Frome Town finished a relentless week with defeat in the league at the hands of their nearest neighbours Westbury United. A second-half goal from Jacob Hutchings, conceded from a set-piece, turned out to be the decisive moment as a Robins side who lacked ideas against an organised and pragmatic opposition lost again.
Having fallen just short in a valiant 1-2 defeat against Bath City in the semi-final of the Somerset Premier Cup, Frome had had four players come off in the midweek game alone, including top-scorer James Ollis and Tyler Ashmead with a serious rupture of the kneecap. In the build-up to tonight’s clash of the counties, the Robins had announced six additions who would be available as the BA11 side look to fulfil the remaining games of the season.
The inclusion of forward Zak Drew and the return of various experienced operators such as Teale, Davies and Mitchell allowed for a surprisingly strong starting lineup. On the pitch, it was a low-key from the outset, Westbury going close with a low shot from a corner. The possession and the upper hand was often with Frome, but the visitors struggled to construct any viable chances.
The previous meeting between the sides thad been a memorable evening under the lights at Badgers Hill in October. Absent striker Ollis had scored two in what was a rousing display in attack to contrast this evening and goalkeeper Phillips showed his quality to preserve Frome’s lead as the Robins strolled to a flattering 3-0 win. Nearly nine hundred had braved the rainy conditions that night and tonight’s game at Meadow Lane echoed this enthusiasm. The Green Army were out in force but significant pockets of vocal Frome fans delivered several numbers from their wide repertoire and also put their efforts into manual pyrotechnics.
Their side, however, failed to get the memo. Frome had the lion’s share of possession, but their manoeuvring of the ball rarely felt urgent and they were unable to make any meaningful inroads into Westbury’s area. Neither side had lit the world on fire by half-time, the home striker, unmarked in the box, finishing off by side-footing a shot over from close range.
In a disjointed season, the table has at times felt deceptive and the veracity of twelfth-placed Frome’s drop into midtable mediocrity had yet to be confirmed. Going into the derby, their nearest neighbours sat a couple of points above them in the table and the tie gave the Robins an opportunity to leapfrog the opposition with a win. The White Horse Men who are ninth having played a couple of games have impressed in their first Southern League season and were looking for a promising top-half finish to boot. Coach Ricky Hulbert, once of our parish, had just led them to a 3-2 win over rivals Melksham in the Wiltshire Shield and confidence appeared to be high among a squad who, with eleven men behind the ball, exhibited just how pragmatic and and organised they are.
The second half started with little incident until Joe O’Loughlin found himself in range of the goal and in space. His reluctance to shoot and instead pass wide to Humphries who could only give the ball back to the midfielder when the green barrier had had sufficient time to reassemble was symptomatic of the Robin’s hesitancy and indecision.
A succession of Westbury set-pieces spelt bad news for a vulnerable Frome side whose aversion to free-kicks and corners is matched only by their neurosis when it comes to hamstring injuries. Kyle Phillips read a shot well but the keeper was unable to stave off the subsequent effort of Westbury’s Jacob Hutchings who emerged from a goalmouth jostle having swept the ball into the net. The demoralised Robins had gone into their shells and never looked likely to regain the control they had enjoyed in the first half. Replacements Sam Meakes, Alex Monks and Tyson Pollard were despatched with a mission to unearth some threat and locate the energy that was missing down the middle, but to no avail as offensive quality rarely shows face.
As Westbury celebrated a laboured win to consolidate their position in the table, the frustration of the Frome players and staff was evident after a third defeat in a week. The results have deserted Danny Greaves’ side since November, but there is a notion that their performances in March have gone unrewarded. That idea might be dispelled by tonight’s result against a mid-table competitor and demonstrates just how quickly bravery in the previous game can transform into naivety and frustration. With the visit of a Bristol Manor Farm side that is hovering on the brink of the relegation zone, that precious sense of purpose will need to be quickly rediscovered.
Match report and live updates by Zeb Baker-Smith