Jack Furzer fires Bideford to win over old rivals Frome
THE DISTANCE between the clubs hardly qualifies it as a derby but all the ingredients were there for a typical Boxing Day clash.
Appalling weather, a long-standing rivalry and two teams fully committed to the physical challenge.
Jack Furzer's second-half strike gave Bideford a 1-0 win at Frome Town in the Evo- Stik League Southern premier division.
At last, after going close in recent weeks, Sean Joyce's side could finally celebrate their first away win.
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The Robins from North Devon against the Robins from Somerset always looked like being a ferocious festive fixture.
And the visitors seized the opportunity in the pouring rain to move above their rivals in the table.
In the end, it did not matter that they squandered a host of first-half chances, including a penalty from Matt Hockley.
Furzer, the defender, found rare space just in the box to guide his shot through a crowd and beyond Darren Chitty.
Joyce said: "The lads were tremendous. It was a roll your sleeves up and battle kind of pitch. It has always been a difficult place to come and win.
"These are the results that keep you in this league."
It was only in April 2009 when the sides last met in the Toolstation Western League, Matt Andrew scoring for Bideford in a 1-1 draw.
Frome were promoted as runners-up that season and Bideford, who finished sixth, followed them up as champions the year after. Now playing two tiers higher, the fixture served as a reminder how far both clubs have progressed.
On this occasion, it was Bideford who started with positive intentions. Within the first five minutes, Sean Downing scampered clear from a flat-footed defence, only to see his shot come back off the post. Nick Barker's free kick then found Downing unmarked but the winger headed wide with goalkeeper Chitty to beat.
As the hosts seemed to get stuck in the mud, Bideford looked dangerous every time they broke forward.
Simply standing up was proving difficult – as demonstrated by the assistant referee who, much to the amusement of the crowd, found himself rolling in the mud.
When Downing set off on a daring dribble from the halfway line, it was the Frome defenders who fell by the wayside. After a scintillating run, the only thing lacking was the finish, Chitty racing from his line to block and Kevin Squire scooping the rebound over the bar.
Undeterred, Downing continued to break forward and when he was tripped by Matt Smith, Hockley had the chance to finally make Bideford's dominance count.
No such luck. The penalty was hit with power but Chitty threw himself right to force the ball over the bar.
From the resulting corner, the keeper again came to the rescue, turning Rob Farkins's header away at full stretch.
"No disrespect to Frome but it should have been at least six at half time," said Joyce.
" I calmed the players down a bit and told them how well they had done.
"When you're on top so much, you're thinking it might be one of those that goes the other way and they nick it one-nil."
Frome started the second half determined to make the most of their reprieve.
Paul Hider had only been called upon to keep out a stinging shot from Alex Lapham in the early exchanges and the keeper found himself far busier after the break.
He beat away a near-post shot from Dean Evans and made a spectacular save from Smith's left-footed drive.
Bideford survived a couple of nervy moments as Darren Jefferies missed his kick at the far post and Evans hooked an effort against the bar.
Finally, though, Furzer's goal gave them a deserved breakthrough and for the remaining half-hour it was a case of protecting the advantage.
The back three of Furzer, Farkins and Aaron Harper-Penman stood tall and with wing backs Ian Sampson and Nick Barker tucking in there was no room for Frome to get through.
On the rare occasion when Farkins did make a slip, Dave Gilroy stole possession but no home player was there to apply a finishing touch.
The only anxious moment was the wait for the referee to brandish a card after Sampson launched himself into a full-blooded challenge on Smith. Yellow rather than red was the colour shown and Bideford held out for a valuable three points.
Joyce praised his players for their spirit and workrate.
"Matt Andrew and Sean Downing are my flair players but if it's not happening for them they still give everything they have got," he said.
"That's part and parcel of playing for Bideford.
"I have had flair players before who, when it's not going for them, don't give you enough.
"We haven't got any big-time Charlies. They are all mates."