LUKE Alden’s injury-time penalty threw Okehampton Argyle a lifeline on Saturday as they drew 1-1 with Buckland Athletic in the FA Cup Preliminary Round.
The Peninsula League side’s equaliser came as the final action of an enthralling battle which Buckland had led for nearly an hour after a Josh Grant goal shortly before half-time. Alden’s penalty set up a replay – Okehampton’s second in as many rounds against Western League opposition – which will be played at Simmons Park on Tuesday night.
'I think we got what we deserved to a certain extent,’ admitted Buckland’s dejected Head Coach Dan Hart. 'I felt that we attracted pressure in the late period of the game when there was no need to.
'For the large part of the game we nullified the threats that Okehampton have and I think we used the pitch quite well at times in the first half. We looked like we would open up and score some more goals, and I said to the players at half-time, ‘as long as we are solid and as long as we keep ourselves in the game for 20-25 minutes, I think their legs will suffer and then in the final 25 we can really express ourselves with our abilities.’
'We did the first part really well but the second part really poorly, and for the level of player we have here at this club, I would expect far better decision-making, far better technical play and far more opportunities to be created.’
Buckland survived a fright on 25 minutes. With the visiting Argyle the better side until this point, they came agonisingly close to converting their start into a lead when Luke Reynolds found a pocket of space just beyond the box and pulled the trigger, forcing Bucks goalkeeper Andy Collings into an acrobatic fingertip save.
But it would be Okehampton that would blink first, fewer than 10 minutes before the half-time interval. A corner delivery was helped on to ex-Argyle defender Myles James, whose first shot was blocked and second was only kept out by a superb reaction save from Jimmy Weeks. Grant was the first to emerge from the goal-line melee, poking home the rebound from close range for his second goal in as many games.
'I’m pleased for Josh,’ Hart said. 'He’s a good goal-scorer and he’s an experienced and very talented player.
'I think the way in which we are playing at the minute is enabling Josh to get into the right areas to be scoring goals but we aren’t doing it enough.
'We have to demand more energy – maybe to make sure that players that get opportunities are taking them – and we have to find the right XI to go out on the pitch and put into place our game plan on a regular basis; to be fit enough to do it, to be consistent enough to do it and to put into place the style of the play that we ask for and the simple basics and principles that are in my teams.
'I’m relentless in the fact that that’s how we play and that’s what we need to be known for every time we step out.’
The Bucks had their tails up until the break. The ever-dangerous Ryan Bush came inches from doubling the advantage just two minutes after the breakthrough when he met a sublime Owen Stockton cross on the stretch, just to see the ball strike the wrong side of the post and roll out to safety.
Pressure was back on the Bucks after the restart. Okehampton plundered the home goal with multiple efforts going narrowly wide or high and one cleared off the line. Buckland were riding their luck at times.
'A large part of the reason why we’ve not won that game is the fact that we invited pressure,’ Hart said.
'That’s not something my teams have ever done, that’s not something this club has ever done since I’ve been here, and we need to get out of that habit very quickly.
'We need to be a lot more on the front foot when we defend, and that means closing gaps and getting higher and trying to win the ball back as high as possible – that is the first and foremost part of how I set up any team, and today we didn’t do that at any time for any sustained period.’
Buckland cracked right at the death. A teasing cross was floated into the box and Ben Bickle was clumsily grounded, leaving referee Matthew Petherbridge no option but to point to the spot. Alden stepped up and thundered home the equaliser.
'Obviously it’s frustrating to concede late but it’s more the overall performance that I’m concerned about,’ Hart explained.
'I feel that Okehampton were nice and honest in how they went about it and they were really up for today. But I would question why we weren’t and why, on some occasions, do we struggle to be completely motivated to deliver a performance? That concerns me.
'I would like to think that I demand consistency from myself, and that has to extend to the players. It hurts to concede late, and if we had rode that game out and won 1-0 I might be semi-pleased but secretly within those four walls, the players would still know that the standards we’ve set today are not what I expect at this club.’