JARED Lewington struck late to earn Buckland Athletic all three points in a pulsating 3-2 win over Bridgwater United on Saturday.
Lewington converted a clinical counterattack right at the death to bring up his hat-trick, breaking Bridgwater hearts and blotting their spotless home record as first-half goals from Adam Wright and Jay Murray were nullified.
'It was an excellent game between two sides that will be up there at the end of the season,’ said Buckland Head Coach Dan Hart.
'[Bridgwater] are difficult to play against – here particularly – and I know they’ve had some tough moments away from home throughout the season but they’ve got so much quality and they were going to pose us problems.
'I’m so proud of our group. Throughout that 90 minutes they dealt with decisions and everything that came their way and I thought they were brave. To be brave will win you games away from home.
'I’ve been impressed by our away form in the majority of this season, and to go and put away a result like that after the troubles we had earlier in the season feels fantastic.’
In front of a raucous Somerset crowd nearing 400, the Devonians drew first blood on 21 minutes. A short corner routine between Cieran Bridger and Teigan Rosenquest saw the former float a dangerous cross into the crowd of bodies occupying the box. The ball was flicked on by a defender and Lewington was on hand to glance the Bucks into the lead.
It only took six minutes for the hosts to clap back, when early substitute Finlay Koppa drove to the right corner of the penalty area and fired a mouth-watering delivery across the back of the defence which Wright fearlessly threw himself towards, spectacularly nodding home past Bucks gloves-man Tyler Coombes.
The Robins edged in front 15 minutes later. A nefarious challenge on Buckland captain Rob Farkins as he looked to clear went unpunished and the home side capitalised, regaining possession on the left. The initial shot was saved by Coombes – not all too convincingly – and Murray reacted first to the spillage and was well-positioned to blast into the net.
'They’ve got lots of quality; particularly in the forward areas,’ Hart said of Bridgwater.
'I thought their goalkeeper [Isaac Finch] was brilliant today – he’s 16 years old. We had to be at our very best to turn them over, and to win it late like that is exactly what we deserved – I felt we deserved every single point we got here today.’
The Bucks levelled with an instantaneous reply, ensuring the two sides went into the half-time break at two apiece. A corner was only cleared as far as Bridger, whose ambitious shot clattered into the traffic in front of goal and found its way to the feet of Lewington. Hart’s talisman pulled the trigger on the turn, gently steering the ball into the netting behind the far post.
'We worked hard in the week and put a game-plan together; we felt they would play the same shape as us – and they did – and over the course of 90 minutes it threw up so many different tactical problems for me to deal with,’ Hart said. ‘It was a real minefield for us but we got there – these are the moments that you look back on at the end of the season.’
After weathering several near-misses in the second half, the Bucks delivered the killer blow with only a single minute left of regular time. A rapid counterattack saw substitutes Sam Stayt and Josh Grant cleverly exchange passes to get in behind. Grant, one-on-one with Finch, selflessly squared a pass for Lewington, arriving at pace, to stab home the winner.
'That’s what Jared’s capable of,’ Hart explained, ‘and that’s why we worked so hard to bring him to the club last season.
'If you look at his goal-scoring record since he’s been here, it’s outstanding, but I’ll be open and honest: I feel that his performances have been ok at times but I’m looking to make sure he spends the peak of his career in the right shape, fit and available to us at all times and delivering in the big moments – that’s exactly what he did.
'I singled him out in the dressing room, and if he produces performances like that he is very difficult to stop; he’s got power, pace, strength and he’s a good finisher. Today he’s moved onto 22 goals in 23 games, and I don’t think he’s hit top gear yet, so it’s very exciting.’
With the points maximum under their belt, Buckland move within three of third-placed Bridgwater in the table and become the first team in eight to leave Fairfax Park with something to boast about this season.
'It’s definitely a statement [win] but seasons move in mysterious ways – you can have ups and downs, and we’ve certainly had both of those things,’ said Hart.
'Today is a real up but [on Boxing Day] we go to Brixham, and it will be a completely different type of game and we’ll have to answer different questions. If we can do that and get another win on the board, we will be looking at the part of the table that I want to be at and I know the players do as well.
'I’m proud of my players today and the statement that they have made as a team. They have to now raise their standards over a tough Christmas period and make sure their bodies are right to go again at Brixham.'