RYMAN LEAGUE PREMIER DIVISION: AFC Sudbury 5 Grays Athletic 1
AFC Sudbury made light work of 10-man Grays Athletic to move up to sixth position in the Premier Division table on Tuesday night.
The away side will point to the 31st-minute dismissal of Lheureux Menga — a case of mistaken identity — as the game’s turning point and while there is an element of truth to that viewpoint, Sudbury were still the dominant force from the first whistle.
Without a home league win to their name since late August, Jamie Godbold’s hosts started on the front foot and could have gone in front as early as the first minute when Liam Wales burst through.
But as the centre-forward prepared to pull the trigger, Callum Thomas in the Grays goal was quick off his line to thwart the danger.
There was no let up for Thomas — a Charlton Athletic loanee — as he had to show good acrobatics to tip over Craig Parker’s fourth-minute volley.
Having won just two matches all term, Grays’ cautious approach early on was both expected and understandable.
Nevertheless, they slowly grew into the game and carved out a couple of openings. First, Etienne Mukanya Kabobola’s dipping effort forced goalkeeper Marcus Garnham to take action, before the same player scuffed wide after the Sudbury defence had parted far too easily.
Yet, any momentum that the visitors had been able to generate was duly extinguished within the space of three controversial first-half minutes.
Striker Menga was rightly cautioned in the 28th minute for a hefty challenge on Parker just inside the Sudbury half.
And when James Baker took a tumble under pressure from two Grays players on the left touchline soon after, Menga was sent for an early bath, despite the foul being committed by his team-mate Kwabena Osei.
Osei and Menga both pleaded the latter’s innocence, but referee George Laflin waved away their protests.
It took Sudbury all of seven minutes to make the most of their numerical advantage when Rob Eagle’s cross picked out Parker and the unmarked midfielder coolly headed in.
Wales shot wide early in the second half, before the floodgates were opened when substitute Jordan Blackwell struck in the 64th minute.
It was Wales that did the leg work by beating his marker and then threading a pass into the path of Blackwell, who had only been on the pitch nine minutes when he fired through Thomas’ legs.
After a couple of near misses, Wales got his name on the scoresheet four minutes later in direct fashion. Jack Wilkinson’s long throw was flicked on by Baker, leaving Wales to apply the finishing touch with a looping header.
The introduction of Blackwell saw Eagle moved into the centre of midfield and the ex-Lowestoft man was next to beat Turner, although on this occasion his curling effort from 25 yards out also crept wide of the upright.
There were no such issues for another replacement — Sam Bantick — in the 74th minute.
Wales picked out the attacker to the left-hand side of the Grays penalty box and after cutting inside on his right foot, Bantick found the bottom corner with a strike that bounced awkwardly in front of a full-stretch Turner.
The misery was not over for Turner as the young custodian was forced to retrieve the ball from his net for a fifth time with 79 minutes on the clock.
Showing that his recent loan spell at Brightlingsea Regent had boosted confidence levels, Blackwell unleashed a grass-cutter from 25 yards that nestled in the net.
Eagle and Wales were denied by Turner in quick succession as Sudbury kept their foot firmly on the accelerator, but when the game’s sixth goal eventually arrived in stoppage time, it did so up the other end.
Mukanya Kabobola — the Essex side’s best player on the night — got the better of Garnham on this occasion to nab a consolation.
Sudbury: Garnham, Furlonge (B Robinson 42), Tann, Henshaw, Wilkinson, Newman (Blackwell 55), Eagle, Parker, Greene (Bantick 70), Baker, Wales
Free Press Man of the Match - Rob Eagle: The midfielder may not have got his name on the scoresheet, but he assisted the opening goal that put Sudbury in command. Aside from that, Eagle was lively on the wing and also when he moved into the centre, rarely wasting a pass in the process.
* For match reaction from manager Jamie Godbold + news of a potential player exit from the club, see this Thursday’s print edition of the Suffolk Free Press