BARNSTAPLE Town’s unbeaten run stretched to six games as they battled to a well-earned draw with Mangotsfield United.
It was a game which, again, boosted Barnstaple’s Evo-Stik League Southern Division One South and West survival hopes, and dented Mangotsfield’s bid for a play-off spot.
The Mangos may now be unbeaten in seven on the road, but their six-game winning streak away from home was ended by this competitive 1-1 draw.
It could have been even better for Barry Yeo’s side but James Mayne’s header was an inch too high when he met Liam Gregory’s corner in the 88th minute.
That was the best of the second-half chances, following a 45 minutes which was largely played out as a midfield battle in difficult conditions as the heavens opened in North Devon.
It was a stark contrast to an entertaining first 45 minutes, in which Craig Allan’s third goal of the season was cancelled out by a sublime Matt Groves equaliser.
Mangotsfield started like a team with purpose. They penned their hosts in and Barnstaple had barely touched the ball after two minutes.
Goalkeeper Steve Oliver was the only player that had – he pulled off a fine save from Mitch Tippens’s strike from the edge of the box, before referee Sean Rothwell then waved away loud penalty claims from United.
But Barnstaple weathered the early storm and started to impose themselves on a side who have been in the promotion picture since the first whistle was blown in August.
Kyle Paine, one of two former North Devon League strikers plying his trade four tiers higher, shot high of the near post on the break.
Scott Sharp, the other of the two, should have done better after nine minutes when Allan nodded Jack Jenkins’ cross into his path, but the former Boca Seniors striker missed his kick.
Barum’s performance belied the 11-place gap between the two at kick-off, as did the scoreline after 11 minutes.
Jed Harper-Penman embarked on a solo run down the left, whipped a ball across where Allan was waiting to sweep home into the bottom corner.
Harper-Penman could have had a second seven minutes before the break but he blazed over after Jenkins teed him up.
But Mangotsfield didn’t start the day level on points with fifth place for no reason, and had equalised after 26 minutes in spectacular style.
Groves may have been given too much time and respect from the Barnstaple rearguard to travel across to the right, 25 yards from goal, but there was nothing anyone could do about the strike. Groves drilled with his right across Oliver and into the top left corner. It was some equaliser.
Lewis Powell, Mangotsfield’s 20-goal hitman this season, was being excellently marshalled by Mayne. The one time the former Taunton Town striker thought he could turn, Mayne crunched into a fine tackle to stop him in his tracks. Powell didn’t last beyond half-time and was replaced by Caman Harvey at the break.
Instead, it was Liam Monelle who should have had the visitors ahead by the break. He broke the offside trap and ran in on goal. The composure was missing as Oliver denied him with his legs.
The second period didn’t quite live up to the first, but the home side showed they could do the dirty side of the game to see out the point.
A boost for Barnstaple was the return of Aaron Harper-Penman – only his second game of the year following suspension.
The captain was thrust into a target-man role up top. It showed the versatility Barnstaple needed to maintain their unbeaten record.
Barnstaple Town (4-4-2): Steve Oliver; Scott Huxtable, James Mayne, Craig Allan, Liam Gregory; Jed Harper-Penman, Jack Jenkins, Lee Francis, Steve Holland (Ross Middleton 72); Kyle Paine (Brian Levien 84), Scott Sharp (Aaron Harper-Penman 81). Subs not used: Jimmy Thorne, Niall Heeney.
Mangotsfield United (3-4-1-2): Steven Phillips; Ryan Batten, Scott Brice, Tom Warren; Ben Whitney, Lewis Hogg, Mitch Tippens (George Lloyd 79), Tom Fry (Connor McCormack 70); Matt Groves; Liam Monelle, Lewis Powell (Caman Harvery 46). Subs not used: Jack Harris, Dale Evans.
Referee: Sean Rothwell.