North Devon were a whisker away from an unlikely win over Premier front runners Exeter in a low-scoring affair in the Sandhills.

A rain delay limited North Devon’s innings to 40 overs and they struggled to make 135 for nine. Exeter collapsed over the line with their last pair at the crease.

Openers Tom Ansell (23) and Tom Popham (35) put on 48, but took nearly 16 overs about it against a tough bowling attack of Kiwi left-armer Phil Mecredy, England U19 stars Tom Lammonby (2-19) and Ethan Bamber (2-33) and Tom Pedel, who has a couple of Devon games under his belt.

Adrian Isherwood (19) and Ben Ward (12) found it slow going in the middle order as the spinners bogged them down.

Rob Holmam bowled four overs for seven runs and leg-spinner Ed Middleton, a new recruit from Clyst St George, took one for 17 from six.

Exeter found runs no easier to come by even after a rain break left them with a reduced target of 127 to chase in 36 overs.

Opener Holman made 33 of the first 48 on the board and Bamber (26) got the score up to 89 for eight.

Middleton, a Devon age-group player, joined Exeter wanting to test himself at a higher level. He certainly passed his first assessment with flying colours.

The 17-year-old went in at 89 for seven and batted through for an unbeaten 27, seeing Exeter over the line with last man Pedel unbeaten on nine at the other end.

North Devon seamers Jack Popham (2-23), Josh King (2-20) and skipper Matt Westaway (2-26) gave Exeter’s batters little scope to get on with it.

For North Devon it was a disappointing result after waiting three games to get off the mark against Bradninch seven days earlier.

Westaway agreed it was a bowlers’ game from start almost finish.

“I didn’t think we had anywhere near enough, but great discipline from the bowlers and good fielding kept us in contention.

“When Exeter were nine down and still needing 28 to win I thought we had them. But the last-wicket pair kept their cool and got them over the line.

“It was another really close game that could have gone either way. It was a very disappointed dressing room after the game but the message to the lads has got to be keep doing the same and I’m sure momentum will swing our way soon.”

North Devon are at home to Plymouth this Saturday.