RYMAN LEAGUE DIVISION ONE NORTH: Needham Market 2 AFC Sudbury 0: Head coach Steve Eastaugh is determined not to allow the AFC Sudbury players’ minds to wander to their holidays with four ‘big’ games to go.
A 2-0 defeat to play-off chasing Suffolk rivals Needham Market on Tuesday spelt the end of any mathematical hopes of reaching the play-offs, but Eastaugh — who took charge in the dugout with manager David Batch on holiday until Monday — has said there is still plenty to play for.
Ryan Crisp’s 16-minute volley was punishment for a slow start on Tuesday, with goalkeeper Alex Archer solely responsible for keeping his side in the game at half-time.
Despite an improved second-half display, AFC failed to really test Andrew Plummer and a penalty 11 minutes from time, converted by former Colchester United midfielder Kem Izzet, sealed the result.
“I was pleased with the boys second half as I thought they stuck together,” said Eastaugh. “It would have been easy — certainly when the penalty went in — to fold, but they didn’t.
“Jamie Forshaw sprinted 50 or 60 yards to sprint back to help his left-back out and I thought they stuck to the task well.”
But ahead of travelling to fifth-from-bottom Ware tonight (7.45pm) and a daunting trip to league leaders VCD Athletic on Saturday (3pm), before their last home game against fourth-placed Heybridge Swifts on Monday (3pm), he has warned their work is far from over.
“We will take the positives but we are still not over the line yet,” he said. “We still have four games to go and we want to get as many points as we can to finish as high as we can — we don’t wan to let it fizzle out.
“Ware are still fighting against relegation, but are looking safer now than this time last week.
“VCD are fighting for the title on Saturday and Heybridge are fighting for the play-offs, so there is nowhere to hide in what are big and hard games.”
AFC were forced into two changes from Saturday’s win over Aveley, with Andy Heald and Ben Thompson coming in for unavailable pair Ryan Horne and Ollie Hughes.
Needham had won their last five games going into the clash at Bloomfields, where they had knocked AFC out of the FA Cup in October, and came flying out of the blocks early on.
The visitors’ goal was immediately under threat as Archer had to save twice from Chris Hogg headers from corners in the first two minutes.
The first period then effectively boiled down to a personal duel between the Yellows’ number one and former Leiston marksman Ryan Crisp.
But after saving from a one-on-one and then beating him to a long ball, Archer was finally beaten by an acrobatic scissor kick.
After the ball was delivered to the far post from the right, ex-AFC man Michael Brothers turned it back across goal where, after it was headed back up into the air, Crisp showed great skill to volley it beyond Archer’s reach.
Forshaw was by far the most dangerous player at the other end and forced Plummer to dive to his left to push away his fierce effort from just outside the area.
Crisp breached the AFC backline several more times before the break, but was frustrated by Archer, who used both his legs and hands to deny him what would have been a deserved extension to their lead.
With Scott Mitchell having to depart early with a groin strain that may have seen him play his last game this season, Forshaw harried the Needham backline and forced Sam Nunn to almost put past his own goalkeeper.
Needham twice went close to doubling their lead at the start of the second period, with Izzet and Fenn both heading over.
Wasteful finishing was to be a feature of the home side’s play, while AFC kept the ball much better but were unable to carve out a clear-cut opportunity.
Veteran defender Andy Heald provided a moment of class when going on a mazy run past trailing Needham players to get out of his own penalty area.
With Crisp fading out of the game, Sam Newson replaced him and passed up a great opportunity straight away when losing his footing at the vital moment when trying to stab the ball beyond Archer.
Brothers was also guilty of poor finishing on two occasions before it took a helping hand to put the game to bed.
Another ex-AFC man, Dave Cowley, had led the defence on another merry dance before his cross struck the arm of substitute Jordan Blackwell, with referee Wade Norcott pointing to the spot.
Izzet kept his cool as Archer went the wrong way to make the points safe.
There was still time for Blackwell to almost score his first senior goal, but Plummer spread himself well to block.