Connor Clifford goal earns Bideford a draw against Arlesey Town
BIDEFORD had been here before. Trailing 1-0 in the Evo-Stik League Southern, they summoned Connor Clifford from the substitutes' bench.
In September, he came up trumps with the equaliser in a 1-1 draw at Banbury United.
He repeated the trick against Arlesey Town on Saturday, giving the Robins the breakthrough they rarely looked like achieving.
Despite playing for almost an hour against ten men, the hosts could be grateful for a point.
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Clifford was sent on in place of Ben Wood and the winger finally found a gap behind an imposing defence.
Sean Joyce has described his club as the smallest in the premier division – and that could mean on the field as well as off.
"Physically, it was men against boys," said the manager. "They are big lads and we did brilliantly to stand up to them. You take Woody off and you put another Smurf on with Connor. It's probably the smallest player on the pitch that has got us a goal."
Small in stature, big in effort, Bideford kept plugging away but, having hit seven goals at Chippenham Town last week, this time one looked unlikely.
Even after a red card for Leon Hibbert on 37 minutes, Arlesey imposed themselves and dictated the play.
It was not a game for the purists. Referee Marc Whaley issued eight yellow cards, including two for Hibbert who lunged in on Sean Downing for his second caution.
As players from both sides refused to back down, Matt Bye was cautioned for a challenge on Drew Roberts.
Bye clearly won the ball but the referee deemed the challenge dangerous because his studs were showing.
After seeing yellow for a scything chop on Ian Sampson, Hibbert knew his time was up following the next foul.
He had been influential in Arlesey's dominant start with Roberts shooting narrowly wide and Josh Cook and Chris Dillon troubling Tim Sandercombe with crosses.
Downing managed Bideford's only shot on target in the first half but his effort was easily held by Nathan Abbey, the former Luton Town keeper.
Regardless of the red card, the visitors continued on the front foot.
Sandercombe had to tip over a free kick from Roberts and Ricky Miller prodded a good chance wide when the goalkeeper flapped.
The second half started in similar vein with Matt Hockley, the home captain, forced to clear a header from Ryan Frater off the line.
It always looked a game that would be settled by a set piece or a mistake and, in the end, it was one of each.
Arlesey's goal came from a short corner after Sandercombe made a fine save to keep out Roberts's curling effort.
When the ball was crossed back in, Danny Gordon, the defender, was afforded too much space to bundle home from close range.
Surprisingly, against a towering back four, Bideford's reply came via route one.
For the first time, Gordon and Frater were caught by a ball over the top and Matt Andrew flicked on for Clifford to score.
Downing had a header held by Abbey and Kevin Squire missed his kick when the keeper sliced the ball to him. Apart from that, the front men were feeding on scraps and Arlesey went in search of a winner.
Cook and Roberts both fired off target before the game became tediously scrappy.
Rob Farkins hobbled through to the end after a crunching clash with substitute James Hatch. Always up for the physical challenge, it was another commanding display from Farkins who excelled in the home defence.
Joyce was happy to take a point against a team with strong ambitions of reaching the play-offs.
"I looked for a weakness and I couldn't find one," he said.
"I knew from the first ten minutes it was going to be hard and I said then if we get anything, we have got to be pleased. A lot of teams could have gone under.
"Earlier in the season, they would have smashed us three or four. I was probably more pleased than last week smashing (Chippenham) 7-1."