Neil Armstrong's penalty sends Northside Atlantic into Devon Intermediate Cup semi-finals
SOMETIMES football comes down to the finest of margins.
Northside Atlantic had a penalty and scored. Hartland had a penalty and missed.
That was the only difference between the teams in a fractious Buddens Westinsure Devon Intermediate Cup north area final on Saturday.
At the end, Northside were celebrating one of the finest results in their brief history.
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Reduced to ten men after half an hour, the Bideford club grafted for a 1-0 victory provided by Neil Armstrong's early goal.
And at the final whistle, the thoughts of their players and supporters quickly turned to chairman Tony Grills, who missed the big occasion.
Jon Stanton, the manager, said: "Unfortunately Tony was receiving treatment in his battle with leukaemia and was unable to make the game.
"I was so pleased to tell him the lads had won and he is now looking forward to making it to the Devon semi-final.
"Everyone at the club works so hard on and off the pitch, it is a real unified effort and I think that spirit got us through."
Spirits sometimes spilled over in a game littered with fouls and precious little flowing football or goalscoring chances.
From the first few minutes, when Northside's Matt Cann was cautioned for a crunching challenge on Alex Slee, it was set to be a feisty encounter.
Every loose ball was challenged for with total commitment and every decision questioned.
And referee Keith Greenleaf did his best to keep a lid on things, issuing seven yellow cards and a red for Shaun Wilson, the defender, for a cynical trip on Wayne Hobbs.
It was a dirty rather than dangerous challenge that saw Wilson trudging off towards the changing rooms 14 minutes before half time.
That his team-mates pulled together for the win was testament to their willingness to work for each other.
Until the dismissal, they had been in control, leaving Hartland pegged back in their own half and struggling to find rhythm.
Stephen Heard, the home defender, was forced to scramble the ball off the line after a long throw caused mayhem and Vinny Bott bundled an effort past Josh Wood.
Then, after a foul by Wayne Hobbs on Cann, Armstrong confidently swept the penalty past the goalkeeper.
Wood was called upon to make a smart save when Cann turned sharply and shot towards the near post.
Even after Wilson went off, the visitors looked dangerous at set plays and Armstrong saw a shot deflect wide from Mark Palmer's corner.
Hartland's best hope in the first half came with two free kicks from Richard Davey but on both occasions he could only fire straight into the wall.
Davey's left foot proved more effective soon after half time with a wicked cross that somehow eluded a finishing touch from Joe Dakin.
That was the start of a positive response from the hosts with substitute Jack Coleman giving them greater urgency.
Dan Slee sent a dipping shot just over and the large contingent of home supporters roared for a penalty when Coleman went to ground under a challenge from Cann.
The appeal was turned down but a trip on Coleman from Paul Mills, the substitute, finally gave them hope with 13 minutes to go.
It was a lick of paint away from being a perfect penalty but Alex Slee's effort hit the inside of the post and bounced out.
There were even claims for another penalty in the resulting scramble as Mills challenged Michael Nugent.
The experience of Andy Clark and Carl Armstrong in defence helped Northside hold firm.
Having played so well to beat Barnstaple FC in the previous round, Hartland were never allowed into their stride this time.
Dave Nugent, the manager, felt Northside used spoiling tactics and was frustrated his team did not show their best form.
"A lot of people there wanted to see a game of football and I don't think there was much football played," he said.
"If we'd got a goal it might have settled us down and made us focus on our own game instead of on them.
"I want us to have a bit of style. I don't want to badger referees and whinge and moan and kick players."
For Northside, attention now turns to a home tie against Buckland and Milber, of Newton Abbot, in the county semi-final on March 9.
"We are up against the best intermediate sides in Devon now and we are really looking forward to that challenge," said Stanton.
"I am so proud of everyone at the club."