Ashes mark Western League return in emphatic fashion
Saltash United’s campaign got off to a good start with victory over Tavistock PICTURE: DAZHANDS PHOTOGRAPHY
By Gareth Davies
Second-half strikes from Callum O’Brien and substitute Josh Crocker saw the Ashes return to Western League football with a comfortable win over a toothless Tavistock outfit.
Both teams kept their respective powders dry during the first half with Reece Thomson’s fifth minute effort, which was well saved by Tavvy stopper Josh Oak, the nearest either side came to breaking the deadlock.
The game then sprung into life on the hour mark when O’Brien headed home Jarrad Woods’ teasing free-kick before Crocker, just three minutes into his Saltash competitive debut, sealed a deserved victory.
In front of a bumper crowd of 231, home boss Dane Bunney handed first competitive starts to summer recruits Tom Cleveland and Woods while Crocker, who moved to Kimberley from Plymouth Argyle earlier this month, took his place on the bench.
Tavistock, meanwhile, were forced to bring in St Blazey striker Mark Gusterson as an 11th hour dual-registered signing as they were beset by unavailability in forward areas. Both teams settled well into the clash and after the Lambs saw a couple of half chances drift wide of the target, it was the home side that had the first chance of note.
O’Brien neatly worked the ball into the feet of Thomson and his curling effort looked set to ripple the net before Tavistock stopper Oak, at full stretch, tipped the ball round the post. The resulting flagkick saw the ball break to Woods in a shooting position, but Oak gathered easily.
As the half wore on, neither team could gain the upper hand with further sights of Oak’s goal by Thomson and Sam Farrant passed up while home stopper Ryan Rickard remained a virtual spectator for long periods.
After the interval, Tavistock dominated the ball for the first 10 minutes but could not find a way past a Saltash defence which was superbly marshalled by O’Brien. The hosts then upped the ante in Tavvy territory as Woods’ neat reverse pass saw Cleveland in on goal, but the former Liskeard hit-man saw his weak shot deflected behind.
Thomson then had a close range effort chalked off for offside before the first goal of the game arrived on 61 minutes. Saltash won a free-kick just inside the Tavistock half and Woods’ fine back post delivery saw O’Brien rise highest to power his header home.
Going ahead visibly lifted Saltash and they went in search of more. A lung-busting run and cross from Thomson reached Cleveland only for the woodwork to deny Saltash a second.
The Lambs’ goal was leading a charmed life and only a desperate clearance resulted in Thomson’s flicked effort, from O’Brien’s header, not crossing the line. Cleveland, who impressed throughout was withdrawn on 66 minutes and was replaced by Crocker who had an almost instant impact after entering the fray.
Neat play in midfield released Woods and after passing to Thomson, the rangy Ashes front man was in on goal. His powerful strike was parried skywards by the onrushing Oak and it was then left to Crocker, who headed over the line from close range.
With just over 15 minutes remaining, Saltash had some real breathing space but Tavistock, who have been serious contenders for top spot over the course of the last two, aborted seasons, weren’t done just yet. They had the ball in Rickard’s net twice as time ticked down and, on both occasions, their efforts from were ruled out for offside.
On 82 minutes, substitute Brad Austen tapped home at the far post but the flag was raised. Just 90 seconds later and a similar fate befell Austen and the Lambs as Josh Robins’ brilliant centre was swept home.
Once again, the assistant referee’s flag went up and the goal was chalked off. Despite Tavistock boss Stuart Henderson bemoaning this call post-match, none of his players appealed this perceived injustice at the time.
With a grandstand finish averted for Saltash, the home side then came close to adding even more polish to a fine afternoon’s work. Crocker was denied by Oak and in the dying embers, Barker blazed over when well positioned with the final whistle and conformation of three brilliant points arriving soon after.