Friday 30th March 2018, 1100 KO
Tavistock AFC vs Plymouth Parkway FC
The Build Up
The annual festival of eating chocolate eggs to mark Jesus making a greater comeback than Liverpool in Istanbul is upon us, and in the UK that means Bank Holidays. So, on Thursday afternoon I knocked off early and headed home to Cornwall for the Easter break, with a veritable feast of footy action planned. First on the agenda – a trip to Tavistock for a Carlsberg South West Peninsula League Premier Division early kick off.
Formed in 1888, Tavistock won promotion from Division One East in 2015, and spent no time at all acclimatising to the top flight. Having won the league for the first time last season, the Lambs elected not to seek promotion to the Toolstation Western League as the implications of Step 6 to 5 promotion in this corner of the country are severe. The majority of teams in the league are based around Bristol, with clubs as far away as Slimbridge and Melksham. Put simply, playing in that league, with the reduction in away fans, increase in travel costs, and likely player departure, could ruin a club in Cornwall or in the Devon borderlands.
Buckland Athletic were the last team to make the move, but are based much further East so the travel is not as prohibitive for them. Since taking promotion in 2012, they finished runners up in 2015, proving that there is strength in the South West Peninsula League. Henderson has previously stated that it could be workable if 5 or 6 clubs took promotion in successive seasons, essentially sharing the burden and reducing the cumulative travelling distances. Clubs he thought could make the step up included Bodmin Town, Saltash United, and today’s visitors – Plymouth Parkway.
By contrast, on the 2nd of January, Plymouth Parkway did apply for promotion, and Chairman Mark Russell holds an ambitious vision for the club. He feels (correctly) that a city such as Plymouth, with a population of 264,000, could easily support a National League South (at least) club in addition to Plymouth Argyle. He sees Parkway as that club and has set the target of Southern League within five years. Formed in 1988 with the terrible name of Ex-Air Flyers, Parkway thankfully underwent a few name changes in the 90s to get to where they are now. Founding members of the league in 2008, they have remained a constant presence in the top flight, winning it once in 2014.
Managed by Lee Hobbs, Parkway picked up his brother – Glyn – in the summer from Tavistock, and promptly also took their place in the league. Hobbs, G had scored 58 in 38 for the Lambs last season, and following a hat trick against Godolphin last weekend, had 37 so far this term. This had rocketed Parkway into top spot, with 26 wins from 27, giving them the best points per game ratio in the entire nonleague system down to Step 6 (as well as the most scored and fewest conceded…).
In fact, going into the match there was only one team with any hope of catching them at the top – and that was Tavistock, in second place, 22 points behind, but with four games in hand… Today’s game would be crucial if there was to be any competition for the title.
My dad and I set off early doors in order to make kick off time, and drove the scenic route through the Bodmin Moor and Dartmoor foothills. When we arrived at Tavistock, via a mistaken detour into Tavistock College, we pulled up at Langsford Park, where my old man parted with a fiver for admission as Miko the dog watched on.
Once inside, whilst the radio stutteringly blared out some atrocious dance music (I’m not sure if the skipping was the CD sticking or ‘mixing’ as the kids call it), we got to grips with a pasty each (£2). There were no programmes, so a free teamsheet had to suffice, and without further ado, in front of a bumper crowd of 352 – well above the average of 102 this season – referee Murat Kaymaz got us underway.
After only four minutes, it was obvious what sort of game this was going to be, when a blood and thunder tackle on Parkway’s Mike Smith resulted in a free kick, which was well defended. Nine minutes later, Tavistock crafted the game’s first presentable chance, as Jack Crago nodded just wide from a cross under good defensive pressure.
Crago was involved again on 18 minutes, with the former Truro City striker beating his man before driving a low ball across the six yard box. Tallan Burns was steaming into the area, but couldn’t quite connect. The game was full throttle, with no quarter given or asked by either side, but Plymouth Parkway showing a particular level of aggression. On 23 minutes, the first casualty of this strategy was Dave Hallett, who was substituted with an egg the size of Malta on his forehead. In fairness, this appeared to be a genuine clash of heads, but it was one of the few clashes that weren’t absolutely ferocious.
