Match report

Tiverton Town 2 - 0 Exeter City

   Wednesday 23/03/2011   Devon St Luke's Cup
Alan Reidy

It was unthinkable that Tiverton Town could possibly reach the final of the Devon Bowl, hell it was almost unthinkable that the Yellows could even raise a team for the game against Exeter City, and even if they could what hope did they have? Exeter’s youngsters, after all, had a proven track record in this competition; Tivvy had a proven track record of losing this season. Understandably few would have given the Yellows a hope in hell of making it through a semi-final that had all the indications of a comfortable away win, but what happened over ninety minutes plus three-and-a-half added on at Ladysmead just goes to underline the fact that you never know in this topsy-turvy game of ours.

Joe Bushin cup-tied, Ryan Turner cup-tied, Jules Emati-Emati cup-tied, Michael Nardiello injured, Mark Saunders injured, Jak Martin, back at Weston, Russell Jee unavailable. Seven players that just a few weeks ago would have been regular starters for Tiverton were all unavailable, and that meant call-ups for five players from the youth team. Owen Howe and Joe Byrne started the game, the latter making his first start, the former his second. On the bench James MacMartin, who had made one first-team appearance two years ago at Banbury, was joined by Alex Gray, and Alex Sanderson who played for Tivvy at Willand last season. Saunders and Ryan Draper filled the bench, if you know what I mean, and Tivvy took to the field as significant underdogs.

So what went wrong, or what went right? Simply put Tivvy started well, got in Exeter’s faces, ruffled them up within the laws of the game and defended resolutely when needed. Oh, and scored a couple of goals too, the first a just reward for effort and determination, the second very much against the run of play and a sucker-punch to the youthful Exeter team that looked as if they were on the verge of getting back into the game. In a nutshell that was that, but there was some good football in amongst it too, along with some poor football, some tired legs, and some legs that didn’t seem keen on working as much as the others.

Exeter’s lineup saw former Tivvy loanee Elliot Frear deployed as an attacking left fullback, a curious choice perhaps as those that had seen Frear play during his time at Ladysmead would have firstly questioned his strength and then his final ball. As it turned out he was seldom pushed back into defensive duties and both goals came from Exeter’s right, yet going forward Frear threatened, at least until he had to decide what to do… some things never change.

The teams went blow-for-blow in an explosive opening to the game and after ten minutes it cold have been 2-2. It wasn’t, however, it was still goalless because Jacob Cane shot wide when he should have done better and Frear bobbled one through to Chris Wright that was easy picking for the Tivvy goalkeeper, while at the other end Tom Gardner nodded a corner over the bar and Adam Mortimer was unable to get the ball out of his feet when well positioned, following good work from Ian Sampson on the right wing.

Things settled down at last which was good for my pen tip that was beginning to get a bit warm, but not so good for the 244 paying spectators who were treated to a fine opening and now began to gradually ease into an apathetic state. For the best part of quarter of an hour the sides probed one-another, tested the waters, yet went nowhere. City had more of the ball and did less with it, Tivvy had less of the ball and did only marginally more; it was as if everyone had needed a breather after the exhausting opening spell.

An finally it happened, as it always does when you least expect it and start fidgeting and stop paying attention. Tiverton scored! Mortimer might have broken the deadlock moments earlier but mishit his shot and the ball was scrambled out for a throw-in on the left. Once back in play Morts was again in the thick of the action and barraged his way to the by-line before cutting the ball diagonally back into the area. Howe was almost there, damn he would make sure he was there! On he piled, almost threw his foot at the loose ball, stretching but still in control, and up the ball sailed into the roof of the net. Owen Howe, Tiverton Town’s youngest ever goalscorer!

Frear played too honestly shortly after the restart as he rode a challenge from former teammate Liam Ellis in the area, could have gone down but instead elected to stay up and go for goal. Wright saved the shot from the leftie, eventually, but Frear could easily have fallen under the initial challenge and a penalty would have been almost certain. Credit, therefore, to Frear, who has been seen on the terraces of Ladysmead as a supporter when he hasn’t been playing, and credit also to Wright who soon went on to save unflappably from James Norwood’s header, the threat again from Exeter’s left and Frear himself.

Roger Ingham shot wide from the edge of the area just before half time as Exeter seemed to be getting on top of the game, but there was still a half-chance for Mortimer as he chased down a through-ball but was denied t the second time of asking by City goalkeeper Pau Gibbens. Ahead of the interval there was just enough time for Norwood to force his way unluckily into the referee’s notebook for a challenge on Kevin Hill that was careless but not reckless, and so the teams retired for fifteen minutes with the scoreline upside down if you were a bookie yet perfectly balanced if not.

If the first half was good fare, entertaining and open, which it was, then the second half had a lot to live up to, and frankly it failed. That isn’t to say it was a poor second half, but it was certainly not as fluid from either side, and the more Exeter chased an equaliser the more Tiverton’s stubborn resistance stood in their way and stoically denied them just enough space to conjure something either majestic of lucky. Early on Sampson blocked and deflected a shot from Tom Nichols, wearing 18 yet a starter, and ten minutes into the second period Jordan Moore-Taylor headed powerfully but too high when meeting Frear’s corner from the right. At this stage Tivvy were certainly on the back foot, and Lady Luck even reared her ugly head a moment later when Roger Ingham’s belter from 25 yards cannoned back off the crossbar. The ball could have gone anywhere; it did – into Wright’s back as he dived in vain, and then up, bounce and eventually away by Town skipper Tom Gardner. It would be the closest Exeter would come to scoring, it was extremely close.

The game settled, as much as a game can settle when there are a bunch of eager teenagers on the pitch, and other than a shot across the face of goal from Jake Gosling there was little to report. Exeter had pinned Tivvy back but failed to carve much out; Tivvy looked as if they might do something on the counter but the opportunities were becoming fewer and farer between. But the Yellows did win a corner with fifteen minutes remaining, and from it came the second goal, the crucial goal. Liam Ellis delivered the cross, Gibbens stepped forward behind a defender, misjudged the flight and watched on helplessly as the ball found its way into the net at the near post. There was a bit of goalkeeper on it, lots of Ellis, and after a Dubious Goals Panel meeting at the end of the game Ellis wanted it and Gibbens didn’t so that is that. Liam Ellis put Tivvy 2-0 ahead.

The second strike really knocked the stuffing out of Exeter; for fifteen minutes they had the chance to show their worth and fight for the cause but instead they faded. Mortimer should have made it three but saw a shot saved by Gibbens and then contrived to whack the rebound well wide. James MacMartin was introduced for Owen Howe, the starter having put in a superb shift up front that deservedly earned him the Man of the Match award, and late in the day Alex Gray made his Tivvy debut, by which time City had pretty much given up the ghost. Tivvy saw out time and set up a Devon Cup final against Buckland Athletic.

Tiverton Town: Chris Wright, Liam Ellis, Alex Faux, Kevin Hill (Alex Gray 88), Adam Faux, Tom Gardner, Ian Sampson, David Steele, Owen Howe (James MacMartin 76), Adam Mortimer, Jo Packer-Byrne (Alex Sanderson 66)
Goals: Howe 23, Ellis 76
Booked:None
Sent off: None

Exeter City: Paul Gibbens, Josh Concanen, Elliot Frear, Aaron Dawson, Scott Bennett (Jacob Wannell 76), Jordan Moore-Taylor, Jacob Kane, Roger Ingham, Tom Nichols, James Norwood, Jake Gosling
Booked: Norwood 44
Sent off: None

Attendance: 244

This report ©2011 Alan Reidy