RYMAN LEAGUE PREMIER DIVISION: Needham Market 2 AFC Sudbury 1
A controversial header by Billy Holland - which Sudbury players and management thought had not crossed the line - saw Needham Market go three points clear at the top of the division yesterday (December 26).
Mid-table Sudbury had gone into the half-time interval deservedly ahead after Sam Bantick turned their dominantion into a 1-0 lead when he prodded home a rebounded shot in the 43rd minute which had come after three fine saves from Danny Gay had kept his side level.
But with leaders Needham having seemingly been on the ropes, they bounced back at the start of the second period to deliver a sucker punch, which was soon looking like a knockout blow after the visitors were punished for losing their discipline.
With not even a minute on the clock, Aidan Austin barged Luke Ingram over in the penalty area and substitute Kem Izzet kept his cool from the spot to plant his penalty beyond Marcus Farnham's reach.
The capitulation continued three minutes latet when Ryan Henshaw was shown a straight red card after pulling back Reece Dobson from reaching Izzet's through ball as the last man.
The Marketmen were not able to convert the resultant free-kick on the edge of the area, but were celebrating taking the lead just two minutes later.
From Callum Harrison's left sided corner, Billy Holland rose highest and sent his header at goal, with Garnham desperately clawing it out from his position behind the goaline.
The referee had no hesitation in awarding it before having to intervene as the AFC Sudbury players and manager surrounded his assistant.
It resulted in Godbold being sent off from his position in the dugout.
Needham should have had the three points wrapped up in the 72nd minute when they were awarded another penalty. This time Adam Tann was penalised for chucking himself at a cross and leaving Harrison nursing a head injury.
Psychology came into play as Izzet approached the spot again, with Garnham winning the second duel with the exe Colchester United midfielder, guessing rightly that he would go the same way again.
To their ctedit, 10-man Sudbury did not give up and the introduction of strikers Luke Callander and Liam Wales almost bagged them a point as both went close to providing an equaliser.
In Wales' case, he got beyond the Needham backline with his pace and when ex-AFC goalkeeper Gay flew out at his feet, he went down after kicking the ball past him. But the referee again fell on Needham's side with his view, waving play on.
Wales carried on and won the race to the ball before pulling it back to Dylan Williams, who agonizingly saw his shot from the edge of the area in an unguarded goal come back off the face of the post.
Callander found Gay's hands and put just beyond the far post in the fourth minute of five added on, while Joe Whight had a glaring miss before the extra for stoppages, skying over at the far post with the goal gaping.
In the end it was six mad minutes which saw Sudbury implode and throw away all their good work in the first half, when they had looked by far the better side.
While the three points saw Needham, who are next in action at Billericay Town (14th) on Friday (7.45pm), extend their lead at the summit, AFC dropped two places to 16th and remain just four points from the bottom four relegation places.
Jamie Godbold's side go into back-to-back home games, starting with second bottom Canvey Island's visit on Saturday (1pm) and followed by his old club Lowestoft Town on Monday (3pm) desperate for points to avoid being sucked into a relegation dogfight.
Needham: Gay, Dye, Whight, Holland, Miller (c), Nunn, Snaith (Izzet 37'), Harrison, Dobson, Ingram, Coakley. Unused subs: Booth, Bannister, Knights, Munson.
AFC: Garnham, French, Austin, Williams, Henshaw, Tann, Bantick (Blackwell '54), Clarke (c), Baker, (Callander '74), Parker, Eagle (Liam Wales '74). Unused subs: Carroll, Wilkinson.
Referee: Stuart Franklin.
* For reaction and player ratings from Boxing Day's derby, as well as a preview to the week ahead, don't miss the print editions of the Suffolk Free Press (Thursday) and the Bury Free Press (Friday).