Thursday, March 19th 2015

Devon County Youth League

Willand Rovers 3 Alphington Athletic 2

HT 1-1 (Vittles, 2, Johnson).

Despite the warmth of a perfect spring afternoon, by kick-off, it was near freezing as referee Dave Pointing got the game under way with Willand defending the Clubhouse End. Frustratingly, Willand would only have a bare 11 – both substitutes were suffering from cramp following an afternoon game.

It was a close encounter when the teams met in January at The Chronicles in a 1-1 draw. Tonight was close again but mainly due to Willand’s profligacy in front of goal, the woodwork and some commendable defending by the visitors.

The scoring started after just two minutes as Jez Cross unfortunately fumbled a corner, over the line. 0-1 the worst start.

After taking a minute or so to settle, the hosts were playing nicely. Ben Bickle and Nathan Antat on the right, with Jake Tillett and Tarji ones on the left were providing surging runs into the last third. After 8 minutes, a Tillett run into the penalty area, the ball pulled back and after the ‘keeper saved the first attempt with his legs, Joey Vittles prodded the rebound over the line. 1-1.

Try as they might, Willand could not get a second. Sam Johnson, and Antat went close while Vittles had a shot from 20 yards cannon off the inside of the left post and run along the goal-line to be cleared to safety. The referee mistakenly pulled play up for a foul on Jordan Bastin just as he put Vittles in for a 1v1. Alphington did threaten from set-pieces but generally Ash Matthews and Alex Wright provided a solid rear-guard (Wright pulled off a tremendous last ditch tackle late in the first period when he put his head amongst the boots to clear one threat memorably).

At half-time, the players were told to keep trying, and not to let up. Their next goal might be a messy one but that might be all it takes to score more.

Straight after the break, Willand were right at Alphington. Jordan Bastin was really up for this game and he was dominating midfield, not least with some terrific headers and late on, a crunching tackle.

But the next goal came at the other end! Another corner and this time, a defender ducked the ball which fooled everyone and simply scudded into the far corner. 1-2. Willand were being punished for not taking any one of 4-5 good chances.

But Willand came back with energy and desire. Reece Kingdom, who must be destined for a very good level of football for his attitude alone, epitomised the spirit and determination that got the team back in contention. Nathan Antat was hauled down for a penalty. Bastin stepped up only to see his shot parried but Vittles slotted the rebound home. 2-2. 20 minutes to go!

It was all Willand now. Both flanks provided opportunities to get behind Alphington and after a couple of low crosses went begging, the next one didn’t.

Bastin wriggled through to the goal-line, looked up and pulled the ball back to the far post where Johnson despatched the ball home for 3-2. Bastin’s composure to find the right pass to Johnno was the class the game required and the team celebrated a deserved winner.

Near the end, Matthews had a speculative drive from 25 yards tipped onto the bar and over by the Alphington keeper. The visitors offered the occasional threat but when they have to defend a lead, Willand are tenacious and committed.

A good win and a deserved one. Alphington’s is a good side and they work hard for each other all game. For Willand, when the free flowing football wasn’t happening, they dug deep and secured a win from determination, passion, energy and persistence. And that’s what is needed sometimes.