Difficult to know where to start with this one in which the Peacocks dipped to defeat against a Crusaders side lying one place off the bottom of the table. The hosts never recovered from a disastrous opening spell which saw them concede twice in the first seven minutes and to be honest it might have been worse by the break had Hungerford taken their chances. A third goal in the second half clinched three valuable points for the visitors who managed to keep the Peacocks out during the latter stages as they searched for a way back.
Missing injured skipper Nick Grimes, the Town side was reshuffled with Ross Stearn coming in and Nick McCootie partnering Nat Jarvis up front in a rare starting combination. And barely had the whistle blown to begin proceedings in the Peacocks’ 43rd League fixture of the campaign then Hungerford had gained the advantage, kicking off and keeping possession, the ball going infield to loanee from Farnborough Michael Fernandes who was just outside the box and he had time to place a shot beyond the reach of keeper Jack Bycroft into the right-hand corner after just 45 seconds.
The hosts had an immediate chance to hit back after Jarvis was brought down but Stearn’s free kick went over before Bycroft made a fine save, tipping over a back header following a Jake Evans free kick. The threat had not gone away though because the resultant corner led to a handball appeal against Joe Guest, granted by referee Ricardo and despatched by Evans who drilled home low under Bycroft for an unforeseen two goal lead with only seven minutes on the clock.
The shellshocked Peacocks nearly pulled a goal back soon after, winning their first corner of the game on nine minutes and from Lloyd James’ delivery Jake Wannell steered a header against the crossbar with the follow-up from Dan Ball blasted at the target but somehow ending up in the arms of Crusaders’ shotstopper Max Evans. Worryingly though there looked to be more goals in the Hungerford locker as they pressed forward, knowing only a victory would give them any realistic hope of remaining at Step 2 next season. A Fernandes ball over the top released Ryan Jones who lashed a strike just over before a chipped cross from Evans fell invitingly for Louis McGrory who was denied by Bycroft’s block with the Town defence all at sea.
When Taunton did get forward, they displayed some nice touches at times but failed to trouble Evans. A promising break down the right saw Zac Smith drive into the box but instead of pulling the trigger his pass could not find Dylan Morgan and a Jarvis header was too high from a James corner while another Town corner produced a header for Wannell which was blocked, with Stearn unable to connect with the loose ball to send it goalwards.
With play going from end to end, Hungerford had several opportunities to increase their lead. Bycroft advanced to clear but missed his kick, allowing Dan Roberts sight of an open net but fortunately he directed wide of the far post as Guest raced in to cover before the home keeper atoned by pulling off a fine save to touch over an Evans’ half volley following yet another Crusaders’ incursion. Joe Boachie and Jones then linked up for the former to clip an effort into the side netting.
The final stages of the first half wouldn’t have looked out of place in Casualty, with both Jarvis and McCootie limping around following treatment which soon saw Jarvis replaced by Ollie Chamberlain eight minutes before the break. A couple of late raids saw Ball volley comfortably wide of the target while McCootie had a shot deflected for a corner but nothing doing in front of goal for the home side who were finally starting to show the weary effects of their seventh game in the month of April.
Attacking the Showtime Attractions End for the second half and with a big improvement needed to provide any hope of a comeback, the Peacocks won an early corner which led to Wannell placing a soft header wide. Crucially though it was the visitors who netted a third goal after 58 minutes. A free kick into the middle wasn’t dealt with and Jerry Gyebi knocked the ball down for Boachie to slot over the line.
Boachie’s header was saved by Bycroft while another header from Jones landed on the roof of the net before the home side had the better of the final stages, with Wannell prominent in trying to reduce the arrears. An intense minute of pressure on the Crusader’s goal saw his header from a James corner blocked on the line and when the ball was eventually returned back in, Wannell met it again, only to see Evans claw out the header before it crossed the line.
Chamberlain fired wide and Wannell who on another day might have had a hat trick planted another header over, but a goal wouldn’t come and when Guest blazed a shot high over the top the game concluded to signal Town’s eighth home League defeat of the season. With National League South survival having been guaranteed for the hosts after the weekend results, a combination of subconsciously relaxing the momentum and the exhausting recent schedule of games no doubt contributed to a performance and result which may not have been envisaged at 7.45pm. However, credit to Hungerford who had every motive to secure the win and deserved it on the night to give themselves a lifeline going into the final week of the season.
Taunton: Jack Bycroft, Dan Ball, Jake Wannell, Lloyd James (captain), Nat Jarvis (Ollie Chamberlain 37), Nick McCootie, Joe Guest, Ross Stearn, Zac Smith, Cameron Evans, Dylan Morgan. Unused subs: Dave Sims-Burgess, Lloyd Irish
Hungerford: Max Evans, Louis McCrory, Curtis Angell, Jake Evans, Dan Roberts, Joe Boachie (Callum Gunner 78), Michael Fernandes (Joel Rollinson 79), Matt Berry-Hargreaves, Rhys Tyler (captain), Jerry Gyebi, Ryan Jones (Fabio Lopes 86). Unused subs: Luke Delaney, Great Evans
Referee: Ruebyn Ricardo (Leicester)
Referee’s Assistant 1: Martin Underhay (Weymouth)
Referee’s Assistant 2: Nathanael Wormleighton (Cheltenham)
“We weren’t good enough in a lot of areas, certainly in the first half…….” watch Rob Dray’s Match Reaction on Peacocks TV HERE
Match highlights to follow
Mind In Somerset MOM
Nick McCootie was named Taunton Town Man Of The Match, photo to follow