A four figure crowd, excellent playing surface and a Viridor Stadium bathed in sunshine provided the perfect backdrop for a well-contested clash between the top two sides in the South and West Division. The Peacocks were chasing a notable double after their victory at Edgar Street in January but on the day neither side managed to gain full control over the 90 minutes which was reflected accurately in the scoreline.
The home side showed two changes from the previous weekend’s mauling of Mangotsfield, with returns for both central defender Matt Villis and striker Matt Wright following spells out injured. However Town made the worst possible start when they fell behind after just two minutes. Mike McGrath lofted a ball forward which found Bulls’ top scorer John Mills on the right side of the box and when his shot was blocked by Villis, the ball messily found its way to Mike Symons who stuck out his leg to net from seven yards.
Town appeared slow to settle after this early setback but gradually warmed to the task and Ollie Chamberlain offered the first glimmer of an opening when he burst into the right side of the area but seemed to get his feet tangled in the ball and it passed harmlessly out. Mills fired a free kick against the Town wall but chances were proving elusive for both teams until the equaliser arrived on 29 minutes. Ross Staley was caught by McGrath on the edge of the box and Ed Palmer drove the free kick past the wall and into the left-hand corner of Alex Harris’ net.
Pierce Mitchell volleyed well over the top as Town pressed for another and very nearly had it just before half time when Ben Palmer’s cross from the left was met first time by Staley on the volley but the effort was unfortunately straight at Harris who held it comfortably enough. With defences on top, the scarcity of goalscoring opportunities continued after the interval although that wasn’t to say there weren’t any, with Hereford missing one when the unmarked Mark Preece glanced a McGrath corner wide of the post.
Staley, who joined the Peacocks from Hereford last autumn, was proving a thorn in his old side and created another chance for himself when he cut in from the right and fired in a strike which Harris spilled but no-one was near enough to capitalise. Another run from Staley then ended with a shot which fizzed wide of the far post before Lloyd Irish made a routine stop low down from Tristan Plummer’s effort after Symons had broken free down the right flank.
Harris carried the ball over the line under pressure from Jordan Rogers but the challenge was adjudged a foul and no goal. Another chance then arose at the Invest Southwest End for the visitors when a slip by Shane White gave Plummer a run at goal but his angled shot was pushed wide by Irish. Rogers fired a left footer just over which proved his final contribution of the afternoon as he was replaced by Craig Veal who nearly made an immediate impact when Staley set Chamberlain free on the right and from his cross Harris gathered just in front of the Town substitute.
A Veal shot was charged down, the loose ball falling to Josh Searle who rifled a drive inches wide from 20 yards, as Town still asked questions of the second meanest defence in the entire Southern League. Late pressure from the Bulls saw Mills break down the left but Jake Sinclair was unable to direct his header on target from the cross and Symons also headed wide although it wouldn’t have counted as the flag was already raised for offside. Despite further probing from both sides it ended honours even - the Peacocks left the pitch to a rousing reception and the knowledge that the point gained was sufficient to confirm their third successive appearance in the League play-offs in just over two weeks’ time.
By Andy Power
Taunton: Lloyd Irish, Pierce Mitchell, Ben Palmer (Josh Searle 81), Matt Villis, Ed Palmer, Shane White, Ollie Chamberlain, Brett Trowbridge (captain), Matt Wright, Jordan Rogers (Craig Veal 71), Ross Staley. Unused subs: Matt Buse, Alex Hoyle, Craig Duff
Hereford: Alex Harris, Rob Purdie, Joel Edwards (captain), Calvin Dinsley, Mark Preece, Ryan Green, Tristan Plummer (Jake Sinclair 80), Mike McGrath, John Mills, Jamie Molyneux, Mike Symons. Unused subs: Bradley Williams, Oliver Barnes, Jamie Edge, Martin Horsell
Referee: James Durkin (Bournemouth)
Assistants: Thomas Holden (Broadstone), Christopher Simpson (Blandford)
Match Sponsors: Invest Southwest, Tony and Tim Rutland, Steve and Rachael Coles
Match Ball Sponsors: Nicar Time Service, Johnny Oaten and Steve Wood
Mascots: Staplegrove FC Under 9’s