NOT since November 2013 had Barnstaple Town lost three consecutive matches.
That unwanted record may have been under threat of being levelled as Bitton arrived at Mill Road today, but you would not have known it as Barnstaple dominated from the first whistle to claim a deserved 2-0 victory.
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Two defeats to Melksham Town and Cadbury Heath had halted Town’s promotion push but – on a heavy pitch – Barnstaple were back to their best as strike duo Ryan Turner and Dave Pearse scored in either half to secure a first victory in 2016 for Barry Yeo.
The margin of victory could – and maybe should – have been larger, Aaron Harper-Penman, Will Nicholls and Turner all missing the target when well placed.
But it is a results business, and Barnstaple got the right one to help them back up to fifth in the Toolstation Western League Premier Division.
There were certainly no signs of a lack of Barnstaple confidence in the early exchanges as they completely outplayed Bitton, Lee Francis shot over in the first minute and Nicholls nodded just too high at the near post.
Playing with a rare three-man attack, it was wave after wave of pressure by Yeo’s side as Turner headed a Jed Harper-Penman cross just wide and defender Josh Phillips appeared to bundle Liam Gregory’s corner over the line, but the officials were unmoved.
The visitors were doing little to suggest their recent dominance over Barnstaple – six wins in their last six games – was going to continue. Josh Penfold’s speculative 25-yard half-volley their only shot on target in the opening half-hour.
After having a good shout for a penalty turned down when Andy Edmonds appeared to handle in the box, it seemed a slice of luck may be needed for Town to break the deadlock.
And they got just that two minutes before the break.
Turner used his predatory instincts to chase down a hopeful ball from the back and while Bitton captain Conor Cunningham may have got their ahead of him, the defender’s sliding tackle ricocheted off Turner and past Jamie Powell.
Without leading marksman Sacha Tong, with 22 this season, Bitton were failing to trouble a resolute Barnstaple back line, Ben Brooks’s 64th-minute free kick was about as good as it got, and that was comfortably saved by Steve Oliver.
Barnstaple, on the other hand, were causing their opponents back four all sorts of difficulties and Nicholls, making the most of his inclusion in the starting XI, fired a cross-cum-shot which was inches away from finding Pearse before the same man curled one just too high on the hour mark.
Despite dominating the majority of the clash, a one-goal advantage is always a slender one, so when Pearse fired home after 72 minutes it was welcome relief to the 202 fans inside Mill Road.
Bitton’s defence failed to deal with a dangerous Gregory cross and, after a scramble inside the box, Pearse dug the ball out to score.
Barnstaple were rampant in the closing stages and could have added gloss to the scoreline with captain Aaron Harper-Penman twice blazing over inside the box and Turner scooping one just wide when one-on-one.
Barnstaple Town (4-3-3): Steve Oliver; Ross Jones (Scott Huxtable 79), Josh Phillips, Aaron Harper-Penman (C), Liam Gregory; Jed Harper-Penman (Shaun Copp 75), Jack Jenkins, Lee Francis; Will Nicholls (Steve Holland 70), Ryan Turner, Dave Pearse. Subs not used: Jimmy Thorne, Niall Heeney.
Bitton (4-2-3-1): Jamie Powell; Dan Reading (Jacob Francis 65), Conor Cunningham (C), Andy Edmonds, Will Brant; Pat Royal, George Foyle (Clayton Clarke 23); Ben Brooks, Josh Dakwa, Josh Murphy; Josh Penfold (Jordan Thaws 65). Subs not used: Josh Wells
Yellow cards: Clarke