FIRST ROUND PROPER
Braintree Town 1
AFC Sudbury 0
AFC Sudbury manager David Batch had nothing but praise for his side after their FA Trophy journey ended with a spirited defeat at Braintree Town.
Having very much held their own against the Vanarama Conference outfit, who ply their trade three leagues above, Sudbury’s hopes of causing a notable upset were finally dashed in the 57th minute following Simeon Akinola’s solitary strike.
Despite falling to a third straight defeat in all competitions, Batch was left to applaud the Yellows’ endeavour as he challenged his players to maintain their level of performance in the coming weeks.
“I think the boys played brilliantly and you wouldn’t have said there were four leagues difference between us for most of the game,” he said.
“That was the equivalent of someone in League Two going to a Premier League side and narrowly losing and so the players can be proud.
“The order of the game was to stay in the match and we were, right up until the final minutes so the players can take a lot of heart from that, they’ve done the club proud.
“We expected not to win the game but I certainly feel a replay would have been the fair result.
“We were missing some key players in Ryan Henshaw, Kris Newby, and Lawrence Yiga as well as some of the lads struggling to get on the pitch, so to get that close is sensational and I’m not disappointed.
“If we play like we did here for the rest of the season in the league we won’t be far away and that is the key now.
“Our challenge is to take what we have learnt from the first half of the season, which is a lot, and implement into the next part of the season.
“We are still competing in everything you would expect us to be in and so we have got to keep that going for as long as possible.”
In a frantic opening to proceedings it was the visitors who made the brighter start, creating the first opportunity after just two minutes as Ayrton Coley dragged an effort wide from 25 yards.
After the initial scare the hosts began to seize control with Akinola firing tamely at Marcus Garnham from the left before James Mulley flashed a first time effort narrowly wide from the edge of the area with 12 minutes gone.
At the other end, the lively Terry Rymer did well to beat Mitch Brundle on his way into the area but he could not capitalise as he fired weakly at Nick Hamman.
Braintree responded strongly with Mulley heading over Chez Isaac’s deep cross over the bar at the back post, before Akinola was left with his head in his hands after a truly forgettable miss.
Having blocked Craig Pope’s attempt, the forward skipped past the on-rushing Garnham but with the gaping goal at his mercy and defenders desperately scrambling to get on the line, Akinola somehow struck the post when it seemed certain he would score.
The end-to-end action continued as both sides created further chances throughout the half.
Coley narrowly rifled over a first time right-footed effort following a smart lay off from Rymer after 21 minutes, while at the other end Braintree were again left to rue their wastefulness as they came agonisingly close to opening the scoring.
Again Akinola proved the main culprit as he could only fire straight at Garnham from close range, following a cut back from Mulley before Sean Marks’ rebound was brilliantly blocked by Pope.
Sudbury continued to create chances of their own and finished the half in the ascendency with captain Sam Clarke volleying over from the edge of the area in what proved the final action of a frenetic opening 45 minutes.
The high tempo continued after the interval and Akinola finally made amends for a wasteful first half showing as he fired the home side ahead in the 57th minute.
The visitors failed to clear a cross from the right-hand side with the ball falling invitingly for the Braintree forward on the left-hand side of the area, who made no mistake, firing through a crowd of bodies and into the bottom right corner.
The breakthrough appeared to affect a notably tiring Sudbury side as the second-half failed to live up to the excitement and fast pace of the opening period.
Further chances proved few and far between in the final 30 minutes as both sides struggled to create many clear cut opportunities.
The next chance of any note came with just four minutes remaining as Braintree substitute Dan Sparkes’ cross-cum-shot from the left hand side almost caught Garnham out as the ball sailed narrowly over the far top corner.
With time running out, the visitors ended the match strongly, p[ouring players forward in search of a late leveller.
And with just two minutes remaining they came agonisingly close to snatching an equaliser as Jack Wilkinson’s free kick found the head of former iron star James Baker whose header crashed off the bar to deny the frontman a memorable return.