An inaugural appearance in a Southern League Cup Final didn’t go the way Peacocks fans wanted as they went down to a well-drilled Royston outfit at the Cygnet Health Care Stadium. In the first ever meeting between the sides, the visitors caught Town cold with an early goal before doubling their lead just before the break and despite an improved showing in the second half the hosts were unable to make a dent, leaving them with a big ask in the second leg in Hertfordshire next week.
The home side rang the changes, with five players from Saturday’s win over Chesham not featuring while Royston, with the exception of one player, were unchanged from their weekend victory against Redditch. And it was the lively Crows who ruffled Peacock feathers after just five minutes when they grabbed the lead. Ross Stearn had posted the first effort of the evening for Taunton in the first minute, planting an angled shot from the left high and wide following a fine Jamie Short cross, but there was no doubt about the opener at the other end, Spyros Mentis releasing Brooklyn Ilunga on the left and the MK Dons loan striker smashed his finish past goalkeeping coach Connor Sidley-Adams, deputising for dead leg victim Will Buse.
Stearn sent another shot off-target and Ross Staley hooked a half volley over the bar as Town looked for an immediate response, but it was the visitors again who came close to a second goal on ten minutes when Isaac Galliford put Ilunga away down the left and from his cross Sidley-Adams made a great save to touch Matt Bateman’s close range header round the post. Crows’ keeper Dimitrios Kyriatzis was then called into action for the first time soon after, turning wide Jared Lewington’s first-time volley from the edge of the box after the Peacocks’ striker had swivelled onto Lloyd James’ pass.
The game went quiet for a spell apart from a handball shout from Jay Foulston’s cross, with events taking a further turn for the worse just before the half hour when Town’s ridiculous bad luck with injuries this season reared its ugly head yet again, Stearn requiring lengthy attention following a collision. The Town man eventually departed with a dislocated shoulder and a subsequent trip to hospital, the last thing needed with so many important League fixtures on the horizon. Another one of Town’s former walking wounded Gethyn Hill came on to replace Stearn and went on to pep up the attacking prowess of the home side with his physical presence.
The Crows however always had that extra level of pace and fluency and went on to land a blow with a second goal a minute before the break, a ball over the top finding Bateman who slotted home into the far corner from the left side of the area, a similar position to Ilunga’s earlier success. It might have been even worse during nine minutes of added time due to Stearn’s injury, Ilunga beating his man to find Devonte Aransibia in the middle but his shot luckily took a deflection to travel wide.
The Peacocks knew they needed a better display after the interval and generally speaking there was a spirited improvement although Royston were in no mood to surrender their advantage as their defence remained frustratingly solid. Nick Grimes header was wide from a Foulston corner while Harry Warwick’s cross from the right was too far in front of Staley for him to connect before Town nearly got themselves back in contention just past the hour when Hill was brought down just outside the box and James’ free kick cannoned off the crossbar. James Brighton cleared another attack for a corner as Town tapped at the door before Hill made space for a shot which Kyriatzis parried and the danger was cleared.
The Crows appeared capable of a third though with the menacing Ilunga receiving a cross from the right and profiting from a ricochet off a defender to drive a shot against the outside of the post. The home side’s last real threat came with a cross from the right from Short who had a good game in only his second appearance since his return, Lewington challenging which led to another ignored handball appeal. Royston finished the stronger, Brandon Adams firing over from Dan Newton’s pass and Sidley-Adams blocking Finlay Titchmarsh’s effort and on the night there can be few complaints from the home camp over the final outcome.
A two goal deficit is not insurmountable in the second leg but of greater concern to the Town management is yet another injury for the crucial League run-in, with a very disappointing night topped off with the news that title rivals Farnborough had scored a stoppage time winner to leapfrog the Peacocks into 2nd place 😕
Taunton: Connor Sidley-Adams, Joe Budd, Jay Foulston, Nick Grimes (captain) (Lewis Smith 73), Jamie Short, Lloyd James, Harry Warwick, Ross Stearn (Gethyn Hill 35), Ross Staley, Jared Lewington, Ioan Richards. Unused subs: Sully McKenna, Michael Meaker
Royston: Dimitrios Kyriatzis, Daniel Brathwaite (captain), Carl Mensah, Ronnie Henry, Devonte Aransibia (Isa Rotimi 82), Matt Bateman, Isaac Galliford (Brandon Adams 61), James Brighton (Finlay Titchmarsh 73), Brooklyn Ilunga, Spyros Mentis, Dan Newton. Unused subs: Tom Newman, Joe Welch
Referee: Lewis Sandoe (Lymington)
Referee’s Assistant 1: Kevin Rodd (Radstock)
Referee’s Assistant 2: Paul Collier (Bristol)
“The better team deserved to win tonight…..” watch Rob Dray’s Match Reaction on Peacocks TV HERE
Match highlights can be seen on Peacocks TV HERE
Albert Goodman MOM
Joe Budd receives the Taunton Town Man Of The Match award from James Brice from the club’s Kit and Sportswear partner Somerset County Sports