AFC Sudbury 1
Needham Market 1
Down, but certainly not out. AFC Sudbury gave their loyal band of supporters something to shout about with a gutsy display against Suffolk rivals Needham Market.
This Easter Monday clash, between two of the four Suffolk sides in the Ryman League Premier Division, lost some of its edge before kick-off when AFC’s fate was sealed.
News of Burgess Hill Town’s 1-1 draw against Worthing filtered through at The Wardale Williams Stadium at around 2pm, a result which left the Yellows mathematically no longer able to climb out of the relegation zone.
But despite Jamie Godbold and his players still suffering with the raw emotion from being relegated in their first season in the Ryman League’s top flight, Sudbury put in a performance which bellied their league position and all but ended Needham’s hopes of a top five finish.
Luke Ingram fired the visitors in front two minutes before the break, before AFC hit back with an equaliser 14 minutes from time.
James Baker finishing from close range after being teed up by substitute Mekhi McKenzie, which set up an exciting finale, where both sides had chances to nick a winner, but in the end the performance, more so than the result, is what mattered most for the relegated Yellows.
“We knew beforehand that we’d gone (down) and I think credit to my players really who, having turned out the performance that they did under the circumstances to keep that disappointment aside, should get a lot of credit for,” Sudbury boss Godbold said.
“We had players out there that were hurting, really hurting. People that have been at the club a long time.
“I thought Sam Clarke’s performance today was not up to his usual standards because I could see in his eyes how much it was hurting.
“Credit to him for turning out the performance and the work rate that he did. It was a real unique scenario in that you’re setting up a team and trying to motivate a team that’s just been relegated.
“As the Worthing game’s finishing, we’re trying to prepare a team to win and trying to motivate them and get them up for it.
“And there’s obviously people in there that are at rock bottom and then had to go out and play. Credit to them, because I’m not sure I could have done it.
“On the balance of things, a tough, tough day. A good result, a good performance against a good side. We just have to dust ourselves off, learn from our errors, our ways, our experiences and we go again next season.”
With relegation confirmed an hour before kick-off, Godbold and his players could, perhaps, have been forgiven for putting in a below par performance in their final home game of the season.
But a local derby, in front of a big crowd just ticking over the 350 mark, and a chance to scupper their rivals Needham’s fading play-off bid was an incentive which AFC grasped with both hands.
The hosts had no intention of licking their wounds as they started off on the front foot, with Dylan Williams and Craig Parker both seeing efforts inside the first five minutes go wide of the target.
Needham then began to settle into the contest, as Ingram, who had two brief spells with the Yellows in 2012 and 2013, was the beneficiary of several openings to break the deadlock, including a one-on-one which he dragged wide and a header that hit the post.
At the other end, AFC continued to threaten a breakthrough, as Williams saw his free kick tipped onto the post by visiting goalkeeper James Bradbrook, before Baker brought out another save from the young shot-stopper.
With chances falling at both ends, the deadlock was finally broken on 43 minutes, as Ingram raced into the Sudbury penalty area, drew goalkeeper Marcus Garnham out of his goal, and fired in a shot which bounced off the post and into the back of the net.
It was a goal which put the Marketmen into the top five of the live table going into the interval, but at full time the visitors were left requiring a final day miracle to finish in the play-offs.
Baker, who had been denied again by an excellent save from point-blank range by Bradbrook earlier in the second half, got Sudbury back on level terms on 76 minutes.
Substitute McKenzie put in a pinpoint cross for the AFC veteran to prod home in front of goal.
Both sides pushed in search for the game’s third goal and a possible winner, Needham in desperate need of the three points to keep their play-off hopes alive, while AFC were playing for pride and a chance to end their disappointing campaign on a high.
Ingram headed wide from a Reece Dobson corner for the Marketmen, before Bradbrook came to his side’s rescue again with another save to deny Parker in the last minute of normal time.
“We had two or three brilliant chances (to go 2-1 up) and it probably sums up a little bit of our season really,” Godbold reflected. “We had a lot of chances, but we couldn’t put them away.”