MILL Road isn’t the fortress it once was for Barnstaple Town.
Hardly a point was dropped on their own turf as back-to-back promotions saw them up to Evo-Stik League Southern Division One South and West.
But today’s 2-0 home loss to Bishop’s Cleeve means they have only won once in North Devon since the start of the season.
It is clear Southern League football is a far cry from that in the Western League, the standard is significantly higher, but Barnstaple would have been targeting a team who had lost all four away league games this season as three extra points.
Normally with goals in abundance, Barnstaple’s latest blank means they have gone 593 minutes without scoring at Mill Road – since Ryan Turner’s 37th-minute strike in the 1-0 win against Paulton Rovers on August 16.
It was a game in which, for long periods at least, Barnstaple looked like they would make it back-to-back league triumphs.
But two late goals in a five-minute spell from the visitors earned them their first points on the road.
Jacob Davidge got the first after 74 minutes. He latched on to the excellent Mat Wieczorek’s long clearance, which somehow managed to bounce through the heart of the Barnstaple back line, charged in and cleverly chipped over Steve Oliver.
Ben Hayes, who scored in North Devon just seven days ago when Cleeve lost 2-1 at Bideford, added the second when he darted in at the back post to squeeze a header home from a long throw.
Oliver was forced into the first bit of work after just four minutes when James Baldwin broke with pace down the left. He charged through the Barnstaple half but Oliver raced off his line to narrow the angles and produce an important save.
Baldwin came close again 20 minutes later when he latched on to Logan Sotddart’s fine cross-field ball, his attempted cross-cum-lob almost caught out Oliver at the back post, but bar that it was a game the hosts were growing into as they went along.
On Tuesday, in their Devon St Luke’s penalty defeat to Willand Rovers, goalkeeper Dan Law had a game to remember as he kept the scores goalless after 90 minutes.
Wieczorek, the Cleeve stopper, seemed intent on doing the same as he made a string of fine saves to keep his side level going into the break.
Turner, who notched his 100th goal for the club in last weekend’s 1-0 win at Larkhall Athletic, was the man notably frustrated by Wieczorek.
His flicked header from a long Lee Francis throw after 27 minutes was somehow tipped away from goal, he then had a low acrobatic effort held well and a drive from the edge of the box five minutes before the break beaten away.
Even when Turner tried the role of provider, on 35 minutes, his low ball across the face found Dave Pearse whose shot on the turn was once again denied by the big No 1.
Without Liam Gregory in the side, Steve Holland filled in at left wing-back and kept dangerous winger Hayes, signed from Malvern Town in the summer, relatively quiet bar a yellow-card tackle three minutes into the second period and the eventual killer goal 11 minutes from time.
On the other flank Jed Harper-Penman looked an ever-willing runner and delivered several testing balls which were astutely dealt with.
Hayes was afforded space in the box after 64 minutes and probably should have made the home side pay, but his low strike from eight yards was kept out by Oliver’s legs.
Cleeve felt they had been denied a penalty 11 minutes prior to that when Davidge had gone down under a challenge with Scott Huxtable in the box, but referee James Durkin was unmoved.
And after Jack Jenkins had fired just wide of the far post from the edge of the box and Francis headed a free-kick wide, Davidge struck the decisive blow and Hayes added the second to inflict another home defeat on Barum.
Barnstaple Town (3-5-2): Steve Oliver; Scott Huxtable, James Mayne, Craig Allan; Jed Harper-Penman, Jack Jenkins, Niall Heeney (Shaun Copp 78), Lee Franis, Steve Holland; Dave Pearse (Scott Sharp 84), Ryan Turner (James Blake 73). Subs not used: Kyle Paine, Aaron Harper-Penman.
Bishop’s Cleeve (4-4-2): Mat Wieczorek; Logan Stoddart, Jordan Stoddart, Tom Hoskins, Aaron Drake; Ben Hayes, Kirk Layton (Rory Thomson 78), Jack Horrell, James Baldwin (Ben Prothero 83); Paul Holmes (Ieuan Crowe 66), Jacob Davidge. Subs not used: Marc Wright.
Referee: James Durkin