Match report

Tiverton Town 2 - 2 Didcot Town

   Saturday 13/10/2012   Southern League First Division
Alan Reidy

There was an Indian Curse, or rather an Asian Sub-Continental Curse to use the politically correct terminology, which was in desperate need of lifting as Didcot made their fourth visit to Ladysmead. On each of three previous three times the Railwaymen have come to town they have left with all three points, including a game in which they scored a last minute winner and a game in which the Tiverton goalkeeper had a last minute equaliser harshly ruled out by a flag-happy linesman. But that was then and this is now, and if we are brutally frank Tiverton really did suck in each except the most recent Ladysmead meeting between the sides. Nowadays they certainly don’t suck and a rainy afternoon was the perfect opportunity to finally send Didcot on their way empty handed.

That it was not to be was largely down to a sudden cautionary approach adopted by the Yellows once they had turned the game around and gone in at half time with a one-goal advantage. That and the grandmother of silly own goals which had given Didcot an impetus that they hadn’t really looked like gaining. But generally it was a game not for the purists and not for anybody to decipher through tactical reasoning as much as it was about individual performances. Above and beyond his own goal Josh Concanen played as poorly as he ever has in a Tiverton shirt, seldom offering any attacking threat, although that could have been as much down to the Didcot wingers who insisted on staying high up the pitch; Lewis Tasker on the opposite side of the Yellows’ defence was equally as anonymous. There was another very positive performance from Joe Bushin – two goals and an all-round menace to the visitor’s defence, plus some excellent link-up play when he dropped deep. Josh Searle in the first half and Kevin Hill in the second were key performers, attacking and defending respectively, while for Didcot Brian Bowles was almost always the main threat as he drifted back into midfield, out to the right, and generally made a nuisance of himself. And then there was Marco Belloli, the Brazilian goalkeeper who upheld the good name of his nation and defied the old, outdated and harsh assessment that Brazilians can’t play with gloves on their hands. His stoicism when dealing with crosses was unyielding, and at the death he made a superb save which meant that the game ended level at two goals apiece.

In the first half an hour it all seemed to be going rather well for Tiverton as Didcot struggled to get men forward, and the visitors mustered just the one shot on goal during this time, a tame effort from twenty-five yards, low via the boot of James Clark and easy enough for Chris Wright to save. At the other end, though, there was much more action with Tivvy comfortable and confident as they stroked the ball around. Andy Taylor had the first sight of goal and shanked his shot up and a long way over after Gareth Thomas had only partially headed clear a Tasker free kick, and the next opening was not too long in coming, with Tasker cutting out Bowles’ pass before hitting a long diagonal ball for debutant Max Bristow to chase. Not only did Bristow chase, he gathered possession and delivered a fine cross from the left, one of few that Belloli wasn’t able to pluck from the air, and arriving late Searle headed agonisingly across the face of goal.

Bushin was next, a difficult header from Taylor’s corner, under pressure and nowhere near enough purchase, and Searle soon got in on the act again as he wriggled in from the right touchline and curled a shot that was heading for the top corner before Belloli palmed it away. A minute later Searle crossed rather than shot and Taylor’s header was cleared off the line by Thomas, the Didcot defender playing a captain’s innings. It really was a wonder the game was still locked, especially when Taylor put another one over the bar despite being well placed, an unfortunate end to the best move of the game as the ball was spread quickly and efficiently from left to right, from Tasker to Bushin and then onto Concanen. Bristow nodded Bushin’s cross just wide in minute twenty-eight, and having failed to make their dominance count Tiverton were undone.

The attack itself was threatening enough as Bowles found space out wide and was given plenty of time to set himself and deliver the ball into the area. It was almost a perfect cross, just a centimetre or two too much on it for Clark to get a header on target, the forward only able in the end to glance the ball on with the merest of touches. That should have been the end of the danger and Wright stepped out to gather the ball, only to then stop in his tracks as he realised Concanen was equally well placed to clean things up. But Concanen, in his attempt to nod back into Wright’s arms simply nodded the ball past his goalkeeper instead, Wright was wrong-footed, the ball was in the net, Didcot lead against the run of play.

Suddenly it was as if, in their Arsenal-style shirts, Didcot began to believe they were multimillionaire Premier League heroes, and for the next five minutes all of the action was directed towards the Swimming Pool end of Ladysmead. Bowles shot over after robbing Adam Faux as the Tivvy defender attempted, rather optimistically, to dribble out of defence, and an even more glaring miss came from Elliot Osborne-Ricketts as he was perfectly teed up by Morgan Williams and promptly smashed the ball too high. From looking like Tiverton could have been leading 3-0 it was now very much a fact that Didcot could have been leading by that score, but the Yellows rode their luck and kept things tight, on the scoreboard if not in defence. And that spell of hanging on yet not conceding was rewarded when Bushin equalised. Joe instigated the move by sliding a through ball which Bristow chased, Belloli came off his line and tried to smother but could only deflect the ball out to the left, and Bushin followed in his initial pass to be in the perfect position to roll the ball into a net guarded only by that man Thomas, whose own momentum when chasing back left him stranded as the ball trickled behind him.

