Halstead Town have lost key player Andy Joslin to two leagues above — but Mark Benterman believes his departure will not halt their promotion charge.
The 23-year-old will be playing Ryman League Division One North football with Heybridge Swifts in the New Year, once his three-game suspension is served.
Halstead boss Benterman and chairman Jimmy Holder kept to an agreement when he dropped down from Maldon and Tiptree in the summer that if a club higher up the pyramid came in they would waver a seven-day approach and release him.
“It is a shame to see him go but just having AJ with us up till Christmas was a plus,” said Benterman. “I advised him on Sunday he would be a fool to turn it down and we wish him all the best.
“But losing him will not stop us achieving our aims and goals.”
Joslin himself, who was not involved in Saturday’s 2-1 come-from-behind win at home to Debenham LC due to an injury, said it was a decision he made with a heavy heart.
“Everybody who knows me at Halstead will understand this isn’t a decision I have taken lightly,” he said in a statement posted on the club’s website. “The opportunity to test myself at a higher level is appealing and something that I have been aspiring towards for many years.”
As well as thanking everyone at the club and especially the Humbugs’ supporters, he added: “Ever since pre-season, Mark and Jim have been highly supportive and they’re a huge reason behind the success of the club this season.
“The infrastructure and spirit they have created will give them a good platform to kick on in 2014 and I hope more than anyone that they reach their goal of promotion.”
Ellis Carter snatched victory for Halstead on Saturday with a last-minute header in their Thurlow Nunn League First Division game against a sprightly Debenham, who looked the better side for long stages throughout the game.
The visiting Hornets took the lead just eight minutes in when veteran striker Stuart Jopling outpaced the home defence and rounded Jack Cherry.
With Halstead on the backfoot, the game took a dramatic twist with 10 minutes left when skipper Lewis Cunliffe converted a goalmouth scramble to level.
They piled on the pressure and were rewarded with all three points when Carter headed home a dramatic late winner from Jordan Hutchings’ free-kick.
The Rosemary Lane-based outfit travel to Haverhill Borough on Saturday (3pm) before hosting Saffron Walden Town on Boxing Day (11am).
After moving up to second place, four points behind leaders Whitton United with a game in hand after they defeated previous nearest challengers Fakenham Town, Benterman said: “We did not expect to be sitting this well at this time of the year, but there is no reason why we cannot keep it going.”
Striker Adam Daniels’ loan from FC Clacton runs out on December 28, but Benterman is looking to extend it.
Gareth Thomas (ankle) is out for another three weeks while James Regan is still a week or so away from full fitness.
Halstead: Cherry,Grindrod (Baptiste), Cook, Hurkett, Cunliffe (Daniels), Foulger, Hutchings, Barry, Murray, Palmer (Thorogood), Carter. Unused subs: Carroll, Rana-Magar.