Sunday, January 25th 2015

Devon County Youth League

Alphington 1 Willand Rovers 1

HT 0-0 Rawlings, S

A game at last! Not since December 7ths Cup win over Apollo, have Willand under 18s played. Mind you, Alphington’s last game was a week later. So the game was on – and on a pitch that would be no better than Silver Street but it would be a leveller. If anyone had watched the 1st XI toil against Bristol manor Farm 24 hours earlier, then this game was like ground-hog day

Goalkeeper, Jez Cross was ill with flu, so Alex Wright eagerly stepped up to the plate and donned some big gloves! Alex Gibbins was absent due to injury again. Otherwise, the White Ravens were at full strength.

It was overcast a little chilly but the pitch was heavy and it would be interesting to see the effect of no games for 2 months on many of the players’ legs!

Graeme Martin got the game under way with Willand attacking the City End.

Willand started well with Jake Tillett having a run at the Alphington right back but the home side blocked his run and that was the story of the day really. Alphington’s defending today was exemplary. The number of blocks they put in was testimony to their coaching and their goalkeeper was in excellent form. But that would be to suggest that defending is all they did.

This is a side that has been together for some years and while there might have been a gap of up to 2 years between the teams, they were eager to attack. Indeed, they were the first team to have a shot on goal and what an outstanding save Alex Wright made down to his right. Not only did he stop a full blooded strike, but he held it was well.

Alphington had a number of set pieces around the Willand goal, which the visitors defended well. After a volley flew by the near post from another corner, Willand then spent the next 20 minutes laying siege to the Alphington goal with a series of corners. Jordan Bastin, Reece Kingdom, Sam Johnson, Tarji Jones and Ben Bickle all went close and closer still during this period but the goal wouldn’t come.

In the second half, it was more of the same but then Alphington scored, from a free kick 25 years out. Matt Grimes’ younger brother stepped up and struck the ball towards the left corner. It was a good strike but Alex Wright, who didn’t put another foot wrong all day, lost his footing in the dive and the ball rolled into the net. 1-0 after 56 minutes.

For the next 5 minutes, Willand looked at sea. Changes had been made and one or two others were made after but it took a while to settle things down – especially in the visiting defence.

Then the balance changed and Willand were once again in the ascendancy. JJ Vittles came on to partner Sam Rawlings up front and their movement created openings. Nathan Antat and Ben Bickle on the flanks were working really hard to set up runs or crossing opportunities. Reece Kingdom in the middle was usually on hand to break up Alphington forays for the next 20 minutes.

Vittles came close with a drive that was tipped over and the keeper made one or two other saves. But recognition must go to the home rear-guard because if they threw themselves on the line to get a block or a tackle in once, they did it 10 times.

There was no stopping Willand’s equaliser though. Antat’s corner to the far post was headed back into the 6 yard area beyond the keeper and Sam Rawlings was on hand to nod it home. 1-1 after 72′.

The rest of the game was tough, dogged at times but both teams were trying to win and with 10 minutes to go, it was almost end to end.

Almost at the very death, a Bickle Cross from the right, 40 yards out was glanced narrowly wide home by JJ. One of the best chances of the entire 90 minutes but it would have been hard on Alphington.

So a point to take back up the M5. Lots of commitment and lots of energy but on such a surface, the lesson has to be to just keep trying and keep playing. Very good performances from Alex Wright, Nathan Antat, Ben Bickle and especially Reece Kingdom, once again.