Lee Henderson was booked for Didcot for a foul on Bristow and Tasker missed the target from the free kick that followed, and another yellow card was soon flashed as Tivvy attacked again in added time at the end of the first half. Harry Nodwell’s piercing pass once again asked of Bristow to chase, and this time he got there just as Thomas slid across and took his legs away. It was right on the edge of the area – inside according the linesman – so once Thomas has been shown his card Bushin stepped up and slammed the penalty kick into the top corner, that after pointing to where he was going to hit it just like Babe Ruth did all those years ago with a cheeky finger to left field that preceded a home run. So Tiverton went in at half time wit a lead they deserved but almost didn’t have, that after Belloli dominated in the air to punch away four successive corners, the first won when Williams deflected Nodwell’s shot wide.

Note one in half two was that of a substitution by the visitors as Williams didn’t re-emerge and his place on the left wing was taken by Pablo Haysham. It wasn’t a tactical switch so, considering Williams’ goalscoring form in the early part of the season one can only assume he had picked up a knock that would curtail his afternoon, but whatever the reason it turned out to be an inspired change. Haysham scored the equaliser on the hour and took over Bowles’ mantle as main man when the latter was forced off himself twenty minutes from time. Note two in half two was how drastically the game changed – bar that five minute spell after the first goal Didcot didn’t really look very good, but now there was a case of role-reversal as Tivvy stuttered their way through the game and Diddy dominated. In a perfect mirror image the Yellows managed only one effort of menial threat on goal until they found their second wind, from Searle and blocked away inevitably by Thomas. That chance came and went and ended a decent sixty seconds of pressure, but otherwise it was now a case of camping out at the Devco End. Tiverton were unable to get anything resembling meaningful possession let alone any attacking play, and Didcot were now the team at ease, the team with time and space, the team with purpose, inventiveness and the belief that this game was far from over.

They had a decent shout for a penalty too as Haysham nicked the ball from Concanen, raced into the area and saw his cross blocked by Faux’s hand. It would have been harsh for the referee to point to the spot considering the close proximity of the two protagonists, but it served as a warning nonetheless. Taylor was booked, a clumsy and almost comical tackle of Ryan Tappin, and then Clark powered a header a long way wide as he met Bowles’ free kick far too early. Two warnings then (although Clark’s header was only an unmarked one because he was so far forward of the near post) and at the third time of asking in the second half came the punishment. Didcot worked the ball out to the left as the heavens opened, Tiverton’s defence remained deep, congested centrally, and Haysham therefore seized the initiative, stepped into position and rattled in a low shot that skidded off the newly lubricated surface and found the bottom far corner of the net. Two all and no less than Didcot deserved considering how they came out after the interval revitalised.

For the next twenty-five minutes there were half-chances that could have been good chances but never was either goalkeeper called into action. Hill – or perhaps it was David Steele – booked for a foul on Osborne-Ricketts, Lance Williams with a far post header wide when Osborne-Ricketts free kick carried too much pace to control suitably, and from a Tasker free kick on the right a Tom Gardner header that looped up and created a brief period of mayhem in the Didcot box as the ball refused to sit for Faux or Bristow. And during this relatively quiet period in the game Bowles was helped off of the pitch with some kind of leg injury that was initially treated as if he was suffering from cramp, but was clearly more serious than that. For the Yellows Steele had taken Taylor’s place, Russell Jee came on for Nodwell and then Alex Faux was introduced in a straight swap for Tasker. And Jee’s impact was almost telling as he and Steele toyed around in the left corner before Jee curled in a delightful first-time cross. Bushin won the battle in the air, above Thomas and Henderson, and headed what was so very nearly the winner, only for Belloli to tip the ball onto the crossbar. Bristow followed in and from an almost impossible angle and nearly scored a debut goal, only to see his effort clip off a defender, strike the opposite goalpost and then get belted upfield. Tivvy were that close to winning a game where they really didn’t play well for a whole half. It would have been harsh on Didcot who had impressively battled back into contention despite their own poor forty-five minutes, and the draw was unarguably the right result. So for the first time ever Didcot make the journey home from Tiverton with only one point rather than three. We won’t begrudge them that.

Tiverton Town: Chris Wright, Josh Concanen, Lewis Taker (Alex Faux 87), Kevin Hill, Adam Faux, Tom Gardner, Andy Taylor (David Steele 64), Harry Nodwell (Russell Jee 80), Max Bristow, Joe Bushin, Josh Searle
Goals: Bushin 35, 45+2p
Booked: Taylor 55, Hill 77
Sent off: None

Didcot Town: Marco Belloli, Sam Elkins, Jamie Heapy, Ryan Tappin, Gareth Thomas, Lee Henderson, Lance Williams, Brian Bowles (Alex Stanley 72), James Clark, Elliot Osborne-Ricketts, Morgan Williams (Pablo Haysham 46)
Goals: Concanen 29og, Haysham 60
Booked: Heapy 19, Henderson 44, Thomas 45+1
Sent off: None

Attendance: 283

This report ©2012 Alan Reidy