THE bragging rights are with Bideford tonight after they came from behind to beat arch rivals Barnstaple Town at the Sports Ground.
It was the first league meeting between the sides in more than six years and, for the first half at least, looked like being a miserable day for Bideford.
But substitute Dan Western came to the rescue with a dramatic late goal which secured a 2-1 victory. Kevin Squire was the architect as his hold-up play in the box and cushioned pass found Western 10 yards out. His first and only touch was to unleash a powerful drive which flew in at the near post.
The goal raised the roof at the Sports Ground, where 884 spectators had crammed in, and came after the ever-dangerous Sean Downing had pulled his side level from the edge of the box 10 minutes into the second half.
Liam Gregory, who was given the runaround by Hereford winger Tristan Plummer on Saturday, was back to his best for Barnstaple and opened the scoring after 15 minutes. He took the ball on the left, travelled for 15 yards and unleashed an excellent effort which flew into the net.
Bideford midfielder Matt Andrew was sent off with 90 minutes on the clock. His first yellow card came for an ugly clash with Barnstaple assistant manager Karl Baggaley, who was red-carded, 15 minutes before he was shown a second yellow for a tug on Gregory.
Bideford had to do it the hard way as they did not heed an early warning. Barnstaple had come to win and even before Gregory’s fine left-footed drive they had signalled their intentions.
It took just 10 seconds for James Blake to fire the first warning shot, latching on to James Mayne’s long ball, rolling his man and dipping one high of the far corner.
Jed Harper-Penman then fired two set-pieces just wide of Josh Colwill’s post before he turned provider for Gregory’s goal on the 15-minute mark. The full-back charged forward and unleashed a stinging effort which beat Colwill at his near post.
Gregory’s effort came when Bideford were arguably exerting their most sustained period of pressure in the opening stages. They were spending the majority of time in the opposition half, but there was no end product to test their former keeper Steve Oliver.
Instead, it was Gregory who seemed up for running the show on the left. His lovely turn on halfway left Andrew on the deck and then a trademark run down the wing drew a yellow-card foul from Dan Harrison.
With Mayne back in the starting XI, Barnstaple looked solid at the back – Aaron Harper-Penman and Craig Allan assured alongside him. Downing, James Richards and Andrew all tried to breach the backline but were unable to.
The closest they came in the first period was when Matt Bye’s free-kick found Richards. He in turn nodded it across the six-yard box but Harper-Penman threw himself at the ball to turn it behind.
The sides had gone with matching 3-5-2 formations, but an enforced change from the hosts at the break – taking the injured Harrison off for Stephen Reed – meant they reverted to a flat back four and could push Downing further forward from wing-back.
It is where he plays best and he proved that 10 minutes into the second half. The Barnstaple defence backed off and, 20 yards from goal, Downing had one thought. He took aim and found the bottom corner to bring the Sports Ground to life.
As tackles started flying in, Gregory picked up a booking for a lunge on Andrew and was giving a ticking off a minute later for a similarly robust challenge.
Sam Stephens showed fight in the Bideford midfield, his lunge on Jed Harper-Penman lucky to escape a caution, but it was the fight the Robins lacked in the first half.
That spilled over with 15 minutes to go. Barnstaple manager Barry Yeo and Andrew clashed in a touchline scuffle which escalated to both sets of players getting involved. Andrew appeared to lash out at Baggaley, but referee Sean Rothwell sent the Barum man off and Andrew was booked.
It was sure to create a grandstand finish, and it did just that as Western popped up with 11 minutes to go to steal the show.
Bideford (3-5-2): Josh Colwill; Dan Harrison (Stephen Reed 45), Chris McGrath, Steve Orchard; James Richards, Sam Stephens, Matt Bye, Matt Andrew, Sean Downing; Dave Pearse, Ben Watson (Dan Western 62). Subs not used: Billy Tucker, Ian Sampson, Angus Wilson.
Barnstaple Town (3-5-2): Steve Oliver; James Mayne, Aaron Harper-Penman, Craig Allan; Scott Huxtable, Lee Francis (Jack Jenkins 57), Niall Heeney, Jed Harper-Penman, Liam Gregory; James Blake, Dave Pearse (Scott Sharp 75). Subs not used: Jimmy Thorne, Kyle Paine.
Referee: Sean Rothwell.