Tiverton Town 2-4 Yeovil Town (Friendly)
I’m in the West Country for a cricket game on Saturday so thought I would tie my trip in with a visit to Tiverton Town on Friday night, staying over at a B&B nearby it means I’ll be fresh for my journey to Somerset in the morning and I won’t be getting up at 5am.
It’s pissing down in Nottingham, I’ve checked Twitter to see if the pitch is ok ahead of travel and no signs of postponement, so off I set at 1pm thinking I should be at the digs in three hours, little did I know what was to come.
I’ve hit the M1 and traffic is building already ahead of my cross midland excursion down the M42… By Birmingham I have my in-car sat nav telling me an estimated arrival time of 6pm as all three lanes are trudging along at snails pace.
Onto the M5 heading South-West the rain lashing on my windscreen I can hardly see the car in front, but I am seeing signs for Worcester and I’m already two hours in, by Bristol I’ve done four hours and am starting to lose my rag soon after as traffic stands still at Portishead.
Finally, after an afternoon largely helped by Hawksbee & Jacobs keeping me sane on TalkSport (which included an intriguing ten minute phone call to Chris Packham about the UK’s shortage of butterflies) I’ve made it to the hotel, just off the A38 near Wellington, junction 26 of the M5, pulling up at six on the dot, knowing I need to be at the ground for half past, an hour ahead of a 7:30pm kick off.
“I’ve got a booking for tonight” I tell the hotelier… “I can’t see your name” he replies… “I booked it on booking.com, it’s all there” I say confidently… “ah, I’ve found you” he tells me… “you’ve booked Friday June 14th 2024”….
Luckily… There’s room at the inn… I cancel the original booking (for next year) before the owner charges me another sixty quid, quickly swiping my card I take the keys, drop my bag off and instantly head back out the door to the ground.
I’m flying down the M4 to the next junction where I come off for the A361 signposted Tiverton and hop over a couple of roundabouts before luckily, the ground appears in front of me, right on the edge of town.
I’ve pulled up on Park Hill outside an MOT garage where the sign for Tiverton Town Football Club fronts the venue below its narrow poled floodlights, I park outside the garage as it’s closed and walk less than 30 seconds to the turnstile in the corner of the ground, little more than two minutes later than my half past six schedule.
There’s a few Yeovil fans in front of me, they walk in through the gate and are escorted to the bar to pay their way in as the turnstile only accepts cash (£8 adults), with card only myself, I follow them to the modern looking bar area to make payment for entrance before a quick wee, I purchase a cup of tea for £2 and head around the far side of the ground to the seated stand.
The ground impresses me on entrance. The wide grassy playing surface has the backdrop of four low roofed stands all propped up by plenty of yellow posts. I walk behind the goal area which is terraced but largely undercover to the seated section before noticing I can’t get through by the corner flag, a big yellow gate in the way as I look towards a steward and ask which way I should go.
He’s an old boy, actually the grounds PA and is a lovely bloke who tells me about the days when the club regularly got crowds of 1,000 plus… “that went down to 900, then 600, then 300” he says “kids nowadays aren’t interested in coming to watch us play”.
He lets me through the gate which is there because the players changing rooms are in that very corner, little more than a couple of portacabins there’s some Yeovil players standing outside, probably not enough space inside to all get changed, some of the subs for the second half are out sitting in the stand, waiting for the first half team to get changed before they can go in.
I’m guided past the players to the press box where the old boy tells me Max, the clubs media guy, will look after me, “it’s his birthday today” he states, Max is sitting down with the Yeovil radio team, everyone is friendly as I join them five rows high and look across towards the impressive St Peters Church in the background, post obstructing the centre of the playing surface but well undercover as it once again, starts to rain.
The ground is named after Chairman Ian Moorcroft who’s recently stood down his involvement to be replaced by ex-Plymouth Argyle CEO Michael Dunford. Formerly known as ‘Ladymead’ it’s a venue that certainly has character, but although Tiverton got a decent four figure crowd against Exeter last week, tonight lacks the numbers of attendees to match, I expected more to view opposition that as recently as ten years ago, played in the Championship.
I’m surprised Yeovil have brought a full squad and by that I mean, all their new signings and only one trialist… Apparently Manager Mark Cooper doesn’t believe in having too many trialists as I’m told “he knows what he wants, if they’re good enough, he’ll sign them”.
In contrast, Tiverton have a couple who start and a whole number on the bench, they have a former Hucknall Town striker in attack who I’m aware of, Niall Thompson was born in Derby and played at Watnall Road before moving to Truro City where he did well playing over 100 games, these days aged 32 I’m told, he lives in Torquay.
Familiar names too at Yeovil, Scott Pollock who signed from Boston last season is injured but defender Josh Staunton is a lower league stalwart who I know, Frank Nouble likewise, he was at southwest rivals Torquay last season and recently signed with experience even of the Premier League via his days at West Ham. Rhys Murphy is a former Arsenal youngster who returns to the Glovers having previously hit 34 goals in 65 games before moving to Southend.
