MULTI champions Boca Seniors kicked off their new season as favourites once again for the North Devon League Premier Division title – but the opening games have already shown that it will be no easy task, with familiar opponents having strengthened and new contenders rising through the ranks.
Boca opened their account with a win at home to Shamwickshire Rovers, but they had to come from behind before taking the points 3-2.
Boca began well, but early possession did not result in a goal and Shammy gained in confidence to create chances of their own before opening the scoring on 40 minutes when the champions’ defence failed to deal with a long throw and the ball was slotted home at the back post by Andy Allin.
The goal spurred Boca to greater efforts and they drew level on the stroke of half-time with an equaliser by Giles Daniel. They seized the initiative to dominate the opening exchanges of the second half and took control with further goals by Mark Barrow and James Davey.
But Shamwickshire stuck to their task and capitalised on a lapse in concentration at the back to reduce the deficit with a second goal by Tom Barton.
Last season’s runners-up Braunton signalled their intentions early, scoring within seconds of the start at home to Dolton and going on to win 6-2.
Scott Maynard headed the first from a corner, Sam Box marked his return to the club with a second and Callumk Norman made it 3-0 before Dolton pulled one back through Rob Knight before the break. James Galliford, a second from Box and Ross Maynard made it 6-1, but Dolton refused to give up and Will Folland pulled back another near the end.
Fellow contenders North Molton, who finished third last season, also showed their form with a 6-0 win away to Barnstaple AAC. They started brightly and were 3-0 up in 25 minutes with goals by Liam Craze, Tyson Chugg and Ed Jenkins. Trying to force the game, they lost momentum for a while, but regained their composure to add more from Greg Holland (2) and debutant Jamie Gifford, who came on as a substitute.
Bradworthy made an ominous start, too, with a 2-1 win over Ilfracombe Town Reserves to follow an unbeaten run in their pre-season games.
Ilfracombe took a 15th minute through Colin Woodcock, but Bradworthy upped the tempo in search of an equaliser and soon found it when Lee Clarke sent a cracking strike straight into the net when he turned his marker and shot from 20 yards.
They eventually broke the deadlock in the 85th minute when Dan Furse split the Ilfracombe defence with an excellent pass that found Nick Lapham, who smashed the ball past the advancing keeper for the winner.
Meanwhile, Premier division new boys Bideford Reserves maintained their winning ways.
The unbeaten champions of the Senior Division last term showed they are up to the challenge of the higher division, opening with a 3-0 win away to Putford. The winning squad as last season has been bolstered by a handful of additional players, including Will Nicholls from Shammy, who hit two of the goals, and Aaron Stevens, who marked his return after a year out by scoring the other.
Georgeham opened their account with a 2-1 win over other newly-promoted side Chittlehampton.
They went ahead with a goal by Connor Stapley, but Chittle were back on terms before the break. Then came an early contender for goal of the season when Chris Sanders hit a free kick from just inside his own half for the second half winner.