Steve Adams feels Long Melford's first Thurlow Nunn League Challenge Cup triumph was 'just reward' for their end of season efforts
After leading Long Melford to their first ever Challenge Cup victory on Monday, captain Steve Adams felt it was ‘just reward’ for the effort his team-mates had put in across the final straight of the season.
The gritty 1-0 win against a lower-league Fakenham Town who took the game to their opponents at Diss Town FC, even after being reduced to 10 on the hour mark, would ordinarily not be the kind of game that anyone would want to spend long reflecting on.
But this particular 90 minutes is one that everyone connected to Long Melford FC will continue to hold in the highest regard, as it ended a 16 year wait for a cup final victory and delivered a first piece of silverware since clinching the Thurlow Nunn League First Division title in 2014/15.
Adams’ 31st minute header proved to be enough to seal what was a fourth straight victory for Melford, whose winning run has seen them come back from the brink in their Premier Division relegation battle to confirm their place at Step 5 again next season.
“I am obviously super proud personally but I think the boys really deserved it for the hard work they have put in this year,” said former AFC Sudbury defender-turned-striker Adams.
“It has been a weird season to be honest. We started pretty well. The middle of the season I think everyone would admit was fairly terrible and towards the back end when it really counted we got the job done, and this was just reward for that really.
“Credit to the management as well, they have put the effort in.”
He added: “We didn’t play very well and to a certain extent they dominated patches of the game a little more than we did but it is a cup game and we scored one more than them and that is all that matters.”
The Villagers were making their first ever appearance in the Thurlow Nunn League’s only cup competition which encompasses all their divisions.
Manager Jamie Bradbury made one enforced change from the 3-1 victory at Thetford Town. With Kieran Michaels cup-tied, midfielder Pablo Chaves came into the starting XI.
Lower-league Fakenham, who finished sixth in the First Division North, their first season since relegation from the Premier Division, took the game to Bradbury’s side in the early stages with Melford looking visibly nervous.
But in a scrappy start, which was to continue to sum up the 90 minutes, the best The Ghosts could manage was forcing a couple of early corners which their opponents comfortably dealt with.
Melford began to threaten at the other end with Chavez putting a low free-kick just past the right-hand post on the half-hour mark.
Within a minute the Melford supporters were celebrating an opener as Ross Waugh played the ball down the right to get Jacob Brown in behind the defence and from his first time half-volleyed cross, Adams got ahead of his marker to nod it over the line from six yards.
He almost had another a few minutes later but saw his header land on the roof of the net, which came hot on the heels of Ashley Skeggs’ header finding the arms of Coombe.
A deflected effort in the 40th minute, which was comfortable for teenage goalkeeper Michael Betts to gather, and would have been going wide, was Fakenham’s first shot of the match.
As they did the first half, The Ghosts took the game to their opponents as play resumed in the second period with Callum Brain way off target from the edge of the penalty area.
The same player appealed for a penalty after going down under the attentions of Ross Waugh from a deep free-kick soon after, but the referee saw nothing in it.
There was a big call for official Karl Sear in the 57th minute with Ross Waugh involved again. He clearly pulled down Fakenham’s Ricky Claxton when he was about to run on to a long ball over the top, but the referee issued just a yellow card.
Within three minutes he was brandishing his red card though, but in Fakenham’s direction. There was a big reaction from the Melford bench and the crowd as Lewis Sturnam put a high boot in on Will Wingfield in front of the dugouts. The number eight had already been booked for a similar incident just before the interval and appeared to be shown a straight red card, following the fourth official giving his clear view.
It did not seem to impact against Fakenham though as they continued to be the more progressive side in the second period, with Alex Walpole’s header hitting the crossbar before a foul was signalled in the box.
Up the other end there was a rare sight of goal for Melford with semi-final hero Wingfield’s shot blocked.
Daniel Tuddenham and Connor Charlesworth scuffed efforts wide at the other end with the latter controversially flagged offside in the dying stages as Melford held on for victory.
Although admitting it was a close-run final, boss Bradbury was left brimming with pride.
“I feel so proud of the boys today,” he said. “They have been excellent in the last month or so. They deserved their place in the Premier Division, deserved their place today and deserved to take home the trophy.”
Long Melford: Bett, R Waugh, Wingfield, Roy (Machay 62’), Skeggs, A Waugh, Ally, Brown, ADAMS (Bayliss 73’), Roe, Chaves (Judge 81’). Unused subs: Smith, Collins.