Both North Devon teams ended their Toolstation Western League seasons with away defeats.
Ilfracombe lost 3-2 at Larkhall Athletic while Barnstaple Town were defeated 1-0 at Gillingham Town.
This means Ilfracombe finish in 16th spot out of the 20 Premier Division teams, with Barnstaple anchored at the bottom.
After creating a hatful of clear cut chances Combe should have finished their season on a win, but were again punished for mistakes. They dominated most of the first half and Shaun Lewis - making his final appearance before retiring - made the early breakthrough. Stan Paxton jinked his way to the byline before crossing for Lewis to tap in. But his afternoon was cut short after suffering a deep cut in a clash of heads.
James Mayne made a misjudgement at the back, letting the ball bounce over his head to give Tyler Sibbick a free shot at goal for the Larkhall equaliser.
Combe won a penalty when the keeper brought down Billy Tucker. But Paxton’s spotkick was saved and so was Mayne’s header from the resulting corner. They continued to press, but a trio of chances were missed before Tucker was brought down again and this time Paxton made no mistake with the penalty for a 2-1 half-time lead.
The second half was much of the same. Combe pressed, but although they went close, were unable to finish.
Larkhall drew level with a Sibbick spotkick, after which Combe struggled to maintain their focus and Sibbick took advantage to grab the matchwinner, despite numerous opportunities for Combe to catch up, including a disallowed ‘goal’ by Tucker.
Their season over, manager Middleton said: “I want all the lads to stay together as the team has really clicked in the last nine or 10 games. They’re playing some outstanding football and when we learn to be more ruthless at both ends we’ll be a very tough team to beat next season.”
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Barnstaple were also disappointed by their narrow defeat against one of the league’s premier teams, beaten by a solitary goal by league top scorer Lee Gale, his 37th of the season.
“It was one of our better games since I have been in charge,” said manager Tom Bulley.
“It was a good result considering that we only had the bare 11 players and I felt we deserved a draw. Defenders Luke Evans and Keiron Jewell handled the league’s top scorer well and Jed Harper-Penman and Lewis Goss did well on the wings. But I could not fault anyone, I could not have asked more from them.”
Now starts Barnstaple’s restructuring in preparation for next season in a lower division and their bid to make a speedy climb-back.
It was now time for him to start building a team of his own, said Bulley. He had already spoken to a number of players and there was a lot of interest, he said.
As Town’s rebuilding gets under way there would be a lot of news from the club in the weeks to come, he forecast.
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l CHARITY football match at Marlborough Park, Ilfracombe, Saturday, May 11.
Ilfracombe Town 11 v Fire Station 11. Kick off 2pm, entry £2. Proceeds to Gary’s Journey fund, to help Ilfracombe man Gary Marshall receive cancer treatment in America.