AXMINSTER suffered a second-half collapse to concede three goals in the last 22 minutes in a 3-1 loss at leaders Stoke Gabriel in the Southwest Peninsula League Division One East.

The game started at a frantic pace with both sides clearly relishing the battle.

Axminster were only a terrific save away from taking the lead when Jonny Hurford’s 20-yard free-kick looked destined to hit the net but the agile home goalkeeper Dom Aplin tipped it away for a corner.

After this initial scare, it was the home side that took control of the game with some terrific wing play and only a top-class display of goalkeeping from the Tigers’ stopper Ashley Smith prevented the rampant Stoke from being out of sight.

The highly-rated Smith made a handful of breathtaking saves as the two sides went into the break level.

Axminster started the second period on the front foot and it was not long before a terrific free-flowing attack, which was started off by left-back Kieran Daniels, was expertly finished by Ashley Small who swivelled on the half turn bagging his 19th goal of the season, after 47 minutes.

Stoke immediately went on the front foot but were getting frustrated by the defensive display from Connor Hannaford, Dan Beer, Hurford and Daniels and were going to need something special to beat the inspired Smith in goal.

On the 69th minute, the home side produced a touch of class when Joe Andrews hit a first-time shot from 18-yards out that just beat the diving Smith.

Five minutes later, Axminster conceded again when they switched off to a quick throw in that found Adam Dyson unmarked, who then duly rifled past the helpless Smith.

Axminster introduced teenagers Reece McCabe and Will Hellier to liven things up and both gave a good account of themselves.

Unfortunately for the Tigers the game was effectively ended when Ben Allen gave away a needless penalty in the 85th minute, the resultant spot-kick was blasted past Smith who very nearly saved Danny Gaze’s strike.

Axminster host University of Exeter on Tuesday (7.30pm).

Man of the match: Ashley Smith