Axminster Town recorded an excellent 2-1 success in their pre-season meeting with Southern League Willand Rovers.
The Tigers scored first and last in an entertaining contest played before another good Tiger Way turnout.
Jamie Girton fired the Tigers into a 22nd minute lead and that’s how the game remained at half-time. Two minutes after the re-start, Alfie Moulden levelled for the visitors, but, two minutes from time, Charlie Wilson netted what proved to be the winning goal.
Tigers’ boss Dan Prettejohn was very honest – and genuine – with his assessment of the action.
He said: “I know results in warm-up games are not important and, of course, we have learned so much from being on the same pitch as a quality football team like Willand Rovers, but to have come out on top, albeit in a contest that saw them [Willand Rovers] hit the frame of the goal three times and we also had to make a number of last ditch clearances, is something that we can feed off in the coming season.”
He continued: “I think the most telling thing for me was when I walked into the dressing room at full-time. I strode in expecting to walk into a party – but no, there was none of that. Indeed, it was a more sombre mood and all the talk was of: “We have set a standard there and now the bench mark has to be that performance across the pitch – we know we can deliver, but the hard work will now be to make sure we do not let such standards and performances – slip.”
He added: “That made me feel so good and, when the dust had settled on the game, I was left to reflect on how good it was to hear that in the dressing room.”
As for the 90 minutes of action, the Tigers’ boss said: “They [Willand] were a class act and their number 10 was real quality. They showed us just what is required further up the football food chain – they kept the ball like it was a prized possession and, while at our level, certainly in league terms, we wont face such individual and collective quality, the bottom line is that we have been able to match such quality, and come out on top, after 90 minutes and so, as a manger, I shall be able to return to this performance and result during the coming season as and when we hit ‘bumps in the road’ – and we will – and it’ll be good to remind the lads, when the going gets tough, to take their minds back to a mid July night when they went toe-to-toe with a Southern League side and, while we rode our luck at times, we did prevail.”
He continued: “We will all, hopefully, have learned so much from those 90 minutes. Yes, they did boss proceedings and saw plenty more of the ball than we did, but we stuck to our guns and, as I have already said, rode our luck, kept believing, and ultimately scored a late winner. I did like what I saw in terms of when we did get possession and what we looked to do with it. We found them hard to break down, but that’s to be expected when you are playing opposition from a higher level. Learning how to retain shape during games when you find it hard to see much of the ball, is as important as it is recognising how precious the ball is and making sure you do not give it away in a slack fashion.
“The Rovers movement was also something to behold and it’s things like this that are invaluable in pre-season and exactly why we play fixtures like this as they allow you to see the sort of standards you need to aspire to if you, as a football club, are wanting to keep progressing – and, at Axminster Town – I very much want that to be what we are about – learning from every game we play, looking to improve both individually and collectively and also ensure that we keep on developing as a club, on and off the pitch.”
Looking back over the three games, the 3-2 loss to Wincanton Town and the 2-1 reversal at the hands of Wellington, and now the 2-1 win over Willand Rovers, the Tigers’ boss said: “If you put all three performances into the same pattern of thinking you will see game-by-game improvement and progress and that, for me, is what pre-season is all about. Yes, this time of a campaign is very much all about getting ‘miles into legs’ and making sure everything is finely tuned to that first league game in less than four weeks time. But equally, its 90 minutes against Willand Rovers and the subsequent result that will stand us in good stead in deepest midwinter if we are away, let’s say up in North Devon after a long trip and very much ‘up against it’ against whoever. Yes, nights like last night can help mould a season – and they will.”
Next up for Prettejohn and the Tigers is a fourth pres-season game, this one against Gillingham Town, another Western League outfit, with the game being played at Tiger Way on Tuesday (July 20) with a 7.30m kick-off.