BARNSTAPLE Town started 2017 the way they ended 2016 – with a Devon derby defeat.
After a Boxing Day defeat to Bideford capped off last year, Barnstaple made the short trip down the link road to Tiverton Town to raise the curtain on the next 12 months.
Barry Yeo will hope their second-half performance is a sign of things to come in Evo-Stik League Southern as, despite suffering a ninth defeat in 10 Division One South and West games, his side gave more than enough in their 2-1 defeat to show they will not go down without a fight.
Barnstaple were on the front foot and pushing for an equaliser when the game descended into carnage with both sides having two players sent off in the last five minutes.
Aaron Harper-Penman was shown a straight red card for a lunge on substitute Mike Smith. That was the cue for a mass brawl which lasted more than five minutes. Referee Phillip Eddie singled out Ryan Turner and Tiverton’s Rob Norrish for their involvement and booked the pair. Both had already received cautions so were sent off.
Five minutes into stoppage-time, Jamie Price was also shown a second yellow card for a late challenge on Liam Gregory.
Tiverton were without their deadly forward duo of Levi Landricombe and Owen Howe – both sent off in their Boxing Day reverse at Taunton Town – but, in the end, they did not need them.
Landricombe and Howe have a combined tally of 36 goals, exactly double that Barnstaple started the day on, but it was two Jamies who had the home team in control at half-time.
Jamie Short opened the deadlock with an improvised lob from the edge of the box and Price doubled that lead as he sent a bullet header past Steve Oliver.
Arguably the only time the prolific Landricombe was missed was on the stroke of half-time. Tom Bath found himself clean through but, with almost too much time on his hands, lacked composure and miscued horribly wide.
Tiverton were nearly made to pay for that miss as Barnstaple were much improved after the break.
Gregory got them back into it with 68 minutes on the clock. The pressure had been building before the wing-back ghosted in from the left and headed home via the outstretched leg of Ben Mammola, whose deflection gave goalkeeper Joe Perry no chance.
There was only one team in the ascendancy after that goal, Barnstaple pushing forward at every opportunity and almost snatching an equaliser when Gregory’s dangerous cross was scrambled inches past the post.
The visitors had made a steady start to the game but Tiverton simply looked too strong in the first half.
After 18 minutes, Ben Carter’s deep free-kick was half-cleared to the edge of the box by Barnstaple keeper Oliver. The ball fell to Short and he hooked an excellent effort over everyone in red and into the back of the net.
It was 2-0 five minutes after that – and it was far simpler this time. Nick Hurst floated a corner to fellow wing-back Price to power a header home.
Then came a second half of madness in which Gregory give Barnstaple hope and four men went for early baths.
Barnstaple will look back on this as an opportunity missed, but Tiverton carry on in second place.
Tiverton Town (3-5-2): Joe Perry; Ben Mammola, Steve Kingdon, Michael Landricombe; Nick Hurst, Ben Carter, Rob Norrish, Jamie Short (Tiegan Rosenquest 78), Jamie Price; Dean Stamp (Mike Smith 73), Tom Bath. Subs not used: Jordan Walton, George Rogers.
Barnstaple Town (3-5-2): Steve Oliver; Craig Allan, Aaron Harper-Penman, James Mayne; Scott Huxtable (Steve Holland 84), Niall Heeney, Jed Harper-Penman, Ross Middleton, Liam Gregory; Scott Sharp (James Blake 28), Ryan Turner. Subs not used: Kyle Paine, Dave Pearse, Jimmy Thorne.
Referee: Phillip Eddie. Attendance: 341.