All three start for Mark Cooper’s men and the recently relegated now National League South team look fitter, sharper, faster, stronger, than their league lower opposition from kick off.
Within four minutes they’re 1-0 up.. Frank Nouble finding strike partner Rhys Murphy who runs through to delicately chip the goalkeeper with a subtle touch of class inside the box.
Within fifteen minutes it’s two, Tiverton’s teenage shot stopper Saunders gets in a mess and passes straight to Murphy who says thank you very much.
I predict the floodgates to open as the Tiverton staff look concerned to how poorly they start, “they don’t fancy it tonight” I say, as Yeovil play with intent, high paced, confidence with crisp passing, they tackle big, and through Charlie Cooper in particular, sometimes a little naughtily.
Both sides have their moments to score, but it’s the moments in the middle of the park that really get the temperature rising, a bit of pushing and shoving follows a tackle by Allen on Cooper, payback I feel for a couple of earlier ones the Yeovil managers son dished out himself.
Cooper is a holding midfielder who can spot a pass and sense danger, I like his style but he aint half a naughty f*cker, I wonder if playing for ‘dad’ means he feels he has to try that bit ‘harder’ to impress his team-mates? He’s certainly the enforcer for his club and he certainly sparks off a few handbags during a competitive first half.
On the ball however, Yeovil are dominant and impressive, they break the lines with a slide rule pass by Murphy who this time pays back the compliment to Nouble, he does the rest on 33 to put his side three up.
There’s even time for another before the break, a penalty as Murphy is felled, the 32-year-old stepping up on his first game back to slot home his hat-trick.
Whilst I’m sat there at half time expecting eight or nine for the away side, I’m surprisingly impressed with the comeback of Tiverton in the second half.
The one change from Yeovil at the break see’s Cooper sensibly taken off, before he's probably sent off, but a number of trialists come on for the home side, whilst a few youngsters later enter the field for Yeovil, Jamie Richards does pull a goal back, before Jack Rice makes the final few minutes interesting, in the end Mark Cooper’s men relieved that they didn’t throw a four-goal lead completely away.
Taken off shortly into the second half, Rhys Murphy on return to the club, scored three and assisted, having a hand in all his sides goals. Yeovil looked particularly strong through their spine, Josh Staunton dependable and at ease in defence, next to Morgan Williams who also did well. Charlie Cooper has that snap you need but can also play a bit too, Frank Nouble and Murphy in attack, will certainly provide a headache for opposition defenders, Nouble in particular having a cracking battle with Jamie Richards, who at one stage has his armband almost ripped off as the big Frenchman grappled with his shirt.
Youngsters-wise, right back loanee from Bristol City Zachary Bell in the first half especially, really impressed with fast feet and forward runs, rumour is he also has a huge throw, whilst Benjani Jr, son of the former Manchester City and Portsmouth striker Benjani Mwarurwari, really excited on the eye with a late cameo, he’s aged 18 and looks to have a great future in the game, fast and direct, very similar to the old man.
For Tiverton, well from being a good distance below their opponents in quality during the first half, they stepped it up in the second 45 and much game were central defenders Jamie Richards and Josh Jones in particular, whilst Niall Thompson was a real menace up top, progressive and powerful, he should have scored when he tried a 30 yard chip over the goalkeeper which went wide, upon being substituted he looked really unhappy to be coming off.
If the first 45 was anything to go by, and I believe the way Mark Cooper will want his side to play, will be based on that impressive opening half performance, well Yeovil have a serious chance of a quick return to the National League, with strong, solid, professional, experienced players, who do the basics well, they have good depth to their squad and enough talent in it, not just to win the league, but dominate it too.
I’ll be surprised if they don’t push for promotion with the likes of Torquay behind them, whilst Tiverton may find things harder in their own league, they certainly shown a plucky side which is a good attitude to have, but with two teenage goalkeepers in their ranks and a lot of youngsters, they look like a side lacking that bit of experience needed, to take them up to the level above.
Tiverton Town: Ollie Saunders (Trialist 46), Trialist (Trialist 61), Trialist (Trialist 46), Matt Britton (Trialist 84), Josh Jones, Jamie Richards, Louis Morison (Tom Bath 75), River Allen (Carlo Garside 39), Niall Thompson (Trialist 80), Jack Rice, Dylan Jones.
Yeovil Town: Will Buse (Lewis Williams 46), Morgan Williams (Jamie Sendells-White 70 (Jacob Shore 74)), Josh Staunton (Aidan Skiverton 70), Jake Wannell (Ollie Haste 63), Alex Whittle (Will Dawes 46), Zac Bell (Matthew Worthington 70), Charlie Cooper (Josh Owers 46), Jordan Stevens Benjani Jr 70), Jordan Maguire-Drew (Jordan Young 53), Frank Nouble (Trialist 63), Rhys Murphy (Malachi Linton 63).
7:30pm Kick Off. Friday 14th July 2023, the Ian Moorcroft Stadium, Tiverton (att 349).