FA TROPHY THIRD QUALIFYING ROUND: AFC Sudbury 1 St Neots Town 0
More pace and more heart — those were the two key things for AFC Sudbury boss David Batch in deciding the outcome of their FA Trophy replay.
Tuesday’s return in south Suffolk was always going to be a test of character for the side who play one league lower than their Cambridgeshire-based Southern League Premier Division opponents.
But the Yellows dug in on a night where a boggy and sandy pitch made pretty football hard to come by.
But Lawrence Yiga’s piledriver from all of 30 yards out, two minutes after the restart, was a moment of class to grace any standard of football and proved to be the deciding factor in a close contest.
But Batch saw spilling guts for the cause, as well as having a pace advantage, as key.
He said: “I think that the difference between the two sides was two things.
“One, we had more pace in our side — especially on Saturday with Correy (Davidson) and (Kris) Newby and last night with Jordan Blackwell and Terry Rymer.
“And I think we had more heart in our side.
“Tactically as well, they tried to change it last night and we had pre-empted that and it played into our hands really.”
As on Saturday at the Cozy Stadium, AFC refused to give their higher-league opponents an easy ride from the first whistle, despite missing three of their starting XI from the weekend through injury.
James Baker — deployed as a defender on Saturday — was forced out of the team, along with fellow hamstring injury victims Newby and Davidson, with Blackwell, Yiga and Lee Flynn coming in and setting up in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
First blood almost went the way of Saints when Lorenzo Ferrari put past the post following a Drew Roberts cross, while AFC responded well with Jack Wilkinson forcing Paul Bastock to tip over from a sweetly-struck 30-yard effort, which would have had a good chance of giving them the lead, were it not dead straight at him.
Marcus Garnham was called upon to make a fingertip save to his left to push away Ryan Frater’s dangerous angled drive, while Matt Spring curled a free-kick from a similar position to which he scored Saturday’s equaliser a few feet over the bar.
While the pattern of play was fairly even, the visitors were more threatening going forward and were it not for a challenge which earned Ryan Henshaw the game’s first yellow card, Ollie Berquez’s stray pass could have been punished with the opener.
Just after the half-hour-mark, only a goalkeeper’s glove and a lick of paint prevented AFC going into the break behind, as Garnham did well to divert a strong effort from the ever-dangerous Ben Mackey on to his right-hand post.
The hosts managed to ride the storm before breaking up the other end only to see Rymer flagged off offside as he rolled the ball beyond Bastock, while Berquez atoned for his earlier error by starting a good move down the right which set the pacey Blackwell away, but his cross was plucked out of the air by the St Neots number one.
There was no doubt Batch was the happier manager to still be all square at the break, but it did not take too long for that to change, and in their favour.
No sooner than a minute after he had gone into the referee’s book for a heavy challenge on his return from suspension, Yiga was doing a merry dance in front of the clubhouse to celebrate a stunning goal, easily the best seen at the ground this season.
Picking the ball up to the right of centre, St Neots hesitated in closing him down, leaving the former Ware winger to knock the ball in front of him before unleashing a scorching drive that almost took the back of the net off on its way into the top right-hand corner.
There could have been a similarly spectacular second to follow it up, but 18-year-old Blackwell skied his volley from the edge of the area.
At the other end, Mackey volleyed home from close range, only to befall the same fat as Rymer, with the offide flag ruling it out as the visitors desperately sought to get back on level terms.
Rymer was guilty of missing a guilt-edged chance when miskicking Blackwell’s centre, while Garnham was called back into action to save his side when he pushed out Roberts’ drive for a corner.
The home fans began to get concerned as their side retreated deeper and deeper, but were glad to see Spring’s curling effort go over, while Craig Pope and Ryan Henshaw both thwarted dangerous attacks as the clock ran down.
There was still time for Ferrari to be booked for diving trying to win a late penalty, but there was to be no late get-out-of-jail card for Saints to play this time around.
n AFC Gold week 31 winners: £100 (210) Chris and Andy Cutters, Gaol Lane, Sudbury; £10 (272) G Middleton, Melford Rd, Sudbury; £10 (147) R Instance, Laurel Drive, Long Melford.