Ilfracombe Town celebrated their first game for a month by inflicting only the third defeat of the season on third placed Bishop Sutton.

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On home turf for the first time since mid-November, Combe treated their supporters to a deserved 2-1 victory.

Both teams were rusty in the early exchanges, but Combe started the brightest, having a shot off target in the first five minutes.

Sutton had beaten Combe 4-1 in their previous encounter, so it was no surprise when they started to get their passing game together and tested home keeper Steve Oliver, who had to react quickly to make two good saves from Peter Sheppard and Bill Downes. But Combe looked dangerous themselves, with Edd Yeo bullying the back four and Steve Holland, Billy Tucker and Lee Francis all finding space in dangerous areas.

Tucker instigated the opening goal after good work from Francis, who put defender Nathan Loader under enough pressure to scuff his back pass. The ball went straight to Tucker, who rounded the keeper, but was brought down. The referee gave advantage as Holland rushed in to tap into an empty net.

Sutton put Combe under pressure in the second half and after a succession of corners and throw-ins the pressure told as Billy Downes equalised with a header from five yards.

But Combe did not let it faze them as both keepers were called into making saves soon after the goal.

Manager Ross Middleton brought on fresh legs as the heavy pitch was taking its toll. Shaun Lewis replaced Yeo up front, then Shaun Copp replaced Holland on the wing - and made an instant impact.

A neatly worked free kick was rolled back into his path and with his first touch of the ball he smashed his shot into the top corner from all of 30 yards for a worthy winner any game.

Manager Middleton said: “I’m chuffed to bits for the lads. We changed a few things today, but they have to make it happen on the pitch and they certainly did that. I believe we have a very strong squad and that showed today. We had four missing and all three lads who came off the bench made an impact, none more so than Coppy, of course. We know he’s capable of something special and it was an absolute screamer. It’s an encouraging result for us as a squad, Sutton had only lost two games all season. But we’ve got another six games this month, so I’ll be looking for some consistency from now on.”

Combe are away to Wells City this Saturday.

Bulley bouyant

BARNSTAPLE’S first match under new manager Tom Bulley ended with a 3-0 defeat away to Melksham.

But Bulley remains bouyant and is confident that Town will come good with a little more time.

“This was a massive improvement from when I saw them beaten by Bishop Sutton,” he said. “We played some good football in spells. I don’t think they outplayed us, I feel we matched them. It was looking like 0-0 at half-time, but we let in a sloppy goal just before the break and they scored again within two minutes of the re-start. That was a bit soul destroying.

“No excuses, but we had not played for a month and there were new signings in the team. They had not all played together.

“The players all performed well. It’s not going to happen overnight. I have not had a chance to look at allthe players properly yet. It was an eye opener to see them in a match situation. We just need a bit of direction. It will take a couple of games to put things together. I took the positives from the game and there were a lot.”

Barnstaple’s new additions were young striker Matt Rickard and winger Jed Harper Penman, both of whom have been with Plymouth Argyle. Connor Nash also impressed the manager on his step up from North Devon League football.

But it’s not going to get any easier, with Town’s next game at home to league leaders Brislington on Saturday and then the re-scheduled local derby at home to Ilfracombe next Tuesday.

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