Bideford fight back from 2-0 down to draw with Stourbridge
IN THE end, there was a slight feeling of disappointment around the Sports Ground that Bideford had not won the game.
On the face of it, a 2-2 draw against third-placed Stourbridge should go down as a welcome point in the Evo-Stik League Southern premier division.
After trailing 2-0 inside the first six minutes, they showed energy and heart to fight back with goals from Sean Downing and Kevin Squire.
Despite the shortcomings of an inexperienced squad, there was much for home fans to be optimistic about in the glorious autumn sunshine.
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For 84 minutes, at least, Bideford were more than a match for a team currently in the mix for promotion.
Sean Joyce, the manager, remains certain his team have what it takes to avoid relegation – if they cut out the mistakes.
"Their manager said to me at the end, 'How you are bottom of the league I'll never know'," said Joyce. "I said to him, 'What you have seen in this game is why we are bottom of the league'.
"We conceded two stupid goals and gave ourselves a mountain to climb.
"A lot of times this season we have been the better team but five or ten-minute spells have cost us."
Spells do not come much sillier than the six-minute defensive disaster at the start of the match.
Just 25 seconds had passed when Ben Billingham was given way too much time to tuck the opening goal past Paul Hider.
The defensive pairing of Dominic Rivans and Rob Farkins endured a torrid first half with both guilty of losing possession on the edge of their box.
Hider, recalled at the expense of Sam Hutchings, was then exposed by a woeful backpass from Farkins, allowing Drew Canavan to nip in for the second.
"It's just the naivety of a lad playing his third game at this level after stepping up from Stoke Gabriel," said Joyce. "He probably would have got away with that at a lower level."
Notably, Farkins and Rivans were far more assured in the second period and the presence of Andy Watkins in a Bideford shirt for the first time in six years always gave them hope.
Watkins, the Truro City striker, stole possession and teed up Downing to pull one back for the game's third goal in a frantic first ten minutes.
As chances fell at both ends, Canavan had a shot headed off the line by Connor Clifford. Watkins was denied by a smart block from goalkeeper Lewis Solly and, from the resulting corner, Farkins had a header scrambled to safety.
Tempers flared when Clifford was caught by a high challenge from Leon Broadhurst in front of the home dugout.
Bideford directed their energy into a positive second half with Matt Andrew, Downing, Squire and Watkins all combining well.
A clinical finish from Squire for his first league goal of the season was no more than they deserved.
Watkins showed immaculate control and vision to bring down a long pass from Clifford and put Downing clear on the left flank. The winger was briefly held up by a defender but still found room to cross and Squire got across his marker to volley past the goalkeeper.
Stourbridge's only real threat of the half came from a free kick by Sean Geddes that flashed across goal.
Joyce has called on his team to go more direct as they adjust to the physical nature of the premier division and that tactic almost provided a winning goal.
A huge clearance from Hider was flicked on by Squire and Andrew had a volley saved by the goalkeeper.
Another opening fell for Andrew on the edge of the box and this time he scuffed a volley wide. It was a difficult chance but the type the midfielder has buried on previous occasions.
Farkins then pumped a long ball forward and Downing's glancing header landed in the goalkeeper's arms.
The sight of Downing taking on the Stourbridge defence single-handedly showed the confidence Bideford were now playing with.
Just as he did for last season's memorable winner at Tiverton Town, Downing darted through the middle, only this time he was denied by Solly and Watkins blasted the rebound over.
Bideford have won just two of their first ten games since gaining promotion but with more performances like this, they will start to turn the corner.