Shaun Copp's smashing first touch wins clash for Ilfracombe Town
AS FAR as substitute's appearances go, Shaun Copp's stunning cameo will take some beating.
Ilfracombe Town were locked in a tight and tense battle with Bishop Sutton when he was called to the field with ten minutes remaining.
And within ten seconds of strolling on to the Marborough Park pitch, the midfielder had sealed a 2-1 win with an unstoppable strike.
As Billy Tucker rolled a free kick in from the touchline, Copp, 30 yards from goal, let fly with a swerving shot that goalkeeper Ashley Clarke hardly saw never mind got near.
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"It was all right for a first touch," said Copp. "I saw two of their players run from the edge of the box so I thought, 'I had better hit this'. Luckily it flew in the top corner."
Back in action after an extended Christmas break, Ilfracombe and Copp looked eager to make up for lost time.
"We have had training sessions but it's not the same as playing," said Copp.
"I want to play all the time but you have got to take your turn on the bench. The lads played well.
"Four weeks since our last game, to come back and beat second in the league is a good start to the year. Everyone was buzzing."
After a few near misses this season, Ilfracombe finally proved they are capable of beating one of the leading clubs in the Toolstation Western League premier division.
Off the back of an eight-game winning streak, Bishop Sutton arrived in outstanding form. In the reverse fixture in September, they had eased to a 4-1 victory.
Despite a sharp start from Sutton again, there was no caving in from Combe this time.
Twice in the opening 20 minutes home goalkeeper Steve Oliver did well to tip away shots from Liam Farmer and Pete Sheppard.
There was an escape, too, when Nathan Loader, the defender, headed over when totally unchallenged at a corner.
And Oliver did well to deny Jordan Metters after a rare error of judgment from Karl Baggaley in central defence.
It turned into a forgettable afternoon for Loader, who was badly at fault for the opening goal.
Half stumbling as he tried to connect, the defender only scuffed the ball across the edge of his own area, where Tucker nipped in to seize possession.
Although the winger delayed his shot for what seemed an age, he was bundled over by Clarke and the referee played a good advantage for Holland to score.
Sutton were neat and tidy in possession but they never found the pace or guile to unpick a sturdy home defence led by Baggaley and James Mayne.
It was set up for Ilfracombe to counter attack and they nearly grabbed a second before half time with Jon Vooght picking out Tucker who was flagged for offside.
Holland almost added his second soon after the restart, scampering in from the left, only to see his shot deflected wide at the near post.
While the visitors continued to enjoy the greater share of possession, Ilfracombe's defence was not overly stretched.
So it will have been a source of frustration that the equaliser came relatively simply with a free header for Billy Downes.
Tucker remained at the heart of Ilfracombe's attacking threat.
With his cheeky dribbling skills and deft left-footed passes, there are times when the teenager looks like he is just enjoying a kickaround in the school playground.
Steve Winter, the opposing left back, can rarely have endured a tougher afternoon on the football field.
At the age of 39, the former Tiverton Town favourite is old enough to be Tucker's dad and at times it showed.
"Billy is so skilful," said Copp. "He ripped their left back to shreds.
"He must have won about 15 free kicks and they took the left back off in the end. I think it was getting a bit too much for him."
Tucker showed he can hand out the physical treatment as well as take it, receiving a yellow card for scything down former team-mate Scott Huxtable.
It was a warm welcome back to Marlborough Park for Huxtable who was chopped down just seconds after going on as a substitute.
Playing with pace and energy, both teams continued to search for a winner.
Tucker's long-range effort swerved just wide and when Clarke flapped at a free kick from Baggaley, Vooght's pea-roller shot had to be hacked off the line by Loader.
Oliver again came to the rescue by denying Sheppard and tipping over a piledriver from Downes.
But Copp had the final say with a strike that is likely to be high up Ilfracombe's goal of the season list.
Manger Ross Middleton said: "It was a massive result for the squad.
"They have proved to themselves they are capable of beating these top teams. Now we need to continue that."