BARNSTAPLE Town’s FA Cup venture came to a disappointing end today at the hands of Evo-Stik League Southern Premier Division Merthyr Town.
As they were last season, Barum were pitted against a top-flight side in the first round qualifying and – as with last season – they came up short.
Twelve months ago they were in the Western League and gave a spirited display in a 1-0 defeat at eventual Southern League champions Poole Town. This time they started brightly but faded and, with 10 men, were made to pay as Merthyr ran out 4-0 winners.
Kayne McLaggon and the dangerous Ian Traylor got the first-half goals – both coming from short corners – with captain Aaron Harper-Penman shown red at the end of the period for a challenge on Keyon Reffell.
That dismissal forced manager Barry Yeo to switch to two banks of four at the interval, Liam Gregory and Scott Huxtable dropping deeper and Shaun Copp and Jed Harper-Penman shifting out to the left and right wings.
It provided a more solid base for the hosts to build on and they would have been pleased to match Merthyr for the majority of the second period.
But two late goals added gloss to a scoreline the visitors will feel was more than merited.
Traylor looked suspiciously offside when he received the ball in the box with nine minutes to go, but the linesman’s flag remained by his side. His first effort was excellently saved by Steve Oliver but it fell straight back to Merthyr’s top scorer to tap home.
That goal seemed to raise the visitors’ performance a notch and the game was rounded off in the 91st minute as Reffell played in McLaggon to coolly finish for four.
There were positives for Barnstaple. Jack Jenkins was excellent in the middle of the park and hardly sent a pass astray.
Scott Sharp was lively throughout and chased lost causes after lost cause. He looked intent on making the most of his inclusion in the starting XI from the off. A neat flick found Gregory down the left and his low ball was half cleared to Jenkins who fired over.
It was a strong start from the hosts, who were looking to banish back-to-back league defeats, as Jed Harper-Penman also had a low cross deflected just wide at the near post.
The one thing Barum couldn’t afford to hand their higher-division opponents was the early incentive. They did just that after eight minutes.
No one in red switched on to Elliot Scotcher’s quick corner, Traylor ran towards the box and his cross eventually fell at the feet of McLaggon six yards out. The forward took aim and made no mistake.
It was easy to see why the Welsh side had made a strong start to life in the Southern Premier – three wins placing them eighth after six games.
Ryan Prosser – who scored the penalty which relegated Bideford on their last visit to North Devon in April – was a huge presence up top, McGlaggon looked lively off him while Adam Davies and Traylor were ever-present on the wings.
It was Traylor – consistently at the top of Merthyr’s scoring charts since joining in 2011 – who doubled the lead after 32 minutes.
Again, Scotcher’s short corner wasn’t dealt with and the ball found its way to Traylor on the edge. His low drive squirmed past Oliver at the near post. It was his fifth strike in seven this season. That was made six in seven with his tap-in nine minutes from time.
Before that effort, Prosser miscued across goal, McGlaggon burst through but was denied by a fine Oliver save when one-on-one and Davies’s low drive had to be tipped away by the Barnstaple No 1.
Barnstaple’s best chance of the half came five minutes before the break when James Mayne split the visiting defence and Sharp burst through but shot wide of the near post.
The task was then made twice as hard as captain Harper-Penman went in late on Reffell and received his marching orders.
Barnstaple showed the fight required with 10 men after the break – substitute Lee Francis poked over a Jenkins free-kick – but once Traylor’s second went in, it was wave after wave of attack.
Oliver would have been disappointed to let the second in at his near post, but his late saves from McLaggon and Corey Jenkins kept the Welsh side at bay – only until the 90th minute as McLaggon struck again.
Barnstaple Town (3-4-2-1): Steve Oliver; James Mayne, Aaron Harper-Penman, Scott Allan; Liam Gregory, Jack Jenkins, Niall Heeney, Scott Huxtable; Shaun Copp (James Blake 72), Jed Harper-Penman (Lee Francis 69); Scott Sharp (Dave Pearse 80). Subs not used: Ryan Turner, Kyle Paine.
Merthyr Town (3-5-2): Glyn Garner; Rhys Baggridge, Gethin Jones, Curtis McDonald; Ian Traylor (Curtis Jemmett-Hutson 83), Elliot Scotcher, Keyon Reffell, Ashley Evans (Jaye Bowen 80), Adam Davies; Kayne McLaggon, Ryan Prosser (Corey Jenkins 52). Subs not used: Scott Tancock, Gavin Williams.
Referee: Martin Underhay