DAN Hart believes defensive sluggishness was to blame for his Buckland Athletic side’s 3-2 defeat to Clevedon Town on Saturday.

Seasider Freddie King made a splash with a three-minute double shortly before the hour mark, bursting the Western League opening day bout into life. Sam Beresford added Clevedon’s eventual winner, while travelling Bucks Jared Lewington and Ryan Bush left the Somerset coast with a souvenir goal each.

'Obviously it’s disappointing to lose any game but, in my opinion, we were very close there to performing really well away and getting our just rewards,’ Hart said. 

'I think there’s definite frustration in the way that we conceded all three of the goals; I think all three of them could’ve been stopped by quicker and better reactions defensively but that may come with a little bit more rhythm and match-pace. 

Clevedon 3-2 Buckland
Teigan Rosenquest, centre, is fouled by Sol Kent late in the game. (Josh Goodman)

'I thought that – for the first 45 minutes – defensively we were excellent and did not look like conceding a goal and Farks [Rob Farkins] in particular was marshalling the defence really well. We were disappointed in the way that we started the second half, and that five-minute spell where they scored two goals made it an uphill task. 

'But, for the large part, it was a much-improved and better performance that gives me a little bit more to be positive about moving forward.’

The two sides entered the interval in deadlock, which was frustrating for Buckland after they turned the screw but came up just short of an opener from their glut of opportunities.

Clevedon 3-2 Buckland
Josh Grant, left, pulls the trigger under pressure from a pair of Clevedon defenders. (Josh Goodman)

'The last 25 minutes of the first half we were excellent but without putting the ball in the back of the net,’ Hart said. 

'We did everything we could to dominate the game and it was good. Half-time comes when half-time comes, and if you’re not going to punish and you’re not going to come out for the second half with the same intensity and you’re going to allow opposition to change a little and affect the game a lot more then you’re going to concede.’

Clevedon drew first blood 10 minutes after the restart. Joe Teall broke in behind on the left flank and saw his shot parried by goalkeeper Andy Collings into the path of King, who made no mistake with the rebound.

Three minutes later, King had another. Clevedon’s front-man cut inside from the left and smashed a near-post thunderbolt past Collings.

'We’ve been unstuck by slow defensive reactions to two or three efforts on goal,’ Hart said, 'and when your goalkeeper can’t hold it and when he pushes it out, your defensive players need to be first to the ball and that’s what we’re going to look to change in the games coming thick and fast.’

Buckland clapped back on 63 minutes. Bush was the beneficiary of a deflected clearance and brought the ball under control before firing a cross in for Lewington to flick home at the front post.

Clevedon 3-2 Buckland
Striker Jared Lewington netted Buckland's first goal of 2023/24. (Josh Goodman)

The hosts returned fire nine minutes from time, stretching the lead back out to two as Beresford collected his own rebound to score.

It took two minutes for the Bucks to again halve the arrears, with Bush nodding into the netting behind the far post from some 15 yards out.

'We said at half-time that we had three targets: to keep the ball out of the back of the net, to get more crosses into the box and to be ruthless when they came,’ Hart explained. 

'Certainly two of them we can tick off, but defensively we know we need to be a whole lot better moving forward.’

Buckland came agonisingly close to rescuing a point with five minutes to play. A dangerous cross to the far post found Bush and Farkins, who combined to get a shot away through the crowd. Clevedon shot-stopper James Dunn produced a fine reaction save to seal the points maximum for the hosts.

Clevedon 3-2 Buckland
Summer signing Callum Watson tries his luck from range. (Josh Goodman)

Much was made about Buckland’s numerous signings and new-look team during the off-season, with the recruitment reflecting the ambition of the club. Hart insists that his players do not feel any additional pressure from the expectations of people outside of the club.

'[Expectation] doesn’t weigh heavy on the players, and I’ve always said in my dressing rooms that the only pressure on us is the pressure we put on ourselves,’ he said. 

'There doesn’t need to be any extra expectation on the players, and I think with a little bit of repetition of what we saw today and a little bit more commitment from the boys for 90 minutes we will win more than we don’t.’