AFC Sudbury 2
Waltham Abbey 0
AFC Sudbury are in 10th position after their fourth win in a row in the league, as they enjoy a purple patch of one defeat in 10 games.
It has come, according to manager Mark Morsley, as a result of sustained hard work in training starting to bear fruit on the pitch — as he feels his plan is being vindicated after early criticism from fans.
The latest result, a 2-0 home win over fellow mid-table side Waltham Abbey, was their second clean sheet in a row.
It is a sign, according to Morsley, of a constantly improving squad that are ‘learning to win’.
He said: “I know I was criticised by a lot of people when I came in to the job but, as I’ve said before, we didn’t have a pre-season and we have had to work on things on the run.
“And that has included my first-team selection.
“But I feel we are now starting to improve together and bond as a team, proving the plan is paying off.
“I think they are buying into my vision, on and off the pitch.
“We’re seeing the improvements from that, with the latest win the best of the lot.”
He said that the side are now targeting a fifth successive win in Saturday’s away trip to Tilbury (16th).
“It will need to be a gritty performance,” he said. “They are a tough side to beat away, and their pitch is very different.
“It will require some strong character but I think we’ve got that now.”
AFC welcomed Waltham Abbey to The King’s Marsh on Saturday as they hunted a fourth consecutive win in the league, while also welcoming left-back Darryl Coakley in his debut performance for The Yellows.
Morsley praised the performance of the defensive line of Sam Mills, Coakley, Tyler French and captain Joe Whight, while also praising the efforts of his attackers up front.
It was a game that required ‘patience’, with large spells of play in midfield that failed to materialise into clear cut chances for either side.
Despite that, the home team managed to find two goals, scored by Phil Kelly and Billy Holland, while preventing a Waltham reply.
Morsley said: “We were under the cosh a bit in the second half and I’m really pleased with how we responded.
“We kept tight and prevented them getting into many attacking positions.
“There’s a mentality and a challenge to not let goals in now and to keep clean sheets — getting that in the team puts us well on the way to success.
“I’m really pleased to see the desire not to concede becoming as strong as the desire to score, and that combination in a team can be frightening.”
The first clear chance fell for Ryan Horne as he latched on to a poor clearance kick but his scuffed shot went wide.
Mekhi McKenzie then hit the side netting after Horne cleverly chipped the ball into his path, as the home team looked increasingly dangerous.
Waltham were also getting into target areas, but the AFC defence comfortably mopped up — Paul Walker making a number of strong saves.
But danger still appeared midway through the half as Waltham’s Billy Holland almost wrestled the lead after a goalmouth scramble — AFC making a lucky escape.
Sudbury finally found the back of the net in the 36th minute, McKenzie perfectly timing his pass to Kelly to put the striker through on goal, who neatly finished.
And he was nearly through again in added time, but was caught offside.
It was AFC Sudbury who came out the strongest in the second half, almost adding to their tally on a number of occasions — Kelly, Hunter and Coakley narrowly missing — before Waltham Abbey fought back hard.
Some consistently good defending by, in particular, French, kept AFC ahead before an 83rd-minute goal from a free-kick sealed the three points for the home side.
Coakley stepped up to place a well-aimed cross into the box, which AFC’s Billy Holland headed in.
A 90th-minute penalty gave The Yellows a chance to score a third but Whight saw his shot saved.
Morsley added: “There was never any doubt about the technical abilities of our players from the academy, they won everything last year.
“But what we needed to add to that was learning how to win games of football, even when you’re playing badly.
“It’s helped by the fact I have a number of my lads in the dressing room now.
“They understand what I want and they understand where I’m trying to go. That clarity is important.
“We have defenders who can defend, attackers who can attack and players who can hold in midfield — the components are there so it’s just about finding that consistency — which they are now starting to find. We are going in the right direction.”
AFC Sudbury: Walker 8, Mills 7, Coakley 8, Holland 6, French 8, Whight 7, Peters 7, Hunter 7, Kelly 7, McKenzie 7, Horne 8 (Clowsley 65’ 7)