Barnstaple Town marked their return to competitive football with a 2-0 win over Helston Athletic in the Emirates FA Cup.
A well-taken strike from Harry Clarke and a looping header from Saddam Bello saw Barum take victory in the preliminary round over their South West Peninsula League opponents and book a spot in the first qualifying round in the process.
While the hosts sit two divisions above Helston, they may well have considered themselves underdogs going into the match, but they produced a solid display and were good value for their win by the end – their first in the FA Cup since 2017.
The performance - one of the strongest in recent memory from Barum - will give fans plenty to feel hopeful about with the start of the Southern League Division One South season looming.
The FA Cup tie came more than six months since a 0-0 draw at home to Sholing in the last game of the cancelled 2019/20 season.
Brian Levien, Tony Radford, Yohan Rutty-Smith, Vincent Wight-Harper Innis and Adam Seedhouse – who made his debut in the final game – were the five players to return to the squad for the match against Helston, along with Bello.
Bello and new signing Theo Ofori had early chances to give Barnstaple the lead. Bello could and perhaps should have at least got shots away as he broke in behind the Helston backline twice inside 15 minutes, while Ofori drew two saves from goalkeeper Jason Robertson with efforts from both sides of the penalty area.
Plymouth Argyle loanee Ollie Tomlinson slotted into the centre of a Barum defence that proved resolute as the visitors ended the half strongly. A last-ditch effort from Levien stopped Mark Goldsworthy from getting a shot away inside the penalty area and a Neil Slateford shot at the back post from a corner was deflected wide just before half-time.
Helston’s best chance had come 10 minutes before the break when Billy Tucker’s corner was met by Ryan Beattie at the back post, only for his effort to go wide from close range.
Barum began the second half with intent. Nathan Cooper rattled the underside of the crossbar with a vicious shot from the edge of the penalty area, and minutes later a flowing move saw Ofori break into the box and square for Richard Achempong, whose effort was saved by the legs of Robertson.
The goal wasn’t long coming after that. Clarke, who impressed at left back in his debut for Barum, launched a left-footed effort from wide on the edge of the penalty area which beat Robertson and drifted into the top corner.
Barum lost Clarke to injury with 10 minutes remaining as the hosts looked to be tiring. With an improvised shape and the match opening up, Bello’s looping header with five minutes left gave them some much-needed breathing space.
Bello rose high at the back post to meet Ofori’s corner from the right, with his header back across goal settling not far off the same patch of netting that Clarke had hit 15 minutes earlier.
Barnstaple Town: Seedhouse, Levien, Clarke (Wight-Harper Innis 79), Radford, Tomlinson, Foster, Cooper, Bello (Ndi 85), Achempong, Ofori, Rutty-Smith. Sub not used: Larter.
Helston Athletic: Robertson, Timmons (Eddy 89), Mulready, Beattie, Harrison, Brokenshire, Slateford (Cattran 85), Bye, Tucker, Goldsworthy, Dingle (Buchan 64). Subs not used: Tonkin, Short, Storey, Daughtery.