THURLOW NUNN LEAGUE FIRST DIVISION: Halstead Town 1 Woodbridge Town 3: Mark Benterman questioned his players’ stomach for a promotion fight following Halstead’s 3-1 home defeat to lowly Woodbridge Town.
The Humbugs, without 12 players available, surrendered their undefeated home league record despite dominating Saturday’s game.
The hosts had gifted two goals to their opponents in a four-minute implosion from the half-hour mark before Jordan Hutchings finally pulled one back before the break.
But Halstead boss Benterman was not prepared to accept his side’s performance after watching a raft of chances go begging before a breakaway goal from substitute Reece Turner put the outcome beyond doubt 12 minutes from time.
“They wanted it more than us at three o’clock and that is what it comes down to at this level,” he said, with the result seeing them slip a place to ninth and fail to capitalise with the top two both losing.
“If you don’t apply yourselves you don’t get anything out of the game and I don’t think any of my players applied themselves properly and it’s disappointing.”
Halstead’s absentees included captain Lewis Cunliffe (with the reserves after suspension), James Murray (unavailable) and strikers Ellis Carter (knee) and FC Clacton loannee Kalon Harms (hamstring).
It meant Aaron Chinnery, a 24-year-old recruit from lower-league Coggeshall Town, was handed a chance to build on an impressive debut in the 2-0 Essex Senior Cup victory over Newham.
Recently-relegated Woodbridge created five opportunities in the opening 10 minutes against a nervy backline.
Halstead were soon asking plenty of questions of their own though, and Benterman was furious that advantage seemed to be signalled as liverwire Llewellyn Evans was felled in the box, despite the 18-year-old’s cross going unconverted.
Chinnery saw a header tipped on to the bar before mad four-minute spell began with goalkeeper Matt Walker pasing straight into George Mrozek’s path to slide in before Woodbridge broke from a Halstead corner two-on-one, with Mrozek laying on for Ryan Keeble to apply the finish.
It took only three minutes for Hutchings to undo some of the self-inflicted damage with a tidy close-range finish after Woodbridge failed to clear their lines from a deep free-kick.
Craig Thompson replaced Charlie Davis at the restart and almost levelled within a minute of coming on, seeing his strong shot produce a flying save from Adam Wilson.
Chinnery and Hutchings, the latter a curling corner, saw efforts cleared off the line as Halstead did everything but turn their domination into a goal.
Their profligacy was punished 78 minutes in though when Turner announced his entrance with a stunning half volley from the edge of the area.
Benterman, who revealed he will be without frontman Jonah Gosling for six weeks with a broken toe, expects a reaction when the Humbugs travel to Leiston Reserves on Saturday (3pm).
Halstead: Walker, Davis (Thompson 46), Cook, Morgan, Baptiste, Miller, Hutchings, M Knight (C Knight 78), CHINNERY, Swallow, Evans (Regan 67).