A crazy 2 minutes cost Rovers at least a point in a thrilling contest
Only three players remain from the squad that won the home tie against Walton & Hersham, back in November (that’s only 11 weeks) , and of those three, two started on the bench that day. Such are the difficulties and obstacles that face our management team over this extremely frustrating run of form.
Rovers get the game underway, commencing 45mins of evenly matched football, with Walton just edging possession and number of chances created. After 5mins, while playing out from the back, a pass from keeper James Dillon was intercepted by John Gilbert, whose shot was narrowly outside of the right hand post. Probing runs from Harry Mills continued to put our defence under pressure, but the back line were equal to it, keeping the game nicely balanced, and enjoyable to watch.
After a series of attacks in the Walton area and with an open goal begging, the ball is turned away for a corner. In the attempts to clear the ball a tussle between Conan Torpey and the Walton captain resulted in a yellow card for Torpey. With only 13mins on the clock, the young striker will need to be careful from now on.
Walton continued to pile on the pressure, with the Walton no7 Palace Francis having far too much possession, but unable to make it count. On 22mins it was Rovers’ turn to wage an attack with Matt Tanton, playing in Courtney Swaby who dazzled his way to the Walton penalty area, but his final pass went to the wrong side of Tyler Cox, who was unable to latch onto it.
The game swung either way for the remainder of the half, Walton winning most of the aerial battle in midfield, but Rovers’ capitalising on the infrequent loose ball. On 25mins Shakeel Morris was first to the ball, and from distance took a speculative shot. It would have force a save from the Liam Allen in the Walton goal, had it not been deflected for a corner. Shots on goal have been a rare thing over recent games, and it was reassuring to see players trust their own abilities.
A brilliant acrobatic flick-on by Torpey in the middle of the park sets Cox away on our left, with two defenders left in his wake. His shot was firmly struck, but didn’t force the keeper to move from his spot, and was comfortably gathered to his chest. A golden opportunity.
The next period saw fine defending from Joshua Okpolokpo in the Rovers’ back line to thwart Walton’s chances and a great save from Dillon, who palmed away an explosive strike from Taurean Roberts from outside the box. Danny Divine calmly headed back to the keeper to mop up another Walton advance. On 33mins a difficult ball looped into our 18yard box, struck Dillon’s arm and the ball fell dangerously to a Walton striker. Again, Okpolokpo was on hand to block a nailed on chance.
The final action of the first half went Rovers’ way with Swaby advancing with pace toward the Walton penalty area, unleashing a sweet strike, but the keeper was able to scramble it away. Minutes later a free kick for rovers on the right, about 20 yards out, Swaby steps up and curls a lovely ball over the wall, but the keeper gets a hand to it and turns it away. From the corner, our challenge on the keeper judged to be a foul. On 45mins Morris crossed from our right, deep in Walton’s half to find Cox, whose shot was smothered by the keeper.
So, the first half finished goalless, but with a great deal to be positive about.
Early in the second half, Walton’s Mitchal Gough was issued a yellow for a rash challenge on Swaby, who then floated an enticing free kick into Waltons area. The ball was headed away, but only as far a Okpolokpo, whose shot was narrowly wide of the post.
Good effort from Marcus Marku on the left flank forces a corner to Rovers, which Swaby takes but the challenge on the keeper was judged a foul. Cox receiving a yellow card. With the game swinging from end to end, Dillon punches clear from a Walton free kick and Francis picks up a yellow for the home side. Zaid Ourpst-Orr then broke clear but his shot was deflected clear for a corner
On the hour, a surreal period descended on the away side’s half of the Xcel stadium. For a team that had defended so well for what turned out to be most of the game, two moments of madness occurred. In the 61st minute Walton lobbed over our central defence, and the keeper, showing the briefest hesitation, allowed Harry Mills to nip in and stroke the ball home.
With the away spectators still blinking with incredulity as to what just happened, and the home supporter’s chants still resounding round the stadium, what happened next felt like déjà vu. Again, a ball lofted over our backline, and the rapid John Gilbert burst through the defence executing a fierce strike, which our keeper could do nothing about. It took a while for Rovers’ to come to terms with going down by 2 in as many minutes.
With Rovers’ trying to level up the deficit, pressing forward into Walton’s penalty area a huge shout for a penalty was waved away by the referee, and in the ensuing confusion the Walton keeper landed heavily on Torpey, who sustained a serious head injury. Play stopped for some time while he was attended to, and was eventually replaced by Herman Tehe.
Rovers were seeking an opportunity to pull one back, as the clock runs down. A typically Swaby run into the penalty area bought enough space to pass the ball out to Morris, whose shot was not on target. Walton now attacking from the goal kick, forcing a brilliant block from Liam Holden.
Within the 5mins added time, a foul on Tehe gives Rovers a free kick, which Swaby takes, floating a ball over the defensive line, but Okpolokpo heads wide.
Two pivotal moments in what otherwise would have been a good team effort. From a spectator’s point of view it was a far more balanced and considered performance, with just those two moments showing a chink in Rovers’ defensive armour. But this shouldn’t define the game, as we should also have been more clinical in front of goal.