Tiverton Town pay the penalty as their winless run continues at Robins
TIVERTON Town missed a host of second-half chances including a Joe Bushin penalty as their winless run extended to 13 league matches following Saturday's stalemate with Bridgwater Town.
After a poor opening 45 minutes, where a dire playing surface took its toll, Tivvy dominated the second half but were thwarted time and again by an in-form Luke Purnell in the home goal.
Bushin hit the woodwork before seeing his dubiously-awarded spot-kick saved, but Purnell was by no means the only keeper called into action as Chris Wright also made a couple of decent blocks.
Manager Mark Saunders felt his side should have left Somerset with three points considering their second-half display, which came after a change in tactics at the break.
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"We ended up with a point but should really have won it. That second half was the best we have played in a while," he said.
"Their keeper has been superb, we hit a post and, to top it all off, we also missed a penalty as well, but there are certainly positives to take.
"It was not great from both sides in the first half. The pitch was absolutely terrible to play on – really bobbly and bouncy – and both sides were making plenty of mistakes.
"Players were struggling just to run with the ball and cross it because it was so bad.
"We said at half-time that we had Jules and Bushin up top, who are both good in the air, so we told the players to get the ball in the box early, and it worked.
"It wasn't just about lumping the ball up anywhere the first chance we had, but the more balls we launched in there the more we forced them back and put them under pressure.
"It is okay to play tippy-tappy stuff in your own half when the pitch is okay but we do need to be more direct sometimes."
In a first half of few chances, as both sides tried to negotiate the uneven surface at Fairfax Park, it was the Robins' Graham Mercieca who opened hostilities as he lashed a 30-yard volley well wide.
Jon Vance then found Wright with a weak shot from the edge of the box, before Purnell crashed into defender Phil Veal from a corner, leaving him unconscious.
Bridgwater began the second half brightly and forced another comfortable save from Wright – this time from a Vance effort.
But the Yellows began to assert themselves as they took a more direct approach.
Bushin glanced a Josh Concanen cross wide, before Andy Taylor saw his effort well saved by Purnell after Josh Searle's cross had been cleared.
Lewis Tasker and Searle then had efforts blocked, before Purnell tipped away a cross from the latter with Jules Emati-Emati lurking with intent.
Bushin then hit the frame of the goal from Alex Faux's cross, before the striker almost broke the deadlock in fortuitous circumstances when Purnell's clearance hit him, only to bounce wide of the goal.
Emati-Emati and Bridgwater's Tim Legg then clashed and the referee harshly pointed to the spot, but Purnell denied Bushin with a fine sprawling save.
There was still time for Michael Nardiello to test Purnell, but the keeper again proved his worth with an excellent low save to earn his team a point.
Tivvy face a trip to in-form Yate Town tonight (Tuesday), before tricky-looking back-to-back home games against Swindon Supermarine and North Leigh.
And Saunders says it is imperative that his players carry their fine second-half form against Bridgwater into those games.
"We need to build on that second-half showing, but we are lacking in a bit of consistency at the moment," said Saunders, who will be without midfielder Taylor for the match due to work commitments.
"It is all about backing it up against Yate now, and after that, we have games against Swindon and North Leigh, so that is a very hard run of games.
"Playing against those sides could actually mean we have less pressure on us. We are a side that reached the top of the table but have not won since so perhaps pressure does affect us."
Saunders also revealed he was unsure if veteran midfielder Kevin Hill would play due to a troublesome hamstring injury sustained two weeks ago against Shortwood United that is yet to clear up.
"We rested Hilly because of his hamstring and we may have to keep him in cotton wool for the moment," he said.
"Do we bring him in or rest him? We're not sure yet because his hamstring is still causing him some problems."