I’d heard a lot about Glyn Hobbs pre-game – positive and negative. With almost a hundred goals to his name across the last two seasons, the 31 year old is the definition of prolific, but has had disciplinary issues throughout his career, both on and off the pitch. On 24 minutes he had the chance to show his goalscoring ability, when Shane Krac set him free through the middle. Hobbs went one on one with the ‘keeper, but never looked confident, and when he shot low Josh Oak was equal to it.
After thirty five minutes, the high attrition strategy of both sides resulted in a second player leaving the field (this would become a theme), when Parkway centre back Christian Pople received his marching orders. Already booked, when Jack Crago beat him for pace down the wing, Pople cynically hauled him down, earning a second yellow and a very early bath.
A few minutes later Tavy had a decent chance when a Josh Grant shot was spilled by Kyle Moore, but Warren Daw put the rebound wide. Then, on 43 minutes, Parkway should have gone down to nine, when the impressive Mike Smith launched a horrible over the ball, studs up tackle on a Tavistock player. The referee awarded him a yellow card and, bizarrely, a Parkway free kick.
With only stoppage time remaining in the first half, Tavistock took first blood (not literally, Hallett had already provided that), when Luke Brown put them ahead. Good play by Tallan Burns in midfield saw him set Brown free on the left of the box. Brown calmly jinked a defender and then beat the ‘keeper, and despite a desperate last ditch lunge on the line by Rob Farkins, the linesman judged that the ball had crossed the line.
A minute later, Crago tested Moore with a strong drive, but Moore palmed wide, and then the half time break was upon us. A feisty, passionate local derby was finely poised, and either team could grab the win with just a 10% improvement in quality. Since the sending off Tavistock had been in the ascendancy, but the match was there to be won.
A minute into the second half there was controversy again, with both sides determined to make Mr Kaymaz earn his match fee. When Warren Daw caught a Parkway player with an elbow, he was shown a second yellow, and the numbers were even once more. However. At this point Kyle Moore took his head for a shit and decided to fly out of goal to harangue the ref. After forty five minutes of screaming blue murder at the officials, he’d already earned one yellow for dissent, and picked up another here. 10 v 9.
Not content with that, Glyn Hobbs showed the rash side of his character, and for seemingly no reason lashed out a punch (some would say slap) at Jack Crago, leaving him in a heap on the deck. As Lee Hobbs attempted to substitute his brother for reserve keeper (but actual centre back) Aaron Bentley to avoid him being sent off, the referee spoke to his linesman who – like Patrick Stewart in Extras – had already seen everything. Off went Hobbs as well, the fourth red of the day. 10 v 8.
Then, just for a laugh, the referee sent both managers Lee Hobbs and Stuart Henderson to the stands. With barely enough players left to man a rugby 7s match, a free kick restarted play. As an aside, people will look at three red cards in two minutes and say the referee spoilt the game, but he did everything right here. Whilst he may not have controlled the game brilliantly, it was the players who lost their heads and did the damage, not the referee.
Bizarrely, the spate of red cards seemed to give Parkway more freedom to play, whilst Tavistock retreated into their shell. Up until this point, the Plymouth side had been the more aggressive of the two, but Tavistock had been working harder and smarter. With two men more, they almost dropped to walking pace, and sought to contain the match.
However, with Parkway working to get back into the match, and missing three players, there was acres of room for the Lambs on the counter, if they could only be bothered to exploit it. On 61 minutes Jack Crago got free and rounded Aaron Bentley, but the makeshift goalie recovered well to smother it.
Two minutes later, Josh Robins tested him after a great ball over the full back released him on the left, but once again Bentley was equal to the shot. The former Argyle and Truro man did make one error of judgement though (understandable in the circumstances) when he decided to leave a Luke Brown piledriver from the edge of the area. The smack of ball on crossbar told him he may have been mistaken, and he gathered gladly as the ball dropped.
