Match of the Week: Chittlehampton set North Devon League target
WHEN you have been a player, captain, manager, treasurer, secretary and even president, nobody can deny your right to an opinion.
"You don't mind losing, it's the way you lose," lamented Alan Smoldon after Chittlehampton, back in the North Devon League premier division after a 14-year absence, had lost 5-2 at home to Bideford reserves.
"They gave up a bit," said Smoldon, who played more than 600 games for the club. "That was one of our strongest points last season, our determination right to the end of games."
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Smoldon, now 70, still makes himself useful. His role on this particular day? "Just picking up the rubbish," he said.
For manager Dave Peters it was a case of picking over the metaphorical debris.
He was analysing Chittlehampton's third defeat in five matches when Smoldon walked past, hands full of trash.
"What finish do you think the village will be happy with this year?" Peters inquired of the veteran who knows as well as anybody the pulse of the club. "Above halfway?"
"Above halfway?" Smoldon replied. "That would be like winning the championship."
To which Peters responded: "The way we played the other night, I was looking a bit higher than that."
Speaking after a 3-3 draw with Torridgeside last week, Peters mentioned the possibility of a top-five place for last season's senior division runners-up.
Now it was time for a reality check after a defeat that could easily have been worse. Bideford, last season's runaway senior-division champions, could have had their five goals by half time but instead were level at 1-1.
Peters spoke of needing "three or four" premier-division standard players to bolster his squad, although they have done well in the circumstances to be where they are.
In the close season Peters resigned after leading Chittlehampton to promotion in his first season following 11 years in charge of North Molton. He cited issues with players as the heart of the problem.
Four weeks later Peters was back but only after captain-in-waiting Ross Williams had taken it upon himself, with defender Matt Jones, to stabilise the squad during a managerless month.
Williams said: "We had just got promoted and to be left with no manager after all that hard work in the senior division was a bit disappointing.
"It wasn't just me, it was Matt Jones and a few key players who tried to keep the team morale high.
"There was a bit of a disagreement so some players went – I didn't really understand it – but I managed to get a few in and everyone stuck together.
"We thought, 'If we haven't got a manager we're still going to do this'. Then it was a bonus when Dave came back."
Among those who left was Jamie Giffard, winner of the 2011-12 senior division Golden Boot with 42 goals from 30 games. Also gone are James Campbell and Sam Runnalls.
Calling on old school friends, Williams brought in Elliott MacDonald, a former Bideford reserves player out for two years with a knee injury, and Richard Chumbley, from Appledore.
However, it is the task given to 16-year-old new signing Prince Sexon that has underlined Chittlehampton's shortcomings.
The lack of a big centre back has forced MacDonald, a midfielder, to play there, preventing Ciaron Lishman from partnering Sexon up front.
Chittlehampton were also missing the injured Chumbley from midfield on Saturday.
Lishman scored 29 goals in 29 appearances last season, mostly from midfield, and Peters is eager to give him a forward role once he has strengthened his defence and midfield.
"Hopefully we are going to sign a big centre back this week," said Peters. "We have one who lives in the village, Mark Millichope, he gives us height, (but) we need another. Then Elliott would come into midfield and Ciaron up front."
Sexon might have scored early on, volleying a half-chance over and failing to connect with a free header from a Jordan Hussell corner.
However, Chittlehampton were already one down, Will Nicholls having shown how to do it in the sixth minute, heading home a Rik Williams corner.
Phil Kelly volleyed narrowly over as Bideford threatened to double their lead and, among other near misses, a Joe Grimley header produced a flying save from home goalkeeper Kelvyn Warren.
Then, against the run of play on 42 minutes, uncompromising tackling by Lishman set up Hussell out wide. Hussell checked, cut inside and crossed for the unmarked Simon Lockyer to fire in an angled drive.
The unexpected was followed by the downright absurd when, 18 seconds into the second half, Chittlehampton took the lead.
A speculative shot by Hussell from close to the touchline deceived goalkeeper Peter Ellis and floated in.
A point-blank save by Warren from Kelly preserved the home team's 2-1 lead.
Then, trailing after looking the better team, Bideford suffered a spell on the back foot. Chittlehampton, emboldened by their lead, went looking to increase it but, much to Peters's frustration, paid the price.
Three goals in seven minutes midway through the second half, two from shots by Joe Grimley and Sam Grimley, and one a header from Nathan Bate, gave Bideford a 4-2 lead.
All that was left was for Bate to score the goal of the day with a storming run down the right, beating two challenges before cutting in and firing home.
It was Bideford's third win in as many matches following their unbeaten campaign last season.
For Peters, the verdict was "not bad for an hour" but "there are things they need to learn playing premier football".
Such as? "We were chasing goals rather than defending what we had," he said.
Born in Chittlehampton 62 years ago – "in Chapel Cottage, two good kicks from here" – Peters played until he was 48 but only briefly for his home village club.
"I spent 14 years at Bishops Nympton, two or three seasons here in the seconds, and ended up playing for North Molton seconds," said Peters.
Then he entered management after having his arm twisted at North Molton.
Peters said: "They could never find a second-team manager, every year was the same, and somebody said, 'You do it'.
"I told them I would be useless, I wouldn't know how."
Nearly 15 years later he is still proving himself wrong.