AFC keep on track for a play-off place

RETURNING: Sam Clarke returns from suspension.
RETURNING: Sam Clarke returns from suspension.

VICTORY at Cheshunt on Saturday, a game manager Chris Tracey had described as ‘a must win’, keeps AFC Sudbury firmly in the Ryman League North promotion-chasing pack.

Leiston and Enfield have moved clear at the top, with another five teams chasing the remaining three play-off places. Needham Market sit third on 48 points, and AFC eighth on 45.

“It’s very crowded up there,” said Tracey. “Any team putting together a cracking run like Leiston can cement themselves in there.”

And Tracey’s half-time talk at Cheshunt produced the desired result. “We had played well in the first half, but then we made a mistake and they punished us. I told the players at half-time it was a pivotal match, and they really responded in the second half and produced a professional performance. Dan Emmanuel was almost unstoppable throughout.”

The 4-1 victory ended a run of four defeats, two in the league. The fourth came at Lewes in midweek, AFC losing their League Cup tie 5-4 on penalties after the game had ended 1-1.

AFC’s record in penalty shootouts has never been outstanding, but Tracey, although disappointed by defeat, was greatly encouraged by the performance, “We competed with a team fourth in the division above us. We always play well against teams from higher divisions, and it would be good to get up there as that would only see us improve. The performance gave the players a big lift.”

But while Tracey has his team playing good football, he is aware that more goals are needed to keep the promotion chase going. AFC have 39 league goals, the lowest total in the top half of the division. “The hunt for a striker goes on,” he said.

On Saturday Waltham Forest are the visitors to The MEL Group Stadium (3pm). Richard Howell took a knock on Saturday and is out. Dave Wareham was on the bench at Cheshunt, and looks set for a return, and Sam Clarke is back after suspension. Robbie Martin, booked at Cheshunt, is in Saturday’s squad, but then faces a likely two-match ban.

Ian Manby, who has been running AFC Reserves, will now be assisting Tracey with the first team following the departure of Jack Wignall. Dave Walton takes over the Reserves.

“The dugout can be a lonely place,” said Tracey. “It’s always good to have someone there to bounce ideas off, and Ian knows the club and players.”

n Defender Tom Devaux, out of action for almost three months following surgery on a groin injury, has been loaned to Ridgeons premier Stanway Rovers for eight weeks.