OLAF Koszela’s first-half strike was all that separated Buckland Athletic and Torquay United as the Gulls ran out 1-0 pre-season winners last night.
More than 1,200 fans packed into a sun-drenched Homers Heath as both sides got their preparations underway for the 2022/23 campaign.
Following a 15 minute delay to kick-off to allow more spectators time to get in, it was Torquay who came out of the blocks on top.
Kieron Evans headed a deep cross wide before Brett McGavin came close twice in fairly quick succession – volleying just off target from corner routines.
Owen Stockton sent a free-kick over the bar with the hosts’ first real chance of the game and McGavin replied with another decent look at the other end.
The rangy 22-year-old midfielder got on the end of an inviting ball from dangerous full-back Dylan Crowe, but sent it past Andy Collings’ far post.
Five minutes before half-time Gary Johnson’s men did hit the front when Koszela’s scuffed effort appeared to catch Collings and his defenders out as it trickled over the line.
Buckland head coach Dan Hart introduced striker Ryan Bush at half-time who quickly began to make a nuisance of himself.
First he got the better of Gulls centre-back Ali Omar to cut inside and drag wide of the near post, then new signing Sam Clifton took a quick free-kick and played Bush in behind who fired across the face of goal.
Ben Carter and skipper Rob Farkins had long-range efforts held by Torquay’s trialist keeper Rhys Lovett as the Bucks probed for a late equaliser.
But the best chance to restore parity came five minutes from time when three substitutes combined – JJ Evans providing the cross and Reece Hendrickson laying it off for Sammy Stayt to find the roof of the net.
Having taken charge of his new side for the first time, Bucks head coach Hart was satisfied with the evening’s work.
‘I think it was great to kick it [the season] off in front of a crowd like that,’ said Hart. ‘Having an occasion like this makes you realise just how important this club should be in Devon and Cornwall.
‘And I was pleased with the performance as well, which always helps in pre-season. I thought the whole group impressed.
‘In the first half I was really impressed with the work we did without the ball. They [Torquay] were very strong in terms of their line-up in the first half, and I think to limit them to a goal and cause them a few problems when Scott Crocker ran with the ball was encouraging.
‘Sam Clifton, as another young lad, did really well when he came on in the second half and showed that he’s got that really good physical ability to get around the pitch.
‘Sam, to me, is someone that has so much raw potential at 22. He’s someone who I was unaware of a year ago when I took over at Launceston.
‘I really do think having seen him tonight and seen the physical condition he’s in, he’s going to make the step up to Western League comfortably.
‘I thought Rob Farkins, as well, was superb at the back and just marshalled everything well. There are some really good signs there as we get a younger team built around him.’
Buckland continue their schedule of pre-season friendlies when they entertain Southern League side Willand Rovers next Saturday [July 16, 3pm].