Lynton and Lynmouth miss prime opportunity in county cup
THE PEOPLE of Buckfastleigh had begun their week with a visit from David Cameron.
After torrential rain, the Prime Minister went to the edge of Dartmoor on Tuesday, meeting the townsfolk who were cleaning up after the floods.
By Saturday, the water had subsided and, with the sun shining, Buckfastleigh's football pitch was perfectly playable.
Although the lads from Lynton and Lynmouth did not arrive with the same fanfare as the PM, for them, the trip was equally important.
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Having won through three rounds of the Firewatch Devon Senior Cup, Lynton were North Devon's sole representatives in the last 16.
Manager Steve Hobbs had the usual hectic build-up, injuries and unavailability making his job doubly difficult.
Despite missing key players, he was optimistic they could conquer the South Devon League side.
"We go with no pressure on us," said Hobbs. "A lot of people are expecting us to lose – but we're not. We are a little bit light on defenders but hopefully we can take the game to them and we won't have to worry too much defensively."
Hobbs knows a thing or two about defending. In a decade with Ilfracombe Town, he hardly missed a game in the Western League.
Injuries mean his playing opportunities are limited these days.
"My knee is still not right so I can't really play but I'll just be a third sub for emergency situations," he said.
"If I have to, I can go on and just stand there.
"I have tried to come back two or three times but the old cruciate ligament is not doing very well."
Since 2009, Hobbs, 34, has been back with his home-town club, working with the long-serving Jim Mirow.
He enjoys the role but player reliability is the one issue most managers find frustrating now.
"I was playing men's football at Lynton when I was about 13," said Hobbs. "I'm sort of old school in terms of commitment and it's frustrating when players can't play for whatever reason."
On the field, it has been a strange season for Lynton with the ups and downs of football highlighted by contrasting fortunes in league and cup.
Languishing in the bottom half of the North Devon League senior division, they feel hard done by over a three-point deduction for an administrative error.
The cup has brought better fortunes with home wins over Axminster Town, Steampacket and Cullompton Rangers – and 13 goals in the process.
Into the last 16, they were rewarded with excellent facilities for their first away trip.
Buckfastleigh are former members of the Carlsberg South West Peninsula League and the clubhouse and pitch are still suitable for that level.
The floods had gone but the end of Lynton's cup run would prove to be a damp squib.
It had all started so brightly for the team in red. Stand-in goalkeeper Paul Hopkins made a fine save and the visitors struck instantly on the counter attack with Steve Kingdom sending CJ Roberts clear. The striker composed himself to fire the ball past Matt Swift for his fifth goal of the cup run.
But Lynton were punished for failing to clear their lines and Lewis Cox pounced for the equaliser midway through the first half.
Again Roberts looked the player most likely to make the breakthrough, with his fierce free kick held by Swift at the second attempt.
Buckfastleigh started the second half far sharper and Hopkins had to tip the ball over when a corner from Cox threatened to sail straight in.
The same delivery brought the decisive goal in the 62nd minute as Cox crossed and Vinny Reeves was afforded a free header five yards out.
Lynton's task got even tougher moments later when Dave Sinclair, after battling well in midfield, limped off.
Roberts was denied twice more by saves from Swift, while Jake Hill's close-range effort for the hosts was pushed wide by Hopkins at full stretch.
Hobbs was left to reflect on a missed opportunity.
"At the start of the season, when you enter this cup, you never think you're going to get that far," he said. "But the fact is we have come through three rounds and beaten better sides than we played today."
Disappointment on the day but the future looks encouraging.
This season, Lynton have re-established a reserve team, giving young players their first opportunity in men's football. And next year, they aim to start work on updating their clubhouse and changing rooms.