WHEN Craig Duff joined Bideford during the summer, he was described by Sean Joyce as a versatile player capable of performing anywhere in midfield or up front.
The Bideford manager was not expecting to see his new recruit play in goal on the opening day of the Calor League season.
Duff donned the gloves on a dramatic debut as defiant Bideford held out for a 2-2 draw at Chesham United.
They frustrated a slick home side after Steve Oliver, on his league debut for Bideford, was sent off for a last-man foul just after half time.
Trailing 2-1 against a team who reached the Premier Division play-offs in the last two seasons, Bideford were lifted by a goal from Owen Howe.
And for a side with such fragile away form last term, the players impressed with their attitude against the odds.
"I have never played in goal before," said Duff. "I said to Joycey, 'Have you got anyone to go in?' He said, 'No, do you fancy it?'"
For the following 40 minutes a defence led by Jack Furzer and Ben Gerring stood up to protect their inexperienced No 1.
"The boys did well," said Duff. "We had a good shape and I didn't have that much to do considering they are a promotion-challenging team and we were 2-1 down with 10 men. Ben and Jack were superb."
Even with 11 men it looked like being a difficult afternoon for the visitors without Matt Hockley, their captain, who was getting married, and suspended Rob Farkins, the supporters' player of the year.
The additional loss of Nick Milton with a broken jaw meant Sean Downing, last season's top scorer, was asked to start in central defence.
Bideford had an early escape when Toby Little, the roving left back, saw a deflected shot loop over Oliver and graze the post.
Connor Clifford's long-range free kick then skidded under Chesham goalkeeper Glenn Williamson for a sixth-minute lead.
With a pre-match downpour speeding up the pitch, the game was played at frantic tempo with Chesham working the ball neatly through midfield.
Drew Roberts, the livewire striker, and Little both shot narrowly wide and Steve Wales skimmed a header just past the post.
The equaliser from Roberts came after 30 minutes and Oliver was at fault, failing to connect with an attempted punch.
On the counter-attack, Bideford continued to threaten, with the hard-working Howe drilling a shot across the box.
When Richard Groves and Clifford combined on the left, Duff had a rare sight of goal, only to see his effort blocked.
"I probably should have done better when I got in behind," said Duff. "You have to take your chances in this league, especially away from home."
Duff then curled a free kick off target after Groves was clattered by Mark Lambert – a foul Bideford argued was inside the box.
Since being converted from a winger to a left back, Clifford has improved the defensive side of his game. He made a crucial block on James Potton but a brief lapse in concentration at the start of the second half allowed United to edge ahead.
Clifford could only head the ball to the edge of the box where Potton slammed a low volley beyond Oliver.
Things got even worse for the goalkeeper after a moment of madness from Furzer who played a backpass without seeing Roberts alert to his intentions.
Oliver dashed from his line and fouled the forward outside the area, earning a red card for denying a goalscoring opportunity.
It was an eventful day for all Bideford's new recruits.
Gerring was a tower of strength; Saul Halpin showed his ability when his first touch sent Howe clear to equalise; and fellow substitute Ethan Phillips was inches from a winner when he skipped past Williamson, but shot wide of the unguarded net from a narrow angle.
As Chesham passed and probed, Duff and Matt Bye both scrambled efforts clear and John Kyriacou's long-range effort crashed back off the post.
Having switched from Weymouth where he had two seasons in the Southern League, Duff , who lives in Torquay, will not forget his debut.
"We always believed we could get something," he said.
"I have known Sean Joyce for quite a few years and I know quite a lot of the players.
"I thought I would really enjoy my football, that's why I decided to come."