner, sending Roberts the opposite way. With only 4 minutes on the clock, not a great start.

An immediate response from Rovers sees a strong challenge from Ashley Sheppard winning a throw within reaching distance of the Hartley penalty area. Lindell Stewart guides the ball back to Ben Holden, who takes it down the line putting in a great cross. Antonio Simeone heads across the area which falls nicely for Stewart, who unleashes a cracking strike, but just over the bar.

With Hartley relying on the counter attack after a period of pressure from Rovers, only great work from Simeone and Bertie Lloyd sweeping up just inside out half, keeps any threat at bay. Switching to the long ball deep on their left Momodou Jallow finds space to cross into the Rovers penalty area, Reece Wylie meets the cross with a great header, but just clear of the bar.

On 20 minutes, a handball gives Rovers a free kick just on the halfway line. Simeone chips the ball down the left flank, which is headed out for a throw. Holden finds Sheppard outside the box, who feeds a great through ball to Stewart, his flicked shot demanding a great save from Louis Evans. That should have been the equaliser Rovers were searching for. Another close call sees Max Oldham and Aaron Jenkins combining well on the right, Jenkins turning his man and winning a throw-in. Holden finds Lloyd in the box who heads out to Tariq Straker. The cross back in by Straker is glanced across the box by Lloyd, but Simeone was just offside.

Again, making use of the long ball to the left, Jallow turns inside and shoots from distance, but Roberts was equal to it. On the half hour, a good through ball from Holden gives Stewart licence to run at the Hartley defence. Covering a lot of ground and holding his man off, he is eventually stopped by a foul from George Winser, earning the left back a caution and a free kick for Rovers in the right corner. Jenkins takes to the far post, Simeone heading back across the penalty area for Oldham, the strike just shy of the post.

On a counter-attack, Andry Demira passes down the right to Adam Payce whose cross is blocked by Straker. From the corner Sheppard clears up-field to Ollie Twum, who is taken down on the halfway line. The kick is taken quickly, Oldham passing into the box for Twum, who again is brought to the floor. Play is waved on, Simeone on the left squares to Sheppard, but his 30yd effort was well saved by Evans. Sheppard has another opportunity moments later, latching onto a good ball from Jenkins, dropping his shoulder and driving forward, his shot blocked by the Hartley defence.

Just as the first half draws to a close, a clearance by Roberts is headed on by Lloyd to Stewart on the halfway line. Turning inside, Demira trips Stewart giving away a free-kick and getting a yellow for his trouble. Simeone’s take is perfect for Lloyd but his header is cleared away. Spotting the possible break, Roberts, way off his line, finds touch and averts the threat. After the disastrous start, Rovers go into the break more than holding their own.

The second half starts with early warning signs from Hartley. Payce and Oyebola combining well in the far corner, squaring to Demira, then back to Payce, on to Jallow who is finally blocked by Simeone, Sheppard clearing to touch, breaking down a long stint of Hartley possession. From the throw, a free kick is conceded 25yds out. Winser’s take rattles the crossbar with force and rebounds back outside the penalty area. The clearance falls to Oldham who sweeps the ball into the path of Stewart on the left, his cross is claimed by Evans under pressure from Jenkins.

As Rovers begin to settle, great exchanges between Stewart, Sheppard and Oldham, win a handball from 40yds. While Oldham sets up, Noah Africa replaces Malachi Thomas for Rovers’ first substitution of the afternoon. Oldham’s free kick to the right of the penalty area finds Lloyd who heads into the path of Jenkins on the right. Keeping the ball in the air, Jenkins craftily side-foots a shot into the bottom left hand corner, leaving Evans with no chance. 56 minutes in, a great team goal, well executed and much deserved. One each, and all to play for.

With perhaps more of a spring in their step Rovers go back on the attack, Twum winning a great challenge in the middle of the park, sending Stewart down the left wing, his cross headed clear by Harrison Bayley. A change for Hartley is made just before the hour, Mason Obeng replacing Demira.

A quick free quick for Hartley from just inside Rovers’ half sees Payce drive toward the box. He elects to square the ball, the following shot rebounding off Roberts to Jallow, Noah Africa executing a crucial tackle on the edge of the box. The loose ball is collected by Reece Wylie, but shot over the bar.

From a Roberts drop kick Winser heads out, Lloyd clearing out to Twum on the right. Twum passes down the line to Oldham, his cross fumbled by Evans, but Jenkins could only put the loose ball wide. Monopolising on the keeper’s poor goal kick, Stewart crosses to the right setting up Oldham. Overstretching to reach the ball Oldham’s strike is lofted over the bar.

In the 67th minute Bayley is cautioned for an over-zealous tackle on Africa giving a free kick in the centre circle. From Oldham’s great delivery, Lloyd’s right-footed cross is put out for a throw-in. Holden reaches the six yard box, Evans punching it away for a corner. Oldham puts his cross to the edge of the box and Lloyd’s strong header is cleared to Africa. Passing to the left, Sheppard’s shot is blocked. A good period of pressure from Rovers.

With 15mins of normal time left, another foul on Africa, following a good interception, this time Lynch goes into the book. From the free-kick, an appeal for handball in the box is waved away, the ball cleared for a throw. A great delivery from Holden is held up well by Jenkins on the edge of the box, who wins yet another free-kick, this time Oldham reaching Simeone. The header is cleared and Hartley break with Jallow on the right, Sheppard smashing into touch.

As the clouds start to darken and the floodlights flicker on, the mood begins to change. Hartley’s Payce is replaced by George Wallace before the throw is taken. When back in play the ball is threaded through our backline, and while waiting for an offside decision that never came, Obeng drifts through planting the ball lower left, restoring Hartley’s lead.

While the shock of conceding was sinking in, Hartley again came close, Whylie sending his free kick over the bar. But the final 10 minutes saw Rovers a blur of action and urgency, mounting a succession of forays into the Hartley half, desperate to claw back a point. After a great ball from Africa, Stewart is sandwiched between two defenders, Wallace picking up a caution. Oldham’s free kick is headed down to the outside of the box by Lloyd, Africa chips back in, Oldham shoots, Ellis Orsborn clears over the bar. From the corner, Lloyd heads back across the area, Straker shoots, they break with Oyebola and Lynch, a great tackle from Holden, Lloyd clears.

In the 84 minute, Evans saves from a great Stewart strike, the slippery ball spiralling away from any follow-up. Substitutions for both sides followed, Marcio Neves replacing Oyebola for Hartley, Charlie Martin replacing Jenkins, and Samuel Williams replacing Twum for Rovers.

As the time ebbed away, Rovers had good strikes from Straker, Oldham and Williams, a succession of telling throw-ins from Holden and corners from Oldham all at a frenetic pace, only the Hartley defence were holding strong, and not dropping their guard. In the final minute, an Oldham corner found Lloyd near the back post, his header sailing into the back of the net, the Ref giving a foul, and swiftly brought the game to a close.

Definite positives to be taken from the game; more creativity in the final third; shirts in the box; never say die attitude; confidence to strike from distance, certainly. Hopefully the loss hasn’t diminished Rovers chances of survival this season, but a killer instinct is needed against teams like Hartley – so many clear opportunities missed.