AFC Sudbury 1 Grays Athletic 2
DIVISION ONE NORTH
AFC Sudbury 1 Grays Athletic 2
AFC Sudbury manager Chris Tracey defended James Smith after he was sent off in a defeat that takes pursuit of a play-off place out of their hands.
The Yellows had recovered from a destructive start to peg level through James Baker’s smart finish before the flash point of the match just before half-time saw Smith dismissed following a melee of players unhappy with James Bunn’s challenge.
Tracey, who was disappointed the well-placed referee did not stick to his guns before accepting his assisant’s view, said: “The referee is five yards away and chooses not to send anyone off, which is his prerogative.
“The tackle is probably the worst I have seen all season – he has left his mark above the ankle bone with two feet, that is disappointing.
“If I had been playing I would probably have lost my head because these guys have to go to work Monday and he (Smith) certainly would not have been if his foot had been planted on the ground.
“But he tells me he did not get hold of anyone and he is an honest guy. I didn’t see him actually hit anybody, there was nobody laying on the floor or holding their neck.”
Tracey, who praised his side’s second half effort with 10 men having almost equalised, added: “It is a massive turning point, not only on today’s game, but for our season. Football sometimes doesn’t give you what you deserve and I don’t think we got that today.”
Grays were out of the blocks at lightning pace and took the lead within four minutes, Harry Agombar with a fine solo effort, twisting and turning the defence in the area before unleashing a low shot into the bottom left corner.
It was all one-way traffic until Sudbury’s top scorer, James Baker, notched his 25th of the campaign after 11 minutes from an angled strike with his left foot, taking a touch forward from Jamie Griffiths’ pass before sliding underneath Tony Tucker.
This salvo suddenly levelled up play and ex-Ipswich Town midfielder Griffiths should have at least hit the target with a volley, before the significance of the game began to interrupt a free-flowing contest.
A coming together of heads between Russell Pond and Grays’ Craig Pope, both earning a yellow card after Ponds’ sliding tackle, was a sign of things to come.
Seconds after Smith had appealed for a penalty after a heavy nudge in the back on the stroke of half-time, tensions boiled over after James Bunn left his feet in on the defender at the other end. Smith reacted angrily as a mass brawl broke out with the well-placed referee seemed content to let Smith go unpunished, until his assistant, in the other half, stepped in and the defender was subsequently shown a straight red card while Bunn received a yellow.
Tracey opted to keep both strikers Baker and Bryan on, moving Griffiths to left-back and despite their numerical handicap, AFC almost took the lead when Baker’s shot was stopped on its goalward path by the body of Grant Cooper.
The visitors had failed to pick up the tempo they started the game at, but found themselves back in the lead with their first effort of the half when centre-back Bradley Thomas rose above Nathan Clarke on 67 minutes to head home from a left-hand corner.
From there on in it was always going to be hard work for the depleted home side, but with some fresh legs coming on in Dan Emmanuel and Dave Wareham, they took the game to Grays. But even the famous AFC air raid siren could not help find the all important finish their efforts deserved.
*FOR player ratings and match stats, see this week’s Suffolk Free Press.