RYMAN LEAGUE DIVISION ONE NORTH Tilbury 0 AFC Sudbury 1
Craig Parker felt his side’s professional performance at Tilbury encapsulated the mentality which has helped them run away with the title this year.
The midfielder’s 41st minute strike - his 21st league goal and 27th of the season - was enough to earn them another three points, with the result over Tilbury proving academic in the title race with the only side that could have caught them before kick-off, Harlow Town, drawing 2-2 at Phoenix Sports to confirm AFC’s position as promoted champions.
Speaking after dancing in front of almost 100 travelling fans at the final whistle, Parker said: “It feels brilliant. It has been a long season and we have worked hard and I think we have deserved it.
“Today we showed the spirit we have got in the team.
“The pitch isn’t great but we dug in and got the goal and we knew we were going to see it out due to the lads we have got in this team.”
He added: “We were unlucky not to have gone in more than 1-0 up as we were not going to come here and defend, but in the end one was enough.
“It was nice to get the goal but it is all about the team.”
With captain Sam Clarke having limped off with a leg injury early on in last Saturday’s 2-1 home win over Wroxham, Ross Bailey came into his holding midfield role, with Jamie Godbold preferring natural midfielder and set piece specialist Danny Cunningham at left-back ahead of Stefano Mallardo.
In manager Godbold’s own words his side had started ‘like an express train’ seven days ago, and they did so again at Chadfields, forcing three corners and having four efforts at goal inside the opening 10 minutes.
The best saw a clever turn in the box from Luke Callander create space to rifle a shot at goal, which Tilbury’s Clarke Bogard was grateful to have parried around his near post.
Both Parker and Callander headed wide of the target when it looked easier to hit it as the visiting side, cheered on by a strong away crowd making themselves heard with a drum, kept up their dominant start. It was not until the 22nd minute that Marcus Garnham was called into any sort of real action, comfortably gathering Dwade James’ weak header.
Back at the other end, Cunningham’s free-kick was too central to trouble Bogard, and Callander chose the wrong option in shooting straight at him when Jordan Blackwell had run into space at the far side of the area.
Henshaw worked Bogard much harder following a Bailey corner breaking loose into his path, with his rifled effort seeing the Tilbury number one at full stretch to claw away one-handed.
The Dockers’ best chance of the half came following their best move, with Francis Babalola’s strong run almost leading him to an opener, but for Ollie Berquez’s head blocking his goalbound volley.
But the goal AFC’s play had threatened eventually arrived four minutes from the interval. Blackwell’s miscued effort saw Henshaw pick up the ball on the right and slip it into Callander’s path. The big striker fired low and hard across the six-yard box to where Parker was lurking and on hand to nudge it into the net after it went past a defender.
The second half failed to live up to the first as the game descended into a scrappy affair punctuated by free-kicks and bickering on a pitch that made playing pretty football difficult.
Tilbury enjoyed far better attacking territory than their first 45 minutes but struggled to force Garnham into a meaningful save, until substitute Emiel Aiken’s 78th minute header had him arching his back to tip over his crossbar.
The nearest the Suffolk visitors came to a second, having got men behind the ball and played on the counter, was when Parker was given both time and space to line up a shot from outside the area which he fired just over the angle of post and bar.
Tilbury kept pushing men forward in search of a late equaliser but the AFC rearguard held firm in true champions style, with the final whistle sparking wild scenes from the Yellows both on and off the pitch. Lifting the trophy itself will have to wait until AFC’s last game of the season, when Harlow Town visit, but there is no doubt they will be looked at as more than worthy champions by then.
Director Richard Instance said the club would have to provide some extra seating, around 40, to meet ground grading requirements at step three level, but that would not cause any problems.He added: “We have worked so hard on the infrastructure for a number of years but now it is happening on the pitch as well, so I am delighted for everyone involved as we have so many fantastic volunteers at the club.”
AFC SUDBURY: Garnham, Robinson, Cunningham (Newman 90), Berquez, Henshaw, Baker, Blackwell, Bailey, Callander, Parker (French 86), Maybanks (Wales 80). Unused subs: Blackman, G Clarke.
Free Press Man of The Match: Olie Berquez. This was a day for experienced heads and Berquez shone in his destroyer role. Att: 151