THURLOW NUNN LEAGUE PREMIER DIVISION: CRC 1 Hadleigh United 2: James Blades paid tribute to Hadleigh’s 30-somethings for helping to dig them out of a rut as they took the title race back into their own hands.
The striker could not have hoped for a better way to celebrate his birthday than with a stunning goal to help his side to victory at CRC on Saturday, before learning results elsewhere had seen them rise back to the top of the league and with their destiny now back in their own hands.
After Cambridge United’s feeder team took an early lead against the run of play, Blades helped to spoil the party in their final home match before disbanding, arrowing in a leveller before the half-hour-mark before Josh Mayhew used a deflection off makeshift goalkeeper Danny Burns early in the second half to finally assert their domination with a lead they never looked in danger of surrendering.
The victory was all the more sweeter when the players learned of Felixstowe and Walton United’s surprising 1-0 defeat to Norwich United, while a draw for Brightlingsea Regent at Diss Town means the Suffolk side can only be usurped if a far superior goal difference were to be overturned in Saturday’s final games.
Blades, who has come back from a three-month injury lay-off for the run-in, admitted relief more than jubilation was the over-riding emotion, given Hadleigh’s catastrophic dip in form which saw them surrender a 19-point lead from January.
“I am just relieved now really,” said the player who turned 25 on Sunday. “We were on such a bad run and in the last few games we have got our belief back.
“It is easier to keep on a winning run than it is to get out of a losing run and it has been down to a lot of the experienced lads.
“We have people in the dressing room who have done it before and a lot of credit has got to go to them.”
The likes of Shane Wardley, Mark Goldfinch, Neil Calver and Duane Wright may have kept their cool, but it was Blades coming back to the boil after returning from the treatment room which has also played a big part, scoring his third goal in as many games on Saturday.
“It just came to the edge of the box and I was always taught to go across goal and see what happens,” he said of his 20-yard equaliser following a corner breaking to him on the edge of the box in the 26th minute. “It should have been a few more.
“To be fair I had a couple of chances and so did the others lads, but getting the three points was the main thing — hopefully we can push on now, win next week and win the title.”
Both sides had struggled for form going into the game, with mid-table CRC having lost their last four and second-placed Hadleigh with only one win in their last seven.
But the visitors, who made one forced change with Mike Barwick coming in for the injured Liam Jennings, were out of the blocks with a purpose in their play that bellied that run with Ollie Canfer thwarted by a couple of defensive blocks and Scott Chaplin sending a half-volley over the bar.
They found themselves behind just 11 minutes in though when, from the Scholars’ first meaningful attack, Lamell Howell did well to control with his chest, spin goalwards and fire on the turn into the bottom corner, with a deflection taking it away from the dive of Fred Howe.
Heads did not go down in Hadleigh ranks though as they stuck diligently to their task, with Blades turning over the bar and then forcing Josh Banthorpe to turn around the post before he had them back on level terms.
Wright’s corners had been causing problems in the home rearguard and, when one was not properly cleared, Blades produced a lethal low angled finish from range.
Despite their continued probing and confident swagger, the lead proved elusive as CRC clung on until the interval.
Paul Donnelly and Canfer went agonisingly close before Blades wasted a good header.
An effort from the lively Mayhew, proving too hot to handle, was saved at the second attempt by Banthorpe, who was badly injured in the process of trying to regather the ball with Blades sliding in, requiring an ambulance.
With no substitute goalkeeper, defender Burns took on the gloves, coming out at the feet of Mayhew to keep the scores level at the break.
The assault on the CRC goal did not let up as play resumed with Burns parrying Wright’s volley and Chaplin ruffling the side-netting and heading on to the roof of the net.
But the goal to put them ahead finally came with a bit of a helping hand from their opponents as Mayhew danced his way in from the byline before his shot from a tight angle went in off Burns two minutes before the hour-mark.
With Hadleigh beginning to throw caution to the wind, the game began to peter out with CRC unable to really test Howe.