JAMES Smiths’ dismissal on the stroke of half-time proved costly for AFC Sudbury as they lost 2-1 at home to fellow promotion-hopefuls Grays Athletics on Saturday, to leave them four points outside the play-off zone.
The Essex side had raced into an early lead through Harry Agombar but James Baker equalised with a left-foot strike inside the area with just 11 breathless minutes gone.
The turning point of the match saw Smith given a straight red card, only after the assistant referee stepped in, after tempers flared following a two-footed challenge from James Bunn.
Despite a valiant second half performance, where it was hard to tell who had the numerical advantage, Grays’ Bradley Thomas headed home a corner after 67 minutes.
AFC could not find a winner though and went down to only their first defeat in nine matches, with a trip to sixth-placed Harlow Town on Saturday (3pm) now a must-win match.
In the Ridgeons League, Long Melford warmed up for their Suffolk Senior Cup final date at Ipswich Town’s Portman Road on Wednesday (7pm) with a 3-2 win at Cambridge University Press, following up their 3-2 win against Stowmarket Town last Wednesday — the Villagers are now just a point off the top 10 who qualify for next season’s FA Cup.
Cornard United were cut adrift at the bottom of the First Division after succumbing to a 3-0 home defeat to Stowmarket Town, while in the Premier Division Hadleigh United convincingly beat relegated Newmarket Town 3-0 at the Millfield in front of a crowd of 51.
In the rugby, Hadleigh have sewn up the IPA Eastern Counties Division Two title with victory over Thurston at Layham Road (34-16).
Sudbury Rugby Club have ensured survival in their first season in London Division Three North East despite losing at home to East London 23-21. Results elsewhere had gone in Sudbury’s favour, with Campion losing narrowly 21-19 at Upminster and Wymondham agonizingly losing by one point, 18-17, at home Wanstead.
In the hockey Sudbury Mens’ first team have sealed back-to-back promotions after beating champions Ely City 4-2 at Great Cornard Sports Centre on Saturday, meaning they will return to Division One of the East Hockey League for the first time in 12 years.
In the Premier League Norwich City weren’t able to recover from going two goals down at Fulham’s Craven Cottage inside the opening 15 minutes (Clint Dempsey and Damien Duff).
Aaron Wilbraham’s first goal for the club after 77 minutes set-up a tense finish but the Canaries, in 12th place, were unable to claw their way back to level terms.
Ipswich Town returned to winning ways at home to Barnsley on Saturday with a close range Daryl Murphy second-half strike sealing the points, with Arran Lee-Barrett making a couple of vital saves to preserve the lead in front of a healthy crowd of 20,053, following a ticket promotion. The Tractor Boys move up a place to 14th in the Championship after extending their home form to eight unbeaten.
* FOR a full round-up of local sport, including match action, reaction and previews to the week ahead, as well as our Talk of the Town Ipswich Town column, see Thursday’s Suffolk Free Press. And for team news and live match updates from Portman Road on Wednesday, as Long Melford take on Whitton United in the Suffolk Senior Cup final, follow our reporter @russclaydon on Twitter.