A most eagerly awaited fixture as Willand aimed to put right last week’s first league defeat of the season against high-flying Tiverton who enjoyed a big win over Sidmouth, writes Nick Miles.

The match was played at Magelake Meadow, Uffculme and the going on a flat pitch, was soft and under grey skies.

Willand would be without both full-backs and reverted to 3-4-3 to accommodate the available players. Furthermore, Willand had 5 players who had made their debuts for the senior Reserve side at Budleigh Salterton in the Devon & Exeter Premier Division yesterday (Matthews, Kingdom, Ansell, Aplin and Merriam – well played!).

So Tiverton would prove a test and when the game kicked off with the hosts defending the Mill End, they were up against it from the first minute. Indeed, from a corner, the yellows had a great chance to take the lead but the ball was spooned over from 4 yards. Then Tiverton were ahead on 6′ with a solid header from a corner. 0-1. If they’d extended their lead in the 10 minutes afterwards, it would have been deserved but determined latch-ditch defending was the order of the day and even when Jez Cross was beaten, Oli Crimmins came to the rescue with an intelligent clearance and the crossbar came to the rescue.

But Willand persevered and gradually found their shape and spirit. On 17′, Jordan Armstrong collected a fine through pass from Dan Hayfield and still with some work to do, struck a speculative shot from 20 yards which took a deflection and spun into the net. 1-1.

That was just the incident to give Willand belief and their game started to improve. The defence found it’s individual and collective resilience and up front, when Nick Merriam was unfortunate to see his close range shot deflected on to the bar and away by the visiting ‘keeper, his touch minutes later from another Reece Kingdom corner enabled Caspian Aplin to fire home for 2-1.

The game was competitive and well-run by referee Brian Holmes who did well on 34′ when Broom for Willand and Bastin for Tiverton went head-to-head after another bruising encounter on the right flank. Both might have been sent off but both got yellow cards – neither backed-out for the rest of the game, so hopefully lessons learned for all?

On balance, perhaps Willand were fortunate to be ahead but when Armstrong rifled his second goal home on 26′ for 3-1, there was no doubt which side was in the ascendancy.

Into the second period and Tiverton tried again to force the play but Alex Wright and his defenders held firm and often played the ball out to build attacks. Jez Cross held onto some testing shots throughout the half but the next goal came from Willand.

Aplin, who was impressive, once again held the ball and then played the ball into space for Armstrong who challenged his defender before striking the ball into the right hand corner for 4-1.

Chances came and went for both sides. Tiverton did just clip the bar from range while Merriam, Armstrong, Hayfield and Kingdom might have done better. Towards the end Vittles did well to create some space for a good shot and Hayfield tried to walk another chance in and then, in the 6th minute of injury time, Matthews beat his own goalkeeper trying to deny a through ball. 4-2.

Overall, satisfying but with work still to do. This is a very good technical group of players and they have the beginnings of a collective spirit which is the basis for any good footballing team.

Well done to Ash Matthews who played 90′ yesterday for the Reserves and a special thanks to Sam Warren who came on for the last 15’.