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Match report: Falmouth secure point at home thanks to Captain Marvellous
Stunned Saltash fans filtering out of Bickland Park late on Saturday afternoon were overheard asking each other how their side had failed to win after such a dominant display.
Based on the game they had just witnessed, it was a fair question.
Hosts Falmouth Town were put under pressure almost from the kick off by Stuart Dudley and Kevin Hendy's classy Ashes side, spending large parts of the game hemmed inside their own half as the visitors surged forward looking for a killer blow. Yet despite having two goals disallowed for offside and more than a dozen shots, it never came.
How could that be, Ashes fans wondered, as though trying to uncover the sleight of hand that had so bamboozled their players and allowed Town to come away with a point.
The answer, as it happens, is fairly straight forward. In fact it can be summed up in just two words: Jason Chapman.
So outstanding was the Falmouth captain’s performance between the posts that by the end of the game the visitors’ considered build up play and crisp movement had given way to frantic shots from distance, shrugs of resignation, and even on one occasion begrudging applause.
When in the 83rd minute Ashes midfielder Tom Russell saw his looping 20-yard volley acrobatically tipped over the bar by Chapman - one of eight superb saves made over the course of the afternoon - he looked up at the heavens, took a deep breath and walked away shaking his head. It summed the afternoon up for Saltash. What else could they do?
After more than five weeks without a game this was the perfect way for Falmouth to usher in 2013, and there’s no denying they needed this result - for the sake of morale if nothing else.
Fifteenth in the league and without a win since October, this was a chance to prove that while the rain may have washed out the festive fixtures, it also took with it the Bickland Park malaise.
Managers Robbie Stephens and Les Gilbert welcomed back from long-term injury veteran striker Matt Drummond and combative midfielder Ross Pope. And with recent signings Lee Jeffries and Richard Kellow making their first appearances in yet another new-look starting 11, this was the strongest Falmouth team to take to the pitch for several months. It showed.
There was a sense of solidity about the side conspicuously absent since the revolving door at Bickland Park first started turning last October. Outplayed they may have been, but not out-battled. They held their nerve - and for the most part their shape - for the full 90 minutes. A point was just reward for such a gutsy display.
But as Gilbert and Stephens noted after the game, at times they rode their luck. Chapman made crucial saves in one-on-one situations from Sam Hughes and Dimitri Kanakh, then twice from Matt Godfree after the Falmouth centre backs were seemingly hypnotised into inaction by long balls over the top.
And on the two occasions Chapman’s mojo deserted him, allowing Godfree and Hughes to stab home a couple of scrappy efforts either side of half time, the linesman’s flag came to Falmouth’s rescue instead.
After the game a relieved Les Gilbert paid tribute to his captain's performance, saying: “He’s been amazing, but he’s that sort of player, that sort of guy.
“I don't think I’ve seen a goalkeeping performance like that in any league. If you’d seen some of those saves on Match of the Day they wouldn’t have looked out of place."
Stephens agreed, saying: “I look at the fact that if it wasn’t for Jason Chapman we'd have lost the game.
“But then that’s Jason Chapman, he’s the best in the league and has been for some time. There were some in the first half where he saved at people’s feet that were outstanding.”
Not to suggest the home side were without chances of their own.
Early in the first half Glenn Squires pounced on a wayward back-pass from the otherwise excellent Gavin Coulton, but could only poke a tame shot straight at Ashes keeper Nathan Murphy. Then in the second half a swift counter attack saw Drummond race clear on the overlap, but Squires’s cross-field pass was blocked fortuitously by the heel of a back-pedalling Coulton.
More galling for Falmouth fans was that Saltash’s stand-out player should perhaps have been enjoying an early bath for a foul on Squires just outside the box minutes earlier.
The forward was through on goal and Coulton the last man back when he cynically clipped Squires’s heels and sent him tumbling. Drummond explained the rules to referee Tim Burley at volume and in no uncertain terms, but the defender received only a caution before the ball was inexplicably moved back 20 yards for the free kick.
Drummond, returning from a fractured ankle sustained in the Charity Bowl game against Bodmin last August, played for 80 minutes and reminded Town fans of his class.
The 37 year-old’s strength and link-up play provided the home side with an outlet up-front they have sorely missed in recent weeks.
Whether he will stay at Bickland Park remains to be seen after Glynn Hooper’s Newquay made an approach just before Saturday’s game.
“Time will tell, I suppose” said Stephens, “I don't know if he wants to go or not, but I think he enjoyed that yesterday. I don't see how he’s going to benefit by going up there. They’re not going to win anything and they’re still only half way up the league.”
True enough, but regardless of whether Drummond stays or goes, there was enough on display at Bickland Park on Saturday to suggest to Falmouth fans that the club are continuing to move in the right direction.
And with Chapman’s unswerving commitment to Gilbert and Stephen’s rebuilding project, there’s plenty to be optimistic about. Falmouth will play few sides as dangerous as Saltash this season, and with fellow strugglers Torpoint up next, what money on them celebrating their first three points of 2013 in Devon this weekend?