|“One-nil to the Tiverton” came the chant from the terraces at 9.20pm. It was almost an ironic doff of the metaphorical cap to the Arsenal teams of the 70s and 80s who forced out results with efficiency but little verve, and that is rather the way Tiverton are going about their business at present. The Yellows have now negotiated twelve league matches without suffering defeat, and it would be fair to say few of those matches have been navigated with the ease one may expect of a team flirting with the playoff places. On a soggy Tuesday at Ladysmead it wasn’t through a lack of forward thinking, but in a snapshot of the season as a whole Tivvy laboured somewhat in the final third of the pitch, and the win could and perhaps should have been more handsome that it turned out.
Slimbridge are not going to pull up many trees in the Southern League, and physically they would be more suited to continental small-sided games rather than the brutality of lower-level English football. Only goalkeeper Adam Thomas brought to the field any stature, and he was also one of few amongst the visiting ranks who was able to stand out for his level of performance. Largely that was down to Tiverton bossing the majority of the game, with Thomas maintaining his side’s optimism levels with a number of strong saves, not least a magnificent reaction stop to deny Owen Howe from point blank range early in the match.
In Yellow there were no real stand-out performances: everyone pulled there weight and nobody shone, although the tenacity of Rob Norrish in the heart of the Tivvy midfield once again merits a good deal of praise. Norrish brings a lovely balance to a side who are otherwise very attacking-minded from an individual perspective, and his presence allows those in front of him to press on with the confidence that things will be in order should forward moves break down. The wet pitch seemed to suit him well, and he was sliding into and cleanly winning the ball back as often as he was upright and playing the simple passes through to his creative attacking teammates. It is high praise that he is perhaps the first Tiverton player capable of being able to play such a role consistently since Chris Holloway.
Further forward Jamie Mudge has been on the end of a little criticism for his lack of goals this season. Statistically his record is not great, but his contribution to the effort against Slimbridge should not be underestimated. Long gone is the young and sprightly Mudge of yesteryear who would race past defenders, ping shots into the top corner from all angles, and twist and turn and tie defenders in knots. Today’s Jamie Mudge is a very different animal, and his intelligence on the field has allowed him to adapt his game to allow for the loss of the yard of pace that inevitably disappears when one has struggled for so long with a variety of injuries. Mudge’s link-up play and his ability to allow others to play off him was key to Tiverton camping out in the Slimbridge half for extended periods. It would be great if he could bang a few goals in too, of course, and he came tremendously close when he fired a shot across the face of goal which has Thomas left flat-footed and truly beaten. Mudge had already seen two earlier shots comfortably saved, both weak and unthreatening, and he was running on empty by the time he was replaced fifteen or twenty minutes from time. Nevertheless, he and manager Martyn Rogers will be delighted with his overall contribution to the cause.
Slimbridge started the game positively, won a couple of corers early on, and despite their lack of height throughout their team still chose to whip the ball in from the quadrant. That tactic was never going to bother the giant Tivvy centre-backs, and when the three-man backline for the Yellows were partially breached Joe Perry was neat and tidy enough to keep things in order. Perry did need to push a couple of efforts around the post but the longer the game went on the more of a spectator he became. And it was from a distance that he was able to watch James Richards slice a shot embarrassingly over the stand, and witness Dan Smith forcing a save from Thomas. The Slimbridge goalkeeper, on the other hand, remained on his toes, and how he clawed away Howe’s header from six yards will remain a mystery. Mudge had been set free through the inside-left channel, concluded that he was at too acute an angle to shoot, so clipped in a perfect cross. Howe only had to put his head on the ball and surely the home side would be ahead… alas! no! Thomas was having none of it, threw himself to his left and forced the ball just far enough away for his defence to clear the danger.
The pattern of the game was well and truly set, and although he visitors occasionally ventured forward on the counter-attack it was predominantly Tivvy who made the running. Mikey Williams consistently cut inside and ran into too many bodies to get a shot away, but Norrish did fire over, and Howe found the net after the flag and whistle had signalled him offside. The final action of note in a goalless first half saw Dean Turner dip a shot over the top for the away side, while there was a degree of consternation when Norrish’s challenge on Paul Fahy was allowed to go unpunished despite the foul being obvious to everyone in Ladysmead except the match officials.
If the first half was tinged with the frustration that Tivvy could not turn their ascendancy into goals, that was quickly forgotten as the opening goal arrived just 75 seconds after the restart. Williams again cut in and sprayed a ball to the opposite flank for Smith to find the space and cross into the middle. The delivery was perfect, Howe was alert, and off his thigh he diverted the ball into the net from a few yards out. It was the striker’s eighth goal in the last nine games, and as ever he celebrated as if it was his first goal for a year: he just loves scoring.
The breakthrough might have signalled the opportunity for Tiverton to rack up a mountain of goals, and their cause was aided when Alex Hoyle was shown a straight red card for violent conduct as he looked to gain an advantage over Tom Gardner as Slimbridge won a corner on their right. But the second goal would not come, mainly thanks to Thomas who made an excellent save to deny Smith, and then pulled off further stops from Norrish and Smith again. With the taste of goals still fresh Howe tried an audacious lob from the better part of 30 yards which seemed at first to be sailed miles over, dipped violently and broke its natural parabola to fall only a matter of a foot or two the wrong side of the crossbar.
With no margin for error the closing section of the game was a little tenser from the sidelines than it should have been, and in reality, while there was always the danger of a slip or calamitous mistake, it was seldom the fact that Tiverton looked in danger of letting go of the three points. Only one calm and key interception from Steve Kingdon was worthy of note as the Tivvy defender snuffed out an attack down the Slimbridge left, and although the roles had been reversed insomuch that it was now the Yellows set out deeper and utilising the counter attack, the organisation was perfectly sufficient, and Perry was not asked to make a save of any significance.
The Yellows will face sterner tests this season, and barring a draw at Peacehaven at the weekend the next league action sees Larkhall Athletic visit Ladysemad. Their league position is misleding; they are a strong outfit and should not be taken lightly. However, for Larkhall to win they will need to score, and Tivvy have now kept four clean sheets on the trot which is a positive reflection on their own defensive capabilities. A further home win will be a genuine marker of Town’s intentions this season, and one would hope that such a positive run of results will encourage a few more people to venture down to Ladysmead.
Tiverton Town: Joe Perry, Jake Wannell (Dan Western 75), Mikey Williams, Ben Mammola, Steve Kingdon, Tom Gardner (Alex Faux 79), Dan Smith, James Richards, Owen Howe, Jamie Mudge (Ethan Phillips75), Rob Norrish
Goal: Howe 47
Sent off: None
Slimbridge: Adam Thomas, Sam Turl, Ryan Thwaite, Alex Hoyle, Ciaran Greening, Edward Ward, Dean Turner, Jack Twyman (Sam Blackie73 ), Sean Lawson (Adam Mace 75), Jamie Martin (Callum Brown 61), Paul Fahy
Booked: Ha! Somebody I can’t remember
Sent: Off: Hoyle