Barnstaple Town kept their Evo-Stik Division One South survival hopes alive with a 4-1 victory over Fleet Town this afternoon (Saturday).
In a six-pointer between the two sides at the bottom of the table, Barnstaple produced one of their most impressive performances of the season when it mattered to move off the foot of the table.
Barnstaple raced into a three-goal lead in the first half as they harnessed horrific conditions at Mill Road. Jack Rice-Lethaby got them off the mark inside 10 minutes, before Harry Stevens and Saddam Bello added the second and third as they took advantage of an end-to-end wind.
Barum looked superior for the majority of the match, but Fleet looked set to rally in the second half after Ronan Silva turned in from a corner just shy of the hour.
Stevens quickly restored the three-goal cushion with a close range finish after 64 minutes.
The only dampener after such an impressive performance was third-from-bottom Mangotsfield’s 3-1 win at home to Larkhall Athletic, which keeps a five-point cushion between Barum and safety, but Aaron Harper-Penman’s side will take confidence into the final throws of the season after such an important win.
Barnstaple were imperious in the first half, using the conditions to their advantage and finishing clinically to take the upper hand.
Rice-Lethaby struck with nine minutes on the clock, but the deadlock could have been broken a lot sooner but for a string of fine saves from Fleet goalkeeper James Stroud. Steven Reed saw a free kick tipped away from the top corner by Stroud, who then kept out another from Jed Harper-Penman.
Harper-Penman’s corner in the 10th minute saw the Fleet goalkeeper get a hand to it, but the ball dropped favourably to Rice-Lethaby, who got the ball out of his feet and fired through the bodies to give Barnstaple the lead.
Injury forced player-manager Aaron Harper-Penman off immediately after the goal, but it didn’t put the hosts out of their rhythm.
They caused Fleet difficulties from goal kicks and the visitors struggled to get out of their half. It was from one of those restarts that the second goal came.
Stroud’s kick looped up in the air and drifted back into the path of Bello, who touched the ball in behind the Fleet backline for Stevens to prod past the onrushing keeper.
More pressure from restarts led to the third 15 minutes before the break, with Bello collecting the ball before rounding Stroud and tapping in.
With the wind such a factor, Barnstaple would have been wary of it becoming the proverbial game of two halves after the break, and kept the ball on the ground as much as possible.
Silva reduced the deficit for Fleet just before the hour when he turned in from a corner, and with the wind not letting up, tensions began to creep in amongst the crowd at Mill Road.
Stevens’ second soon eased those nerves seven minutes later. The striker was left with a simple finish from close range after Jack Langford’s shot from wide in the penalty area was parried into his path by Stroud.
Barnstaple had half chances to add to their tally in the closing stages, with Scott Sharp looking dangerous on the break after coming on as a late sub.
Barnstaple Town: Oliver, Humphreys, Reed, Montague, Nancekivell, A Harper-Penman (Cameron 10), J Harper-Penman, Rice-Lethaby (Glover 88), Stevens, Langford, Bello (Sharp 84). Subs not used: Cann, Darragh.
Fleet Town: Stroud, Avenell (Leat 70), Boye, Atkinson, Silva, Neale-Kelly, Williams, Plaize-Carr (Kirwan 47), Selby, Wickens. Sub not used: Plackett.