Bluebirds ready themselves for nine games in four weeks.

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ILFRACOMBE Town manager Ross Middleton has called on his players to dig deep ahead of an epic Western League schedule that will see them play nine games in four weeks.

The Bluebirds slipped to a frustrating 3-1 defeat at Winterbourne United on Saturday but Middleton is hoping for a reaction, starting with tonight’s (Wednesday’s) trip to Buckland Athletic.

He said: “We have games thick and fast now so you can’t dwell on any results. I love playing midweek games and with nine games in four weeks it’s going to be a great challenge for the squad.”

Ilfracombe’s unbeaten run of 2013 was swiftly halted at lowly Winterbourne, who in fairness, looked every bit as lethargic and out of match practice.

The hosts have hit some form in recent games, winning two of their last three – and with a tireless strike force, you could see why.

Their movement and direct approach caused the Combe rearguard all sorts of trouble and the pressure finally told and Winterbourne took a deserved lead through Jack Pitcher.

‘Combe were by no means playing at their best but with Tom Rossiter and Ryan Turner up front they always looked dangerous.

The two strikers combined well only for Turner to lob the ball over both the goalkeeper and the goal.

Ten minutes later, Rossiter set up Steve Holland who found himself in acres of space inside the 18 yard box but was unable to round the keeper.

After the break, Combe started to win the individual battles and were much quicker to the ball.

Turner turned sharply and tested his range with a strike from outside the box and it didn’t take long for him to find the break through, Steve Holland flicking the ball into his path for a cooly taken side foot shot around the keeper.

Combe deserved the equaliser and at the time were looking the far more likely to win.

But Winterbourne had different ideas and punished Combe for some sloppy defending late in the game.

Pitcher reacted quickest when a poorly cleared cross was whipped back in to head into the net from five yards out.

Middleton brought on Edd Yeo, Billy Tucker and Kevin Darch as they looked to get back into the game but the hosts added a late third by Aaron Wilson.

“It was not a good day at the office,” said Middleton.

“We made some late changes which seemed to effect us in the first half but it’s not an excuse by any means.

“I rate every player in this squad and have no problems swapping and changing them when we have to.

“I’m disappointed with our lack of fight in the first half. We seem to struggle against the so-called lower teams, with most of them below us having taken points off us, and that’s something we’ll have to address.”

Meanwhile Barnstaple found themselves 5-0 down after 23 minutes at home to mid-table Odd Down on Saturday.

A Jed Harper-Penman penalty was the only chink of light for the hosts who now sit eight points adrift at the bottom of the table.

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