SUBSTITUTE Callum Watson’s last-gasp strike sealed the points maximum for Tavistock on Wednesday night as they ran out 3-1 winners over Exmouth Town.
Watson’s goal silenced talk of a pulsating Exmouth comeback after Aarron Denny’s strike had halved the deficit inflicted upon them by a rip-roaring start from Tavistock, with the hosts’ early goals coming from Liam Prynn and Josh Grant.
‘I’m just pleased, really, because Exmouth are a really good side and they’ve started the season well,’ said Tavistock boss Stu Henderson. ‘We’ve been doing well in spells and we’ve tinkered with the shape a little bit and I think I probably got it wrong start of the second half – we kind of invited it on a little bit.’
The Lambs raced into the dream start as Prynn opened the scoring with just three minutes on the clock. Some clever build-up play resulted in Alex Battle sliding a pass through for Prynn, who slammed low into the bottom corner for his third league goal.
Tavistock doubled their advantage on 10 minutes. The perpetrators of the opener were again instrumental as Battle’s shot from range bounced awkwardly in front of goalkeeper Robert Powell, leading to the gloves-man parrying to the feet of Prynn, whose follow-up effort was again saved. But Powell could not get a hold of the ball as he pushed it into the path of the onrushing traffic. Among the chaos, 31-year-old Grant bundled the ball home.
Exmouth gradually clawed their way back into proceedings, with Denny showing ambition from midfield by way of an effort from an acute angle which required a good save from Tavistock ‘keeper Josh Oak. Denny again stung the gloves of Oak with a blistering effort from distance.
Lambs boss Henderson opted to move into a formation which would allow the midfield to play in a diamond as the first period came to a close.
‘We just felt that they were getting a lot of joy in the middle of the park,’ Henderson explained. ‘I think Aarron Denny is one of the best midfielders in the league and he was starting to pull a few strings, so the idea was to get a numerical advantage and try and force the play into the midfield.’
Exmouth were right back in it within 10 minutes of the restart. The goal seemingly came from nowhere, as potent midfielder Denny let fly from 25 yards and drilled the ball into the bottom-right corner.
The Lambs manager continued: ‘I thought [the change of shape] worked alright for seven or eight minutes before half-time but when we came out for the second half we were too deep, and for their goal, we didn’t react very well to a second ball and all of a sudden, they get that goal and their tails are up.’
An entertaining end-to-end battle ensued, with both sides coming close to finding the decisive fourth goal. On 80 minutes, a big chance went begging for the visitors as a goal-mouth scramble in front of the Tavi net saw the ball fired on goal from amongst the bodies. Oak produced a fine save to keep the hosts’ lead intact.
The Lambs sealed the win in added time. A lapse in communication among the Exmouth rearguard – something which plagued their display – allowed Tavistock to reap possession on the wing and fire a delivery across for substitute Ben Fowles. Young Fowles struck the upright with the ‘keeper beaten, and fellow sub Watson collected the rebound on the edge of the penalty area. The 24-year-old showed remarkable patience as he carried the ball across the box until the opportunity to shoot came, and he made no mistake in slotting home a smart finish across Powell when it eventually did.
‘I think once we went back to the shape – they’re always going to create chances to a degree – we limited them and defended in the main quite well,’ said Henderson. ‘Our shape was good and then once the third goal went in it was a big relief.
‘We had opportunities before that; one of the lads hit the post and there was a couple of scrambles in the goal but we were good value for the win I feel.’
Upon full-time, Henderson voiced his candid concerns about the sustainability of the club at Step 4, despite the win – in front of an attendance of 207 – moving the Lambs into fourth in the Southern League’s Division One South.
‘Our club is struggling to survive at this level and for me, it’s really disappointing that we are in the playoff positions in the Southern League and yet our attendances are really low. If the game was up at Exmouth, we’d probably have had double the crowd. And it’s not the away support because when we play away, we get 30 or 40 people following us.
‘We haven’t finished outside the top two in any league in eight years, so it doesn’t really get any better than that, yet unfortunately there just doesn’t seem to be the interest locally which is frustrating.’