So, another trip to Torquay and the chance to put right what went wrong 2 weeks before at Apollo, writes Nick Miles.

It was a little difficult to find but once found, you’ll never forget it. The clubhouse is a testimony to what standards football at all levels should aspire to. I wish I had a picture but aside from the stunning façade, the facilities were terrific too (although we did do the halftime team talk in near darkness!!).

The days leading up to the game had been dry and although there was a little coldness in the air, it was otherwise perfect for a game of football.

Both sides had put out their strongest sides, so it meant that Willand would welcome back both full-backs (they had missed the win over Tiverton last week) and could revert to 4-4-2. There would only be 2 replacements on the bench though, as Nick Merriam had to leave the warm-up session with a breathing difficulty but he had played 70′ for the Reserves the day before.

(Just a word on the impact of the u18s on the Reserves. Having struggled with player commitment to the struggling Reserves, the club had to call upon players from the u18s to help fulfil fixtures, starting at Budleigh Salterton a couple of weeks ago. Four players travelled, 3 played and they were a revelation as the rejuvenated Reserves almost pulled off a shock draw. Yesterday, 3 travelled in the team mini-bus and all 3 played AND two scored, while the other made an assist in a victory at Hatherleigh, which was a remarkable outcome – not least as the ‘keeper went off injured after 20’ leaving no substitutes to call on thereafter. Ash Matthews and Nick Merriam scored while Cas Aplin set up Ash’s ‘worldie’! Far from being bench-warmers or fillers, more under 18s (actually under 17s) should focus on getting into the Reserves, as their abilities are being recognised. Pete Ward (Duffy) and Rob Buxton are very pleased with the players who’ve turned out for the Reserves from the u18s and we’ll try not to get too carried away, but the opportunities are there and for the 1st XI in time, so the players should be focussing on making the step up. Bear in mind that George Wannell has already played for the Reserves twice this term and this week Duffy and Buxy will probably need 4-5).

Anyway, back to the Stoke Gabriel game. The team warmed up fairly well and it has this underlying spirit about it that doesn’t really get going until the game kicks-off. I first noticed it last week against Tiverton – the warm-up was very quiet and I thought they were nervous about the opposition but then I saw one or two players giving each other a nod, or a couple of words of encouragement as the game commenced. Today was no different.

Stoke are a decent side and probably a year older throughout their squad, so side-by-side, they look bigger. A quick word about the pitch too which although in need of a roll, was flat and wide (not often you say that!). The club-house looks over the pitch and the setting is impressive.

The game got underway with Willand attacking the Broadley Lane End and they got into their playing style quickly. Stoke’s rear-guard was resolute as the final ball would not quite drop for Jordan Armstrong or JJ for a clean shot on target. After 15′ of good Willand possession, Stoke started to get into the game and looked most dangerous down their left flank but again, the visitors rear-guard held firm.

The first half was tight and some of the challenges were becoming tetchy inviting some control from the referee who duly obliged. Late on, Macauley Broom was replaced by Anthony Ansell for Willand as the former had taken a kick to the knee.

The second half started with a good tempo – both teams looking to score. Oli Crimmins played on the right with Reece Kingdom (who’d been excellent in central midfield in the first period) on the left and Ash joined Dan in the central role. Stoke loaded midfield to get more of the ball but couldn’t really penetrate from open play. Their best chances came from set-pieces but when the Willand defence wasn’t able to clear the danger, Jez Cross was – he pulled off two excellent low saves to his left and one with his knees in the last minute.

But that sounds like Stoke were the more dominant. In truth, possession was fairly equal but the better chances were Willand’s – and all from open play. The best chance followed the best move of the game and led to the goal. Tim Miles retrieved a ball in the right-back position and played it down the line to Crimmins who turned his marker and moved further down the touchline. He then played a god ball to Dan Hayfield who performed a no-touch-turn and then with the outside of his boot delivered an inch-perfect pass onto Armstrong’s right foot. His touch took him past his opponent and now facing up to the ‘keeper, he slipped the ball past him at the near post for 1-0, on 64’.

It was deserved more for the football the team was trying to play and later, another flowing move down the right saw the ball squared to the far post where Kingdom took a touch too many and lost the yard of space for a good chance. Ash Matthews blazed a shot high and wide after a goal mouth scramble where Cas Aplin and Armstrong had a couple of chances each but the Stoke ‘keeper proved his worth.

Tiring fast, the visitors held firm through the assault on their goal and should look back on this performance as another standard they have set themselves. Top of the league again – can they hold firm?

Very well played to Armstrong and Kingdom, as well as Cross in goal and Alex Wright at centre-back! I was told after the game that in the first half, during some of our build-up play, a spectator was heard to say, “It’s just like watching Torquay!”, which we’ll take as a compliment!