AFC Sudbury 0
Bognor Regis Town 4
On another disappointing day down at King’s Marsh — with a second successive 4-0 home loss edging AFC ever closer to relegation — it was the full debut of Ollie Dunlop that was one of the only bright spots.
James Baker’s red card in the 19th minute for a last-man challenge just outside the area — on what was his 300th appearance for the club — made the rest of the match, having already been 1-0 down, even more of an uphill battle than league form had suggested.
A win for Hendon and a draw for Kingstonian, combined with AFC’s fifth defeat in their last six matches leaves Jamie Godbold’s side effectively five points — when taking into account goal difference — from safety.
Discontent among the home faithful grew noticeably after their previous home outing — a 4-0 defeat to the Hendon side who had sat alongside them in the table.
The decisions to loan out a number of academy graduates this season — including the likes of title-winners Jordan Blackwell, Liam Wales, Jack Newman and Stefano Mallardo — had drawn criticism on social media from parents that accused AFC Sudbury of effectively reneging on their philosophy of developing talent from within in favour of senior players based a long commute away.
It was, perhaps, encapsulated by recent signings such as ex-Norwich City and Lowestoft Town striker Danny Crow (currently three goals in 17 appearances) and Kieran Monlouis, with the latter former Crystal Palace Under-23s and Maldon & Tiptree midfielder having been hailed on arrival as being able to take the club to the next level before moving on to National League Bishop’s Stortford after just eight appearances (0 goals).
But 18-year-old former Hadleigh United youth Dunlop — who helped to spearhead Danny Laws’ AFC Sudbury Academy’s side’s best-ever FA youth Cup run this season, when they exited the competition only after extra-time at League One Charlton Athletic in the second round — believes there is no problem in young players getting a chance to shine in the first-team under the current management.
Dunlop, a midfielder-turned-striker who was a surprise inclusion in a crucial game against the league leaders on Saturday, believes his selection shows nothing has changed under Godbold and assistant Andy Reynolds — the latter his Suffolk FA Under-18s coach until he relinquished the role ahead of this season.
“There are plenty of good players in the Academy, and they will all get their chance eventually, as they are all doing well,” said the player who has hit the back of the net 15 times in all competitions for the club’s second string, who play three leagues lower in the Thurlow Nunn League First Division this season.
Mekhi McKenzie became the second teenage academy striker to have entered the field for Godbold and Reynolds on Saturday, when the player who joined the club recently from Brightlingsea Regent replaced Dunlop in the 60th minute.
And Dunlop, who is very much hoping for further chances to impress in the first-team over their crucial run-in, said of his academy partner: “He is a good player.
“He has come in recently and played in a few of the Sudbury Reserves and (under) 18s games and done really well.”
Despite it being a day where he missed two gilt-edged chances, there were encouraging signs from Dunlop’s movement and quick footwork, notably when he shifted the ball past his marker to deliver a cross for Craig Parker, which was turned over the bar after a good save early on.
“I found out I was playing just before the warm-up,” the player who turns 19 in October revealed.
“I thought we did alright in the first half.
“It was difficult going down to 10 men, but I think we tried our best and gave what we could. They are a good side.”
He added of his key missed chance from six yards out just before the break, with his side having been cut open twice on the break to be 2-0 down to a free header (7’) and then free run on goal (31’) both ending with James Muitt wheeling away in celebration: “It just didn’t fall right for me and it was one of those days really.
“Hopefully I can be involved again next week and try to turn things around a bit. I thought I did alright.”
As for his future, Dunlop has the option to remain in the AFC Academy for a further year to take his B-TEC Level 2 in Sport up to a Level 3, but is yet to make a final decision.
“I will just see how things go,” he said.
AFC continued to have trouble in the final third in the second half, though did not create opportunities as frequently as in the first period.
But the game was put totally beyond them when the West Sussex side, who by their vocal away fans’ admission are over-achieving at the top this term, having lost their two top strikers, made it 3-0 when Muitt showed what a cutting edge was once again, by taking advantage of a sniff of goal to complete his 55 minute hat-trick.
A sweetly stuck half volley from the edge of the area by Darren Budd arrowed into the top corner with 20 minutes still to play.
To AFC’s credit, there was no half-hearted finish like the Hendon match, with an attack seven minutes later resulting in a penalty from which Parker dusted himself down before seeing his kick well saved by Dan Lincoln before the day was summed up for the Yellows by Rob Eagle putting the rebound wide.
n AFC: Garnham, Allen, Wilkinson, Corcoran, Baker, Tann, Dunlop (McKenzie 66), Williams (Austin 87), Crow (French 58), Parker, Eagle. Unused subs: Blackman, Robinson.
Free Press Man of the Match: Ollie Dunlop. Some promising signs on full debut.