Sunday, October 26th 2014 Devon County Youth League

Willand Rovers 2 Apollo 1

HT 1-1 Bastin 2 (1 pen).

The day before, Willand Rovers first team signed out of their best ever FA Cup run with a battling performance against a good Gosport Borough and today, the White Ravens would need at least the same attitude to overturn Apollo’s unbeaten record.

Brian Holmes got the game underway, on a slightly heavy but relatively dry pitch. Willand had eight players unavailable – surely the attraction of this game offered more than Alton Towers, New York and a school trip? Illness, injury and a Devon fixture accounted for the others. But it would be interesting to see how the team would play in what promised to be a tight encounter, with unfamiliar players in different positions.   Apollo, from Torquay, would offer stiff opposition, especially in defence. Both matches last season had ended in Apollo’s favour by the odd goal.

Willand attacked the Main Road End (which was stood 4 deep yesterday!!) and early exchanges were good. Jordan Bastin was finding his passing range and Tarji Jones (having his finest game so far for the Ravens) was showing excellent close control under pressure. On the left, Cameron Wright was providing support for Reece Browning and winning tackles in what was a solid performance today.

But it takes two to make a good game and Apollo came to Silver Street to win. Their forwards always provided a threat, especially from the Apollo goalkeepers long kicks. One such kick, was latched onto to by the Apollo number 9 and while Jez Cross got his hands to the ball the first time, he may have been pushed to the ground, where the ball spilled from his grasp. He couldn’t regather it in time and the ball was sent over the line by the alert forward. 0-1 after 18′.

The game was still in the balance as Willand reorganised, Jones was still a good release up front, and as Bastin and the excellent Reece Kingdom kept wining possession, so the side began to build more pressure on the visiting defence. The final ball just wouldn’t avail itself for a chance on goal, until Nathan Antat, making his debut, took on the left back, cut in on goal and released a good effort which went narrowly wide of the far post.

Apollo were very dangerous on the break and Cross pulled off one smart save from a 1v1, and then was well-positioned to catch the next.   At the other end, and try as they might from freekicks, Willand couldn’t create an opening but then Jones got to the touchline again and when he dragged the ball back for Bastin, his first shot was blocked. his second shot was also blocked but the prone defender was deemed to have used his hands.   So Jordan Bastin from the penalty spot – 1-1 after 41′.

The second half was about wanting the win. Apollo wouldn’t give anything up and their desire raised Willand’s tempo who were determined to get the next goal. Apollo were dangerous on the break but the excellent Alex Wright put in two critical tackles to deny 1v1s.   Antat found more joy down the right and seemed to relish taking his defender on. After two or three forays, this time he knocked the ball back in to Bastin who wriggled and twisted beating four players before reversing a ground shot beyond the left hand of the keeper. But the goal was disallowed by Mr Holmes as he saw an infringement by another player in the build-up. Harsh perhaps. Back to the drawing board then.

Apollo really were playing on the break and Willand had to watch out but they were playing good football using both flanks. There was no room for a mistake – the next goal would be critical as the game entered the final quarter.  In the midfield, Willand were dominant in possession but it took a slice of fortune for the next clear opening to be created.   As a ball bounced towards a central defender, his clearance caught Bastin in the midriff and fell kindly for the playmaker to advance on goal and neatly finish. The players celebrated the goal as one and so they should.

But there were still 10 minutes to see out. It was frenetic at times and both defences were stretched. But really the energy, commitment and skills of both teams was a joy to watch.   A fair crowd had shown up to watch (not quite yesterdays 900+) and the last few minutes including injury time had opportunities for both teams. When Mr Holmes blew for full time, the Willand players were delighted. They’d put a shift in to beat a strong opposition today.   Very good performances all round including from captain Ash Matthews, Ryan Trump and Tim Miles. Well played.