JAMES Blake was the Barnstaple Town hero as they secured a much-needed victory today against Larkhall Athletic.
Nine defeats in 10 Evo-Stik League Southern games had seen Town slip to fourth from bottom in Division One West, but Blake’s second-half double at Mill Road gave them a 4-3 victory and, more importantly, breathing space on the drop zone.
With the scores level at 2-2 after 69 minutes, Blake showed his bravery by putting his head where it hurts on the end of Liam Gregory’s fine cross to bundle Barum into the lead.
Ben John, the Larkhall goalkeeper, took exception to the former Willand Rovers man in the ensuing scramble and appeared to lash out – earning himself a straight red card in the process.
Blake was there again to make it 4-2 after 78 minutes. There may have been a slice of fortune about Lee Francis’s scuffed effort falling at Blake’s feet six yards out, but the move before involving Gregory and Ryan Turner had earned that luck. Blake finished calmly.
Turner, who opened the scoring after 14 minutes, was handed a straight red for a late challenge on Jake Gardner and Ed Dryden bundled home a header in stoppage time, but Barum held firm for the three points.
Barnstaple ended the game as they started it, having to withstand Larkhall pressure.
The visitors had made a strong start before Town opened the deadlock after 14 minutes – through that man Turner.
It was a fine finish from Barum’s top-scorer, but it did owe much to the slack defending of Dryden. With the ball heading to the Larkhall centre-back on the corner of his box, it seemed a routine clearance, but he took a wild swing with his left boot and completely missed.
Turner, as he always is, was alive to the miscue. His first touch saw him dart into the box and his second with the outside of his right boot sent the ball over John and into the roof of the net.
Blake then had a header acrobatically tipped away by John three minutes after that following an excellent Scott Huxtable cross. It was one of a host of fine deliveries from Huxtable as he marauded the right-hand side in the opening 45 minutes.
Turner’s goal had actually come against the run of play as Larkhall, with just one win in their last nine in the league, made a positive start.
Jay Adams took aim from 30 yards after Barnstaple keeper Steve Oliver had rushed out to clear – his goalbound effort headed away by the back-tracking Craig Allan.
But it was from set pieces they looked most dangerous. Josh Egan was the man responsible for causing that havoc, making Jed Harper-Penman head one off the line, Oliver tip a low drive onto the post and seeing Adams fizz an effort just wide.
So when Turner burst through to score, it was a body-blow to Athletic, but they were soon back on level terms.
Adams found space on 28 minutes and crossed from the right. That ball found James Stinson in the box and he pulled back to Joe Tumelty who curled into the far top corner.
It was an excellent way to draw his side level, but perhaps was outdone as Barnstaple restored their lead six minutes before the break.
Harper-Penman was tripped 25 yards from goal and Gregory, who was positioned centrally, curled the ball expertly into the top right corner.
Going into the game they were two teams desperately out of form, but both served up three first-half goals anyone in the lofty league positions would have been proud of.
Five minutes after the break it was all square again. Robert Hobbs slipped a ball between James Mayne and Aaron Harper-Penman, Oliver came rushing off his line and brought down his man.
The Barum keeper pleaded with referee James Durkin that he took ball before man, but the man in the middle was unmoved. As was Jamie Lyons who slotted the resulting spot-kick into the bottom corner.
But Blake then took centre stage, notching his third and fourth goals in Barnstaple red to move them 10 points clear of the bottom two.
Barnstaple Town (3-5-2): Steve Oliver; James Mayne, Aaron Harper-Penman, Craig Allan; Scott Huxtable, Jed Harper-Penman (Shaun Copp 74), Ross Middleton (Lee Francis 60), Niall Heeney, Liam Gregory; Ryan Turner, James Blake (Kyle Paine 80). Subs not used: Scott Sharp, Steve Holland.
Larkhall Athletic (3-4-2-1): Ben John; Neil Arndale, Ed Dryden, Jake Gardner; Jay Adams, Joe Raynes (Jack Allward 70), Robert Hobbs, Jamie Lyons; Joe Tumelty, Josh Egan (Ben Brooks 27); James Stinson. Subs not used: Gerraint Bater, Dan Restorick, Stuart Tovey.
Referee: James Durkin.