BUCKLAND Athletic finished their Western League campaign on the wrong end of a seven-goal thriller on Saturday as they were beaten 4-3 by Barnstaple Town at Mill Road.

A poor opening period from the Bucks saw Barnstaple race into a commanding lead, with first-half goals from Billy Tucker (2), Stu Bowker and Callum Laird only answered before the break by a Sam Stayt goal. Nick Milton and Josh Grant put the Bucks within one after a much-improved second half.

'First half we were awful,’ admitted Buckland boss Dan Hart, 'but second half was a very good and committed performance, so I’m really pleased with the reaction.

Barnstaple Town 4-3 Buckland Athletic
Buckland boss Dan Hart was pleased with his side's reaction to an 'awful' first half. (Josh Goodman)

'Overall as a season, I’m proud of this group but without all those bodies today, perhaps we should have seen a more disjointed performance coming. But the reaction showed that they are together and there was some good performances in there too.

'I’m hesitant to blame the changes because 10 of that starting XI have been consistent members of our group the whole season; if not starters, they’ve certainly been members of our squad. It was poor mistakes individually [that cost us]. 

'We had a goal to achieve today which we failed to do, so that’s the only disappointing thing about the end result. But there’s a pleasant feeling left in the tunnel for next year from that second-half performance.’

The afternoon got off to a regrettable start for the Bucks. Goalkeeper Andy Collings – who had already been tested by an effort from Matty Andrew – was caught in possession by Ryan Turner nine minutes in and was adjudged to have fouled the Barum man as the pair went to ground. Tucker stepped up and converted the spot-kick.

Barnstaple Town 4-3 Buckland Athletic
Buckland goalkeeper Andy Collings brings down Ryan Turner in the penalty area. (Josh Goodman)

But Buckland soon clapped back through Stayt. Home custodian Liam Kingston’s clearance was picked up by Cieran Bridger, who bounced a clever pass over the defence for Stayt to run onto and squeeze under the onrushing goalkeeper.

Bowker restored the advantage on 25 minutes when he poked home a composed finish. 

Laird added to the tally three minutes before the half-time interval. A deep cross caused all sorts of problems and tempted Collings off his line to challenge a Barnstaple striker in the air. The pair clashed heavily and Laird was on hand to pick up the pieces and bundle the ball home.

There was still time for one more goal before the break. Rob Farkins clumsily brought down the forward having got the wrong side of him and Tucker again netted the subsequent spot-kick, although this time with a no-look flourish.

Barnstaple Town 4-3 Buckland Athletic
Tucker added a little helping of cheek to his penalty conversion. (Josh Goodman)

'It’s a funny old game, and there were symptoms there of our overall season,’ Hart said. 'I think that’s the reason why we are just that little shadow away from those top-four clubs. I think we finished in the right position in the league, and today was a reflection of that; Jekyll and Hyde.’

But the second half was a much brighter time for the travelling Bucks. Nine minutes after the restart, the arrears were reduced to two as Milton nodded home an inch-perfect free-kick delivery from Bridger.

Barnstaple Town 4-3 Buckland Athletic
Nick Milton, right of centre, heads home to reduce arrears. (Josh Goodman)

Bowker nearly doubled his tally at the midpoint of the half. The forward displayed immense patience as he meandered around two defenders and gloves-man Collings before pulling the trigger, only to see Bucks captain Farkins scramble back to the goal line and clear via the woodwork.

The Bucks grabbed a third goal in injury-time. Josh Webber beat the offside trap and tempted Kingston off his line. Webber squared the ball for Ryan Bush in the centre, who in turn rolled it for debutante Grant to squeeze his shot in.

‘Result aside,’ Hart said, ‘second half they showed the spirit we’ve seen for the larger portion of the season and there were some good performances. 

Barnstaple Town 4-3 Buckland Athletic
Josh Grant, right, tries to get the ball back after scoring on his debut. (Josh Goodman)

‘I’m really pleased for Josh Grant to come into this team and be our stand-out player for the entirety of the game. He deserved his goal at the end and I think that this club could end up being a place where he can find a new challenge and home to play his football – fingers crossed we can make that happen.’