Sidmouth Town 0 Exmouth Town 1

Saturday 26th November 2011
Sidmouth Town 0 Exmouth Town 1
Carlsberg South-West Peninsula League Division 1 East
At: Manstone Lane
Kick-off: 2-15 pm
Admission: £3 including 28 page programme
Attendance: 50 (headcount)
Weather: cloudy, dry
Duration: first-half: 48:47; second-half: 49:58

Back at ‘pitch-side’ following a seven-day break, and a real change of scenery with a match 180 miles from home in a relatively new league rarely sampled by me before. This local derby was keenly contested with a couple of Sidmouth red cards, decisions for the locals to debate and also something I can’t recall seeing before. One goal was enough to settle the game, a hotly disputed-penalty converted by Exmouth’s Alastair Sawyer in the 77th minute, the awarding of which had led to Sidmouth’s club linesman being sent-off.

As an added bonus, I enjoyed the company of four fellow football travellers during the second half – two from Liverpool (one wearing a Dundee United scarf and New Zealand cap), one from Leicester who supported Northampton and another from nearby Exeter.

A family visit to nearby Honiton took me 8 or so miles further south down the A375 to Sidmouth for just my second Carlsberg South-West Peninsula League game. Over the years I’d seen plenty of game in the old Devon League games, the league which merged with the South Western League in 2007, at places like Ottery St Mary, Alphington, Stoke Gabriel, Topsham Town, et al. Good memories.

The ground on Manstone Road was easy to find on the right travelling south from the B3175 and along the drive, a pay table was set up selling programme. I arrived early and picked up my copy from the bar. The pitch on the far side of a larger recreation ground was railed off on the far touchline and behind the right-hand goal with the other two sides roped off. Recently installed hard-standing ran the length of the far touchline, behind the dugouts, though the ground does not yet have any covered standing or floodlights.

Today’s game pitted newly promoted Sidmouth Town, the 2010/11 Devon and Exeter League Champions, with the league leaders Exmouth Town, neighbours from 10 miles along the coast. Sidmouth (13th with 15 points from 14 games) made an impressive start to life in Division 1 East by winning their opening four games. However, they then lost every league games in September and October, a run of eight straight defeats, including a 2-1 reverse at Exmouth. A 2-1 win at Teignmouth two weeks ago ended that run though last Saturday they went down 4-0 at home to Newton Abbott Spurs.

Visitors and league leaders Exmouth (31 points from 14 games) moved to the top of the table last Saturday with a 4-0 win over Ottery St Mary, their seventh victory in eight league games. As well as the mentioned league game, Exmouth hosted Sidmouth three weeks ago in the Devon Premier Cup and won 3-2.

Sidmouth (in all green and nicknamed The Vikings) got the game underway attacking the Manstone Lane end with rain-threatening dark clouds overhead. League leaders Exmouth (in all blue) soon started to create chances but found home keeper Luke Ashford in fine form.

The visitors were awarded a free-kick on the left which James Turner fired towards goal. Ashford got his boot in the way of the ball and produced a stunning reaction save to keep out David O’Connor’s follow-up.

The opening 20 minutes were certainly competitive to say the least and things finally boiled over right in front of me (positioned near to the dugouts). I got a good view of the incident and the referee had little choice other than to show a straight red card to tall Sidmouth central defender Mark Badcock. The only decision that Mr McGuffog had to make concerned the other central figure in the incident, Turner, and he chose not to even things up by showing just a yellow card to the Exmouth captain.

Now facing just ten men, Exmouth continued to dominate without success up to the half-time whistle. Ashford continued to impress and pushed over a dipping left-foot volley from Turner. Five minutes before half-time, Exmouth were urged to ‘step up another gear’ and Turner sent a glancing header wide from Jamie Moore’s right-wing cross.

Back into the clubhouse during the interval, I headed straight to the tea bar set up at the far end next to the skittles alley.

Looking skywards at the start of the second half, the earlier rain-threatening clouds didn’t look so menacing and indeed not a drop of rain fell during the entire match.

The second half started by following the same pattern as before – Exmouth threatening, Sidmouth resolutely defending and Ashton seemingly unbeatable. The keeper produced yet another save to parry a snap shot from O’Connor at the expense of a corner.

Discussion amongst the hoppers concluded that ‘Exmouth have goals in them as they have been scoring regularly’. Yet a 30-yard drive from Sidmouth’s Adam Whitty drew applause as it flew just over the bar. One of the hoppers was more keen than most for a goal, though not quite in a 'Tram' sort of way (those who know the man from Garstang will know what I mean).

Ashton tipped over a header from O’Connor before another key incident occurred which ultimately earned the three points from Exmouth. The referee spotted Kyle Bassett being manhandled inside the area and awarded a penalty which upset Sidmouth to say the least. Club linesman Kevin Trivett was sent-off for protesting the decision and after a delay of some three minutes, Ali Sawyer sent Ashton the wrong way from the spot. The goal was timed by me in the 77th minute.

As the ball went in, one of the Liverpool hoppers shouted “121” to announce his run of games with a goal had been extended to 121 games. For what it is worth, my run of goalscoring games was extended to a mere 23!

Exmouth almost quickly scored a second goal. O’Connor burst through only to see his shot kept out by Ashton’s outstretched boot.

Sidmouth lost another player in the 81st minute. Darren Thomas, booked for protesting the award of the penalty, picked up a second yellow card for a foul on Turner.

The Vikings’ nine men pressed for an equaliser and a 30-yard left-foot free-kick by Andrew Thomson was pushed over the bar by Sandy Allen who remained alert. Hugh Johnson lashed the ball wide from the resulting corner.

0-1 Alastair Sawyer (77 pen)

Sidmouth: Mark Badcock (RC, 21), Darren Thomas (YC/RC, 81)