On 73 minutes, Bentley was pressed into action again, as this time Tallan Burns tested him. When the man with a name like a high quality whiskey cut inside from the right wing, he hit a firm drive towards the near post. Bentley reacted well and pawed it away acrobatically.
Then, a minute later, we had our fifth and final red card of the game – for Josh Robins. Advancing down the wing, Robins’ control was loose, and Nick Milton, sporting a protective face mask for the occasion nipped in to tackle. Robins lunged and caught Milton late, and the Parkway man’s leg bent under his own weight. It looked painful, and probably helped make the referee’s mind up to give Robins a straight red. It looked like a yellow to me, and in my opinion is the only mistake the referee made with his cards all game. Anyway, 9 v 8, and still only one goal in it, with 15 minutes plus about three weeks of stoppage time to come.
Then, in a match which at times had more resembled a night out at Dance Academy, came the most heinous moment of the match. Substitute Tyler Elliott drove into the box, ran at a Parkway defender, and was brutally scythed down… by a terrible dive. Do that at the Olympics and you’re winning a medal, do it in a South West Peninsula League match, and you look a bit daft. Not to worry though, because on 87 minutes, his side surely put the result to bed, when the impressive Tavy skipper, Lewis Daw, rose highest from a corner and buried his header.
Parkway never gave up though, and with three minutes of stoppage time played Rob Farkins gave them a lifeline. A deep cross was expertly brought down by The Man In The Iron Mask AKA Nick Milton at the back post, and when the former Torquay United defender cut it back, there was the Royal Signaller Farkins to sidefoot home. 2-1 and game now very much on.
With only one goal, and one player, between the teams, Parkway now firmly had the bit between their teeth, and looked much more likely to grab a goal. Driven on by the seemingly tireless (and surprisingly un sent off) Shane Krac, they pressed forward for the equaliser.
Then, finally, after six minutes of stoppage time, they got it. Working the play well from right to left, the ball eventually wound up at the feet of substitute Luke Durham. Considering the Lambs had a man extra, Durham should never have had as much space as he did, but he used it well, and fired home to level the scores. Cue absolute scenes of jubilation from the Parkway players, and deservedly so. When the final whistle went minutes later, they had secured a highly unlikely point.
The Wash Up
So Parkway retain their 22 point advantage, even though they’ll now be missing star striker Glyn Hobbs for the foreseeable future. After throwing a hand like that, he’ll be looking at a hefty ban. I’d say a draw was the even result and there was some good football at times. I thought the way both sides, but especially Plymouth Parkway, hounded the ref and his linesmen was pretty embarrassing, and I can’t really argue with any of the dismissals (bar perhaps Josh Robins). Oh, and Stuart Henderson. I really don’t understand what he was sent to the stands for.
Parkway will surely go on to win the league, but with a playing budget roughly 2.5 times that of Tavistock’s it is not surprising. I believe that with the squad they have they’ll do well in the Western League as well.
There were some good performances on both sides, and an honourable mention to Aaron Bentley, who did a fine job filling in between the posts. On the other side, Josh Grant had a good game for Tavistock, whilst Jack Crago stretched the defence well, even if he did squander some good attacking opportunities at times.
Tavistock skipper Lewis Daw was probably the best player on the pitch, in terms of pure ability. A giant at centre back, he was comfortable in possession and read play intelligently – which makes sense considering his first class honours degree. He was worked hard too, particularly by Mike Smith, who ploughed a lonely furrow up top, and battled for every single ball, before being substituted exhausted around 85 minutes.
My man of the match though is the Parkway number 8, Shane Krac, who they signed from Tavistock. He must have covered every blade of grass on the pitch today, and then doubled back to cover it again. Influential at both ends of the pitch, when in the middle of it he rarely lost the ball. He put in a genuinely gargantuan shift today, and his delight at the equaliser was evident.
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