Pitching In Southern League, Premier Division South
Saturday, December 2, 2023
Tiverton Town 0 Hungerford Town 1 (De St Croix 82)
FOR the visit of one of the form sides, Hungerford, in the Southern League Premier South, on a bitterly cold afternoon, Leigh Robinson made two changes from the previous 2-1 win at Hanwell United: available-again Bailey Kempster and Exeter loanee Joe O’Connor came into the line-up, for the injured Matt Britton and full-back Jack Veale.
This was to be a game of fine margins and proved to be a very competitive encounter. For the neutral, this game exuded good football. Both teams quickly settled and traded blows with fast-moving, enterprising, play. Dylan Jones and Kempster both made inroads into Hungerford territory down the flanks, and the pacy and technical Elis Watts proving a menace down our left.
Headed opportunities for Jamie Richards and Josh Jones went slightly high or wide of the target and shooting opportunities for Jack Rice and Niall Thompson were blocked or did not test Nick Harvey in the Crusaders’ goal. Richards' glancing header in the 10th minute was very close to us getting our noses in front.
Rice was a lively, willing runner; Carlo Garside and Jerry Lawrence worked manfully; and River Allen was creative and combative for the Yellows. O’Connor, with a promising full debut, provided another threat for us on the overlap. Richards and Josh Jones were marshalling the defence well and winning their headers against the dangerous pairing of Conor McDonough and Adulai Sambu.
McDonough gave a fine example of why he is a prolific goalscorer, with, not only his aerial strength, but also his movement and link-up play on the deck. The quick and skillful Sambu was played in dangerously by McDonough in the 17th minute although Zak Baker was more than equal to his effort between the sticks.
Then Josh Jones, who executed a number of covering tackles throughout the game, made a crucial one on Sambu, who would have been in the clear to score.
A lung-busting run from Dylan Jones, saw him gallop around 70 yards. He committed numerous Hungerford players before being finally dispossessed when he cut into the area, around the back, and in off the byline.
Just prior to the break, everyone in the ground thought that Hungerford were ahead, but an offside flag was raised and, after consultation ,it remained goalless. Moments later, the referee blew his whistle for half time. It was a compelling and often breathless first half.
In the second half, we had some really good spells of pressure and saw a bit more of the ball than the visitors. However, in all truth, this game was always on a knife edge, Watts' shot that whistled over the crossbar firing a warning shot of Hungerford’s continual threat.
Thompson, who ,down to some strong attention from the Crusaders, had been on the periphery of things in the first half, had more joy as he started to take up wider starting positions, blazing over after nice interplay with Rice.
When Hungerford broke in the second half, they did so with purpose and the well drilled Yellows’ rearguard had to be on their guard. Mitch Beardmore, the young Exeter City attacking midfielder on for Lawrence, demonstrated why he received rave reviews during his previous loan stint with Tavistock with some incisive dribbling and neat link-up play.
There was some excellent defending from the visitors as we slickly probed for an opener, showing no shortage of technical ability or poise. Half-chances came and went from set-pieces. Javan Wright came on for the hardworking Garside just after the hour mark and the quick-footed wide man instantly gave the Crusaders’ more to think about.
Then Matthew Berry-Hargreaves made a good connection with his header and his attempt missed by a coat of paint. With the game opening up, a defensive slip in the 82nd minute allowed Sambu room out wide to deliver what was an excellent ball in and it was met by a superb finish from goalscoring midfielder Sam De St Croix.
Although Tiverton did not let their heads drop and went in search of an equaliser, that was the real last chance of the match.
Despite our three-game unbeaten run coming to an end, we can take heart from this performance in a match that could have gone either way. With a little bit of composure, we could have even beaten one of the best teams we have faced in this campaign.
On Tuesday night, a long trip to promotion contenders Chesham awaits.