BOVEY Tracey boss Will Small says his side have proven that they can ‘beat anybody’ on their day.
The returning gaffer guided the Moorlanders to a fifth-place finish in the South West Peninsula League Premier East and rewrote the record books at Mill Marsh as the club reached the FA Vase Third Round Proper for the first time.
Reflecting on the season, Small said: 'There’s been lots of positives to take from the season and from where we were when I came in 18 months ago, we were 17th in the league and barely had 11 players. We’ve had 16 players every week this season, at least – I’ve had to leave people out of the squad every game.
'We’ve ended the season with 90 per cent of the squad that we started it with and we have introduced a lot of youngsters from the Under-18s, so that has been good. We’ve also had a couple 16-year-olds play.
'We’ve won, I think, 28 games [in all competitions] this season and the games we haven’t picked up the victories in we know we haven’t been good enough, and if we would have addressed it by turning up with the right attitudes and the right work-rate, we’d have finished a lot higher. We’ve proven that on our day we can beat anybody; we gave Brixham a footballing lesson here [at Mill Marsh] and we beat Ivybridge [Town] three times in a season. We can do it, it’s just about consistently doing it.
'We’re a new group, thrown together this year with a lot of people who didn’t know each other but we stuck together. If we add a couple more in the summer, it bodes well for next season.’
Bovey were gunning for promotion at the start of the season but, like many others in the division, saw their hopes dashed by the breakdown of the Peninsula League’s merger with the Western League.
'I think everyone had the same ambitions at the start with the rumours that were going around with what you needed to do,’ said Small. 'We were almost told top five would guarantee you were going up when the merger was happening; we’ve achieved that but the merger was pulled away, so it hasn’t happened.
'In the Vase, it is the longest the club have ever gone in it. We went through six rounds of that. All in all, there’s lots of positives to take from it and lots of lessons to learn.’
Bovey were one of only two clubs to beat champions Brixham in the league, when a pulsating performance back in October saw Ollie Aplin, Neil Last and Cal Leech fire them to a 3-1 win.
'For personal reasons, I would say the Brixham win [was my favourite game of the season],’ Small said. 'There was a lot of stuff behind the scenes going on, so a lot rested on that game and on that day we were very, very good.
'Same with the Ivybridge games; especially the one in the Vase when we were down to 10 men, coming back and winning that one [on penalties].
'But for me, it’s been nice to see the young lads playing and introducing young lads who have never played men’s football before – bringing in Tom Mortimore, young Kelson [Pollard], young James [Watts-Barciella], Jerry [Revell], Finn McLean. These are all teenage lads that have come in and done the club really proud.’
Small’s Grade: C
'I set my own standards really high,’ Small explained. 'I think we’ve done a lot better than last year with where the club were before; we’ve had to change the whole squad over the summer. We’ve finished top five – compared to where we were in 17th, that’s a big improvement.
'The atmosphere around the place is good and we’ve got a good bunch of lads.'