Frome Town suffered a 3-2 defeat away at county rivals Paulton Rovers. A dire first-half display by the visitors, who struggled to impose themselves throughout, proved fatal to any chances of returning with a positive result, and, despite a handful of opportunities in the second period, Rovers ended the deserved victors, taking the honours in what was a febrile Somerset derby.
From the offset, Paulton took charge, seizing possession and advantage from a Frome side who could only give the impression that their long run of games in October had finally caught up with them. After two heartening wins in just over a week, there was a sense of hangover and lethargy about the first Paulton goal that was conceded. After just fifteen minutes, George Rigg’s blocked shot on target triggered a rapid counterattacking move an easy finish for striker Carl Tooze, the Frome defence reeling from the speed at which Rovers had taken them apart.
There had appeared to have been a psychological shift for this talented Frome side since their defeat at Sholing a couple of weeks ago. Despite injuries and absences, the mood in the camp had been buoyant in recent days, their form in the league unrivalled and Danny Greaves had been able to name an unchanged side for the first time this season. However, this laboured performance was a far cry from the pragmatic operation that closed out the win against Cinderford in the midweek. Though Frome cut the lead when Mike Baker headed in an expertly-taken free-kick, deftly delivered by George Rigg, the worse was yet to come for the visitors. Paulton’s physicality and the ease with which their attacking unit split the defence resulted in set-pieces aplenty. It was from a corner struck into wind that the second goal came, Warren Maidment’s attempt to clear the ball headed into the path of Mircea Ilea, who responded sharply to score Rovers’ second.
Paulton have had some extraordinary results this season, scoring plenty of goals along the way, and a number of never-say-die 3-2 finishes had gone their way. Sitting in seventh before the start of the game, the hosts and the 400 or so fans who attended were no doubt eager to knock their rivals off their perch and consolidate their grip on the division’s play-off places. When Will Harvey slotted in on the stroke of half-time for their third goal, the gauntlet had been laid down to Frome.
The attacking trio of Hopper, Humphries and Ollis failed to find any common wavelength until the introduction of Laurent Davis-Wilson and a shift to a 4-3-3 formation midway through the half. Substitute Alex Hallett, shoring up the left of defence, made his first contribution with a clever intercept and floated pass to Ollis. The in-form forward steered past the Rovers full-back and entered the box to put the ball beyond the keeper for his sixth goal in as many games.
With more than twenty minutes on the clock, all possible results were viable. As ambitious in their attacks as they were, Frome could not afford to lose focus at the back. Ex-Robin Martin Lenihan and goalscorer Tooze came close to ending any hopes for a comeback, but both failed to take advantage of straightforward counterattacking opportunities.
The defining moment in the tie came in injury time, George Rigg’s volley appearing to make contact with a defender’s outstretched arm inside the box, but the referee was unmoved in his decision not to award a penalty. There were several flare points in what was an ill-tempered and feisty contest at times, not least on the full-time whistle, when the two sides’ squabbles spilt over, no doubt a sign of the home team’s ecstasy and the visitor’s despondence at the result and its significant impact on the table. The tighter this division becomes, the more pivotal fixtures like these prove. The important contests at the table’s summit continue next week when Frome will have to regroup and plan carefully for the visit of in-form Tavistock to Badgers Hill for a Bonfire Night battle.
Match report and live updates by Zeb Baker-Smith