Ilfracombe Town 1-3 Cadbury Heath

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Ilfracombe ground staff did an excellent job to get the pitch at Marlborough Park playable on Saturday afternoon, but it was all downhill from there for the home side as they suffered a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Cadbury Heath and lost three players to serious-looking injuries.

Both teams started brightly and were attempting to play on a heavy pitch, but with only 20 minutes gone Ilfracombe captain James Mayne got his legs tangled making a tackle and was unable to continue after damaging his groin.

Combe had to reshuffle; Ross Middleton came off the bench with Kane Dryden moving into the back four alongside Gary Skinner, Kevin Darch and Ian Cockwill.

Cadbury quickly took advantage of the reshuffle as their right winger smashed the visitors in front.

Things got worse on 40 minutes when top scorer Stan Paxton had to be replaced after feeling unwell. Shaun Lewis took his place in attack.

When Combe did find a good piece of passing play they got their reward, with Mark Clunie forcing the keeper into a good save after intricate passing between Middleton and Darch. Clunie’s corner flew straight into the Cadbury net to give them a lifeline just before half time.

Combe looked fired up in the second half, pushing forward with far more purpose, but with Jamie Bright and Ian Cockwill both carrying knocks from the first half, the Bluebirds were forced to replace Steve Holland after he damaged his foot making a tackle.

The game turned scrappy as both teams struggled with the heavy conditions but it was Cadbury who adapted better. They found the break through midway through the half and the pitch played its part.

After some neat build up play a tame shot appeared to hit a divot and bounce over the outstretched Kurtis Parkin in goal.

If he was rueing his luck for the second goal, the third was even worse as Cadbury’s left winger miss-hit a cross which flew over Parkin’s head into the top corner. It sealed the victory and left Combe sat one place above the relegation zone but with up to five games in hand on their rivals.

“We’re frustrated, we didn’t get going at all but we were still well in the game,” said Ilfracombe manager Ross Middleton. “We lost our captain and top scorer in the first half and then lose Stevey (Holland) right at the start of the second.

“It meant we played about 55 minutes with 10 men as Bright’s groin was hanging on by a thread, he could hardly move but he showed tremendous attitude by soldiering through.

“It still took a bit of luck for Cadbury to get the break through in the second half so credit to the lads for not folding, but we have a lot of work to do. I expect to win these games regardless of injuries, I trust lads to get out and do a bit on their own away from training but a few looked like they’ve had too much Christmas pudding.

“We play a high tempo game and that was seriously lacking today, we need to get back up to full fitness asap.”

Ilfracombe travel to table topping Larkhall on Saturday with Ilfracombe still the only side to take points off the league leaders this season, with a 1-1 draw back in September.

“The injuries are a big worry. Stan and Josh (Heafield) should be fine and hopefully Lewis Ovey will recover in time for Saturday but it looks like Mayner, Bright and Holland could all be out for a couple weeks. I’ll keep my fingers crossed and hope for good news as we can’t afford too many injuries.

“We have a small squad as it is and we don’t have the budget to go out and sign two or three ready made replacements.

“Lads who have been waiting for a chance will have to step up and I’ve got no doubt they will.”

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