Torridgeside's sights set firmly on North Devon League's top prize
AS signals of intent go, it was pretty emphatic.
A comprehensive 3-0 victory over the champions showed Torridgeside mean business in the North Devon League.
Boca Seniors have always won the key clashes to dominate the premier division with six titles in seven years.
But the Barnstaple club ran into formidable opponents at Donnacroft on Saturday.
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With a blend of higher-league experience and hungry young players, Torridgeside look determined to take the top prize for the first time.
Marc Bettiss bagged two goals and Mike Hedden scored a powerful header, extending their unbeaten start to 16 games.
"There are no superstars in the team," said manager Barry Paine.
"They just work hard and that's all we can ask of them.
"At the moment, it's that hard graft which is getting us the results.
"We knew Boca would be strong in the first 25 minutes.
"We are difficult to beat but we are also patient.
"We have learnt we can't go gung-ho in the first 15 minutes."
Braving the bitter cold, both teams played incisive football as the match started at a frantic pace.
Boca will have known all about the goalscoring threat of Bettiss, who hit seven against them in three meetings last season.
But the movement and energy of his strike partner Rob Holland seemed to catch them totally by surprise.
It took a terrific save from Darren Babb, diving low to his left, to keep out Holland in the first five minutes after Kyle Paine ran at Kurt Bayliss on the right wing.
Holland then turned sharply to pick out Paddy Ions who dashed in from the left only to shoot wide under pressure from Babb.
And a flicked effort from Holland had to be scrambled off the line by Giles Daniel as Torridgeside continued to press.
When Bettiss did finally get the ball in the net, the goal was ruled out for handball.
With both teams working neat triangles through midfield, the game moved at pace but Boca struggled to test home goalkeeper Lee Cockwill.
Adam Copp was denied by a well-timed challenge from Neil Bettiss and Taro Bishop fired across goal without anyone applying a finishing touch.
It was not until the 38th minute, when Jack Jenkins drilled wide from Scott Sharp's cross, that the champions created their first real chance.
Five minutes later, they were opened up by an expertly-crafted goal as Holland linked up with Jamie Bright who sent Bettiss clear. One-on-one with Babb, he skipped around the goalkeeper to score with ease.
Torridgeside started the second half in similar vein with Ian Cockwill bursting forward from right back to pick out Bright.
Boca were able to scramble the ball out for a corner but the respite did not last long as a delivery from Ions was met with a thumping header from Hedden to double the lead.
The third goal was the best of the bunch with Holland's trickery tormenting Lewis and Simon Ovey before crossing for Bettiss to score with a near-post flick.
Any hopes the visitors had of a fightback were ended moments later when Bishop was shown a red card for a late challenge on Bright.
As Boca showed last season when they clawed back a 16-point gap on Braunton, they should not be written off yet.
It promises to be a thrilling end to the season with Bideford, North Molton and Braunton also in the five-team mix.