Match report

Tiverton Town 3 - 2 Taunton Town

   Saturday 06/10/2012   Southern League Cup
Alan Reidy

The Southern League Cup may not be anybody’s favourite competition but with the pressure off, relatively speaking, Tiverton and Taunton between them served up an intriguing match, free from the feistiness of the league meeting eleven days earlier, and also free from much quality until the game sparked into life in the final thirty minutes. More worthy of note than the actual performances of either side was Mark Saunders’ reactionary tactical adjustments throughout the afternoon as Tivvy switched systems and turned around a game that seemed to be slipping away.

The Yellows lined up with Kevin Hill deployed as a sweeper in between the regular centre-back pairing of Paul Kendall and Tom Gardner, with Josh Concanen and Alex Faux acting as wingbacks. This left a midfield three of David Steele, Russell Jee and Andy Taylor all very narrow behind Jules Emati-Emati and Owen Howe. And very early the choice of formation could have been questioned as Town struggled to retain possession, too often forced to hit long balls from the back. There were no options in wide positions, partly because Concanen and Faux were betwixt and between and also because Taylor, in theory the most attacking midfielder, was too deep to force the Taunton defence back and create space in the middle of the park. This meant that the wide Tiverton players could easily be covered by the Peacocks’ full-backs in the central third of the pitch and any balls played to either were into feet, with both Alex and Josh, typically receiving passes back to goal, unable to gain any forward momentum. Inevitably, therefore, the ball had to be played back towards Kendall or Gardner before being hammered forward more in hope than judgement.

The extra man in defence did allow Kendall to roam forward occasionally, the Tivvy captain comforted by the knowledge that Hill was covering, but nothing much amounted to any of these advances bar one shot after quarter of an hour that sailed over following some rare interplay involving Concanen. By that stage Taunton were already ahead when Owen Irish headed in from a left wing cross, and in fact they could have taken the lead even earlier when Gardner and Wright bumbled a clearance and Craig Herrod had a good chance which was hacked off the line.

Herrod was the main threat for Taunton, keen to run with the ball at every opportunity, and on one such dribble he drew a foul from Kendall which resulted in a yellow card, Kendall’s fifth of the season which means he will now serve a further one-match suspension to add to the game he misses due to his sending off against Weymouth last week. The free kick that Herrod won was chipped into the box by Andy Robertson and Neil Peek fired against the base of the post, a chance that underlined Taunton’s earlier superiority.

The visitors may have been on top but Tiverton were gradually becoming accustomed to the unfamiliar system and a fine flowing move started by Jee, involving Faux and then Taylor was finally headed on target by Howe but straight into the arms of Connor Sidley-Adams. Ten minutes later another cross from deep on the left gave Kendall a half-chance but he was unable to hit the target, and that was more or less the end of the goalmouth action in a rather drab first half. Ben Mammola did shoot over for Taunton and was also shown a yellow card for a late challenge on Wright, and the Tivvy ’keeper was able to save easily when Irish got another header away after Jamie Short had pumped a long ball into the area.

Two goals in the fifteen minutes after the break finally helped ignite the game, the first an equaliser from Howe as he got in front of his marker to head Taylor’s cross past Sidley-Adams, and then a second for Taunton thanks to Herrod, a calm finish having latched onto a long ball from former Tivvy midfielder Dave Hambly. And Herrod really should have given the visitors some breathing space a couple of minutes later when he was found in space, only for Wright to make a brilliant point-blank save with the odds stacked against him.

Having spent the first hour looking disjoined and lacking any fluidity Tiverton changed things around and gained the initiative. Joe Bushin had already replaced Emati-Emati and gave the Yellows a more lively presence up front, but it was the switch to a more orthodox 4-4-2 formation that really had the greatest impact. Adam Faux and Josh Searle came on in place of Steele and Jee and that gave Tivvy the width that they had lacked with Concanen immediately more prominent on the right with the assurance of Faux the elder behind him. Taylor remained central, now with Hill as his partner, and Searle’s energy and willingness on the left helped sway the game in favour of the hosts. Gary Saunders was the next player to be booked for a cynical trip on Howe and Hill sliced the resulting free kick horribly wide, as there were positive signs from Tiverton and at the same time Taunton retreated and became extremely cautious.

The second equaliser of the game, though, had nothing at all to do with tactics or skill – a long punt upfield from Wright had sailed over everybody and should have been easy for Saunders to deal with. The Taunton centre-half opted, under no pressure at all, to stroke the ball back to his goalkeeper and Sidley-Adams somehow contrived to allow the ball to roll under his foot and towards goal. Rule number one when passing the ball back (as both I and Gary Neville will attest!) is to make sure it is away from goal; Saunders might well heed this idea in future. So Sidley-Adams looked like a fool because he was a fool, the ball rolled amusingly towards goal, and Bushin was already celebrating before he realised he could help it on its way and add to his personally tally for the season. Thus Joe sprinted, slid in and got a toe on the ball to ensure his name was on the scoresheet – a vicious thirty-yarder it wasn’t, thirty millimetres at most, but they all count.

Bushin headed over the crossbar ten minutes from time as Tivvy now exploited the flanks, Alex’s raking pass from the left finding Concanen in his own postcode area on the right and free to cross in his own good time. And but for the lack of a little luck (not that the Yellows had been short on luck already) Joe could have been in again as he raced forward from the centre circle only for the ball to get stuck between his feet, then between Searle’s feet, allowing Mammola to get back to clear the danger.

Three minutes from the end of the regulation ninety Tiverton were reduced to ten men as Howe slipped and turned his ankle, an injury that will keep him out for up to a month, but even a man light they managed to maintain the upper hand. Searle was arguably the most important player on the pitch in the closing stages and it was his run that lead to the winning goal. Past Short he skipped, then away from Irish and eventually tripped by Mammola, Searle won a free kick on the left edge of the area as the game entered added time. Taylor trundled across to take it, Gardner, Hill and Kendall strode purposefully into the box, and when the ball was delivered it was Hill who got in ahead of Kendall to nod past Sidley-Adams for the winner.

Eight minutes were added on, mainly due to the lengthy stoppage when Howe received treatment before being carried off, and in that time Taunton were unable to carve anything out, only adding to their own woes when Rob Norrish was cautioned for a foul on Searle. Tiverton now move into the next round, the round of 32 as the Americans would call it, and Mark Saunders will have learnt one thing particularly: a sweeper and wingbacks system isn’t the best option for the players he has available. The massive improvement came as soon as Tivvy reverted to a more familiar formation, and while there were no great individual performances the importance of tactics and continuity was very much highlighted.


Tiverton Town: Chris Wright, Josh Concanen, Alex Faux, Kevin Hill, Paul Kendall, Tom Gardner, Andy Taylor, David Steele (Josh Searle 66), Owen Howe, Russell Jee (Adam Faux 66), Jules Emati-Emati (Joe Bushin 57)
Goals: Howe 50, Bushin 75, Hill 90+1
Booked: Kendall 19
Sent off: None

Taunton Town: Connor Sidley-Adams, Owen Irish, Dave Hambly (Lee Smyth 69), Gary Saunders, Ben Mammola, Rob Norrish, Jamie Short (Craig Mawford 83), Andy Robertson, Neil Peek, Joe Dakwa, Craig Herrod
Goals: Irish 9, Herrod 59
Booked: Mammola 35, Norrish 90+5
Sent off: None

Attendance: 187


This report ©2012 Alan Reidy