The Peacocks failed to win for the first time in eight matches after grinding out a draw at the Denplan City Ground. It ultimately proved a point won in the circumstances after Craig Feeney had missed a late sitter against a Town side again far from their best over the 90 minutes whereas the City side were much improved from their showing at the Viridor Stadium earlier in the season.
The Town team showed four changes from the midweek meeting with Wantage but it was City who made the livelier start in the rather frenetic opening exchanges, having the first pot at goal when Andy Jenkinson curled a free kick well wide. The visitor’s first threat arrived ten minutes in when Craig Veal latched onto a Brett Trowbridge pass and picked out Pierce Mitchell who saw his shot blocked, Olly Searle heading the returned cross behind with Shane White waiting to pounce at the back post.
Veal was involved again soon after, Matt Wright wrestling the ball free in midfield to put him clear down the right. With Wright and Matt Buse waiting in the middle for the cross, Veal elected to shoot from a tight angle instead but found the side netting. Buse’s cross was just behind Wright who was well positioned while Lewis Hyde got in the way of a Veal strike as Town tried to find a way through, nearly succeeding when Wright’s header hit another body on the line, a melee in the box ending when Alex Hoyle’s delivery back in was turned over his own bar by Jamie Ford although referee Russell opted to give a goal kick, one of several questionable decisions made during the afternoon.
With Town adopting the more direct approach via a number of speculative punts forward, Winchester looked sharp on the break, with Lloyd Irish having to be quick off his line to foil Feeney twice while Jenkinson flashed a centre across the face of goal with no-one thankfully able to apply a touch. As the hosts began to get on top with some crisp movement, Howard Neighbour collected Stuart Green’s pass to drive a 20 yarder into the side netting just past the half hour mark but Town didn’t heed the warning as City took the lead soon after. Joe Briggs took advantage of a ricochet to make ground and find Feeney on the left side of the box and the striker’s effort beat the dive of Lloyd Irish to find the corner after 37 minutes.
With both a stern half time team talk and the wind behind them, Town upped their game for the second half although it was again the Citizens who featured first, Green feeding Neighbour who sliced his shot badly wide. A White corner nearly led to an equaliser five minutes in, the ball pinging around the area as Ben Palmer’s header was cleared and Owen Irish’s follow-up was kept out by Lewis Noice.
The momentum began to swing Town’s way though as they drew level after 55 minutes with Veal’s 14th goal of the campaign. Another attack was cleared but picked up by Veal in the left channel and he launched the ball forward, Owen Irish and a defender both challenging but missing while keeper Noice was caught unawares and did nothing as it bounced past him into the net. Town had their tails up for the next twenty minutes as they pressed for a second goal but clear chances were not forthcoming. Mitchell foraged forward and when his shot was blocked, the loose ball fell for Palmer to strike narrowly over.
Wright’s diving header from Hoyle’s cross flew wide before Ross Staley was introduced to see if he could unlock the determined Winchester defence. However it was the home side that got a second wind in the final stages, Lloyd Irish out quickly again to claim ahead of Feeney from Green’s through ball. Town were then grateful for a glaring miss ten minutes from time after Jamie Barron’s parried shot fell to Feeney inside the six yard box but with the target on a plate he fired the loose ball over the bar. Lloyd Irish saved a Feeney header while Owen Irish met Staley’s cross for Town’s final attempt but Noice clutched the ball underneath his bar, leaving both sides to settle for a point from a committed encounter which keeps the Peacocks well in the hunt for play-off qualification.
By Andy Power
Taunton: Lloyd Irish, Pierce Mitchell, Ben Palmer (Ross Staley 74), Owen Irish, Matt Villis, Alex Hoyle, Shane White, Brett Trowbridge (captain), Matt Wright, Craig Veal, Matt Buse (Jordan Rogers 78). Unused subs: Josh Searle, Ollie Chamberlain, Michael Meaker
Winchester: Lewis Noice, Olly Searle (Adam Roberts 64), Jamie Ford, Jamie Barron, Lewis Hyde, Dan Smith, Joe Briggs (IK Hill 85), Stuart Green (captain), Craig Feeney, Howard Neighbour, Andy Jenkinson (Nick Watts 80). Unused subs: Jack Hannam, Sam Wilson
Referee: Matthew Russell (Waterlooville)
Assistants: Derek Hughes (Newport IOW), Anthony Cross (Gosport)