Southern League Challenge Cup
First round
Bideford 2, Taunton Town 5

ANDREW Neal bagged a first-half hat-trick as Taunton Town swept aside Division 1 outfit Bideford in the first round of the Challenge Cup on Tuesday night.

Head of football Rob Dray named a strong side from the start in Devon, with attacking players Neal, Jack Rice-Lethaby, Dan Sullivan and Matt Wright all included.

The Peacocks made a bright start, with Jack Rice-Lethaby – who had scored five goals in four games while on loan at Bideford last month – twice going close early on.

It only took them 15 minutes to break the deadlock, as Neal cut in from the left and slotted the ball home to put the visitors ahead.

Neal then shot off target after being put through by Rice-Lethaby, while at the other end Lloyd Irish had to be alert to deny Billy Tucker.

The lead was doubled just after the half-hour mark, Neal getting his second by converting Wright's cross on the counter-attack.

Former Taunton defender Toby Down headed wide from a corner for Bideford, but the home side found themselves 3-0 down just two minutes later.

Taunton substitute Noah Coppin was brought down in the box by Lewis Waldy, and Neal scored the penalty to secure himself a hat-trick in first-half stoppage time.

The goals continued to flow after the break, with Wright adding a fourth for the Peacocks on 49 minutes and Ryan Turner pulling one back just two minutes later.

Rice-Lethaby got the goal his busy performance deserved on the hour, picking up Lewis Hall's pass and picking out the bottom corner to make it 5-1.

The home side, to their credit, kept going and Theo Simpson was unfortunate to see his strike hit the post.

Ryan Turner grabbed his second of the day from Charlie Lawrence's cross in the final five minutes, which also saw Coppin denied by a super save from home goalkeeper Liam Kingston.

Taunton Town: Lloyd Irish (c), Jamie Short, Lewis Hall, Ed Palmer, Jamie Price (Noah Coppin), Ollie Chamberlain, Ryan Brett (Harry Kite), Jack Rice, Matt Wright, Dan Sullivan, Andrew Neal (Matt Villis).
Sub not used: Ben Adelsbury.
Attendance: 116

Boss Dray told the County Gazette: "It was important for us to get our forwards playing – Rocky Neal got a good hat-trick, Wrighty and Jack both played 90 minutes and got a goal.

"Rocky has fantastic mental resilience, one of the best I've seen.

"His attitude is always nailed on, but goals are always so important for a striker.

"Chambo [Ollie Chamberlain] also played himself into a bit of form – I thought he was outstanding last night – and it was good to have players playing in slightly different positions, as we need to have that versatility in our squad.

"Jamie Price had been nursing a back injury, and we took him off as a precaution last night.

"Nick Grimes is probably not quite there for Saturday, and Shane [White] is suspended, so we have to look after our centre-backs a little bit."

Next up for the Peacocks is a league match at home to Farnborough, this Saturday (ko 3pm).