DEFENDER Craig Allan’s 83rd-minute header earned Barnstaple Town a share of the spoils in their first ever Southern League game today.
Allan marked his competitive debut for Barum – after signing from relegated Paulton Rovers – with the equaliser in a 1-1 draw with Yate Town.
The centre-back was waiting at the back post for Jed Harper-Penman’s corner and showed all his Southern League knowledge and know-how to judge the flight of the ball and poke it into the roof of the net after Kane Manning, the Yate goalkeeper, had missed his clearance.
It was that kind of moment which vindicates manager Barry Yeo for making Allan his “key priority” to bring in during pre-season.
With James Mayne taken off injured after the half-hour mark and the ever-reliable Aaron Harper-Penman struggling with a knee injury late on, Allan rose to the occasion.
He was commanding in the air, good on the ball and vocal throughout.
One slight blot on the copybook would have been if Sacha Tong punished his short backpass after six minutes. Steve Oliver raced off his line and grabbed hold of the attempted chip.
A point was only what Barnstaple’s second-half pressure had warranted. They bossed proceedings after the break and just lacked the killer instinct to haul themselves level.
Substitute Shaun Copp’s dangerous low ball just evaded a touch, with Scott Huxtable picking up the pieces and crossing for Lee Francis who headed straight into the arms of Manning.
In contrast, their first-half performance was a shadow of what they are capable of.
After back-to-back promotions to Evo-Stik League Southern Division One South and West, there was a hint of irony that it was a former Western League striker who looked intent on doing the damage before Allan’s late leveller.
Tong left Bitton to join Yate in February and it was the tall frontman who posed the biggest threat before breaking his wrist on the hour.
He put himself about the Barnstaple back three, going in strong on Mayne after 20 minutes. Mayne lasted just 13 minutes more before limping off.
And two minutes after that, the majority of the 286-strong crowd at Mill Road were silenced.
Copp – who went on for Mayne – had a quick free-kick charged down, Yate broke with pace and left-back Kye Thomas whipped an inswinging ball from the touchline. Tong climbed highest and flicked his header into the far corner past the reach of Oliver.
Before that goal, Barnstaple had looked edgy, nerves seeming to get the better of them in an uncharacteristic first-half which Yate had the better of.
Kyle Thomas looked dangerous on the right and Tong had an acrobatic hook saved by Oliver at the second attempt.
But as the half reached its conclusion the tide started to turn, Kye Mountford headed onto his own post and Copp had a goalbound effort blocked.
Striker James Blake was introduced for his first competitive appearance in the second period – but the former Willand man couldn’t upstage fellow debutant Allan, who made sure Town’s Southern League didn’t get off to a losing start.
Barnstaple Town (3-5-2): Steve Oliver; Craig Allan, Aaron Harper-Penman, James Mayne (Shaun Copp 33); Scott Huxtable (Jed Harper-Penman 65), Niall Heeney, Jack Jenkins, Lee Francis, Liam Gregory; Dave Pearse, Ryan Turner (James Blake 73). Subs not used: Scott Sharp, Kyle Paine.
Yate Town (4-5-1): Kane Manning; Mayson Evans, Ciaron Greening, Matt Guy, Kye Thomas (Greg Andrew 79); Kyle Thomas, Cameron Harvey, Tom Harrison, Kye Mountford, Laurent Davis-Williams (John Rendall 90); Sacha Tong (Josh Morgan-Williams 58). Subs not used: Darren Edwards, Nathan Gore.
Referee: Lee Roberts