Frome suffered an excruciating defeat at the hands of title rivals Cribbs. The Bristol-based opponent executed the perfect victory, taking the lead through an early chance through David Duru and defying the BA11 side to find an equaliser. Despite their dominance in possession and the home side going down to ten men after Duru was sent off, the Robins failed to get out of gear and finished the ninety minute having failed to level, slipping behind the now leaders in the table.
It was a rare away day in December, as the Robins approached Christmas with a second opportunity to take top spot in the table. Up against them were Cribbs, the Southern League’s juggernaut and the division’s surprise package, for a third meeting already this season. The two sides were familiar to one another by now, but the rivalry continues to grow as second went head to head with third. This top-of-the-table clash followed a crucial stalemate against Wimborne at home last Saturday. With the scarce luxury of six days between that game and tonight, Danny Greaves set up with Sam Meakes up front and, behind him in midfield, Alex Monks was restored to the line-up alongside Ross Staley on the flank.
It was a positive start for Frome who were decidedly busy without being dominant in the early exchanges. Plenty of throw-ins were on offer, some deep in Cribbs’ half, but the wall of blue shirts showed no signs of vulnerability and there were no noticeable gaps into which Meakes could run. Kane Simpson fed his partner in attack a lovely swerving delivery in from the left, one which fell kindly for Meakes, but striker failed to get any purchase on his header and Mac Boyd dived to save. Simpson looked like he had located ingress to the box, but a was frustrated in taking a shot by a sliding tackle.
Cribbs looked to counter-attack at pace and Pierce Mitchell was the beneficiary of another booking early on when he took the decision to commit a professional foul and break down the home side’s move, though Teale was clearly impeded in the build-up. For all of Frome’s positivity in the opening fifteen minutes, David Duru was able to slam home past Kyle Phillips inside the box, profiting on the visitor’s inability to clear. Frome lost their way, understandably, Simpson and Meakes’ hard work and runs meriting better passes into their feet, opportunities scant. No matter the threat, Cribbs appeared unconcerned by their slender nature of their lead, cutting out the ball in midfield as Duru spaced through to cause occasional discomfort to the BA11 side. The Bristol-based side allowed Frome to knock on the door and come onto them far earlier and more frequently than than one would have thought a home side might allow.
This Cribbs side back themselves to the hilt in defence and have demonstrated just how tough a nut they are to crack. Rich Luffman’s side had raised some eyebrows during this their first season in Step 4 and had maintained the stingiest defence in the league, conceding just fourteen in as many games prior to this one. Their results record was identical to Frome’s, with only goal difference putting the Robins ahead. Their miserly ethos and Scrooge-like spirit at the back had shown the Bristol side in good stead during their visit to Badgers Hill in August and they had remained the only side against whom Danny Greaves’ side had failed to score this season. Their FA Trophy clash ended in a narrow single-goal victory to the Robins courtesy of an own goal too.
It was not a surprise then when the Bristol-based side looked to sit in and absorb the pressure after the break. All the traffic in the second half was directed into the Cribbs half, but there only proved to be gridlock around the box as one would expect on the Friday night before Christmas. Marcus Day was often without access, repeatedly ushered along the edge of the box, and, try as he might, Ross Staley’s attempts at delivery inevitably picked out the diligent defenders. Cribbs’ players were up for it - applauding the smallest of victories when they won throw-ins and their fierce enthusiasm could not be faulted.
Twenty minutes to play, as he so often does, Frome’s goalkeeper occasioned a superb save to keep his side within reach. It seemed a critical moment and, seconds later, Budd was mauled in a two-footed lunging challenge by Duru to gasps from the crowd and the goalscorer was shown a straight red. The reduction to ten men only buoyed Cribb’s approach of every man behind the ball, which, in turn, exasperated the visitors for the remainder. Replacement up front, James Ollis, returning to fitness from injury, managed to get a yard on the centre-backs and bound through on goal with five minutes of normal time remaining, but the contact he made meant his shot bobbled inches wide of the post. Seven minutes of injury time saw Frome camped outside the opposition box, but their bids to play the ball into the box often terminated in lacklustre and meandering strings of ineffective passes.
Given the circumstances appeared favourable, the failure to find an equaliser is a bitter pill to swallow. To take just a point from the last two games, both against the sides now above them in the table will sting and add a sour note to the Christmases of the players and staff, but this was a performance merely lacking a final ball, one that, on another day, might take three points. Cribbs gritted it out, sitting deep and can be proud, not only of their unlikely lead in the table, but of their pragmatic and no-nonsense attitude. That killer chance failed to drop to the Robins tonight, who must rediscover their edge in front of goal in time for Melskham’s Boxing Day visit to Badgers Hill.
Match report and live updates by Zeb Baker-Smith.
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