LB GROUP SUFFOLK PREMIER CUP
AFC Sudbury 1 Leiston 2
by Russell Claydon at The MEL Group Stadium
A SICKENING strike five minutes into stoppage time saw AFC Sudbury’s Portman Road dream evaporate for another year at the hands of Leiston on Tuesday night.
Yellows boss Chris Tracey bemoaned an individual error by Ryan Henshaw allowing ex-AFC captain Gareth Heath to finally break the deadlock in the second half before a Sudbury equaliser by Nathan Clarke was cruelly rendered meaningless by almost the last kick of the tie by Nathan Stone.
“It was keenly contested as it was always going to be with so many ex-Sudbury players in the opposition,” said Tracey, who thought his side deserved much more. “I thought it was a very even first half. We were always a threat from set-pieces.
“In the second half I thought we were the better side and a poor decision by Ryan Henshaw on the edge of the box set us back but obviously we showed good resilience yet again, which my side has always had, to get back in the game but it hasn’t had a good ending.”
The Sudbury boss sprung a surprise by naming new signing, ex-England C defender Jamie Smith, in his starting line-up with Adam Dalby and Sam Clarke playing in holding midfield roles in a 4-5-1/4-3-3 set-up.
Leiston got off to the better start with Blake Saker’s shot landing straight at Danny Gay before Jemel Fox’s poor touch allowed Michael Brothers to shoot just wide of the post.
Former AFC captain Gareth Heath saw a venomous effort deflected over the bar following a good block by Nathan Clarke, the defender being overworked in the opening 15 minutes.
AFC newboy Smith registered the home side’s first shot at goal, going close with the first of two headers, one easily held by keeper Louis Johnson while Dan Emmanuel wasted a good chance.
Leiston’s Leon Otley-Gooch then lifting his 23rd minute shot over the bar with Gay having narrowed the angle.
In what was now a real end-to-end affair, Michael Brothers went close with a header with the away side looking much the more dangerous.
James Baker blazed a good opportunity over the bar and a lively half ended with Nathan Clarke stopping a certain goal from Gareth Heath with Gay beaten.
At the start of the second half Joe Jefford almost turned Fox’s dangerous cross past his own keeper while Shinn shot over from at the other end and Nathan Clarke saw a powerful effort athletically tipped round the post by Johnson as AFC took the game to their opponents.
Leiston then had strong shouts for a poorly judged passback by Henshaw waved away by referee Chris Pollard.
Nathan Stone fizzed a shot wide of the post on the hour mark before Martin threaded a superb pass through the visitors’ defence for Baker, but the striker’s effort was saved at his feet by Johnson, who gathered the rebound.
Gay could only fist Heath’s whipped cross into the path of Michael Brothers on 67 minutes, but he sliced his volley wide from a good position.
An elsuive goal finally fell the way of the visitors in the 75th minute after an awful error from Henshaw. The right-back took a heavy touch on a loose ball and Nathan Stone pounced with Gay managing to push the ball wide as he tried to round him but the striker found Heath in the box and he jinked past the on-rushing defenders before sticking the ball into the gaping net.
As AFC pushed for an equaliser more holes began to appear in their defence and Stone firied a warning shot wide.
The home side had two great efforts thwarted by Johnson, from Shinn and Nathan Clarke, before the latter grabbed a dramatic equaliser three minutes from time by heading home in a crowded box from a Shinn delivery from deep on the left.
Leiston responded by throwing centre-half and another ex-AFC captain, David Head, into a three-man frontline.
And with the clock almost signalling extra-time, a defence-splitting ball by substitute Rhys Henry created enough room for Stone to slide a low effort into the corner of the net to spark wild celebrations from the coastal side.
•SEE the paper for player ratings and match stats.