THURLOW NUNN LEAGUE
Hadleigh United 2
Norwich United 1
by Derek Bish
at the Millfield
Hadleigh United’s Matt Downing put his health worries behind him to earn his side three vital points in the race for the Thurlow Nunn League Premier Division title.
The 24-year-old winger, who is in the Army, was banned from playing for the Brettsiders in recent weeks by his employers because of high blood pressure.
But Downing, a half-time substitute, showed no signs of the pressure getting to him by converting two stoppage-time penalties to win the game for 10 man Hadleigh.
“I’ve been unwell the last few weeks, so it was good to get a run-out,” said the former Bideford player. “It’s frustrating though because, although we are defending well, we are not playing great at the moment.
“Norwich were the better team by a country mile, but it takes great character to come back from 1-0 down in such a short space of time.”
Hadleigh were indebted to goalkeeper Dan Heath in the first half as the Brettsiders struggled to get going and left their custodian exposed.
He held Jon Lovelock’s header, smartly denied Ian Hunter and then pushed Tom Jeal’s free-kick away from the top corner — all inside the opening quarter of an hour of the contest.
The hosts finally showed some attacking intent on the stroke of half-time when some excellent build-up ended with Danny Bloomfield’s powerful shot parried away by goalkeeper Ben Nower.
However, Hadleigh could not carry that into the second half and, after Heath had brilliantly kept out Hunter’s long-range header, the visitors from Norfolk finally broke the deadlock.
As Jamie George attempted to race away from Mark Gaisford, the Hadleigh defender dragged the Norwich striker down, allowing Jeal to confidently dispatch the resultant spot-kick into the bottom left corner beyond the despairing dive of Heath.
The writing appeared to be on the wall when Lee McGlone was sent off in the 89th minute for violent conduct, with referee Chris Pollard adjudging the home number nine to have elbowed Tom Balls when challenging him for a header.
However, that was just the beginning of the madness as Pollard awarded the hosts penalties for fouls on Shane Wardley and substitute Liam Jennings in the fourth and fifth minutes of stoppage time.
Downing thumped home the first via the underside of the crossbar and the left post before dispatching the winner low into the opposite corner with the final kick of the match.
Focusing on Saturday’s FA Vase quarter-final at Tunbridge Wells, Downing added: “I’ve been to the quarter-finals before with Bideford and it’s great.
“It would be nice to get through to the semi-finals because anything can happen then over two legs.”
Hadleigh: Heath, Brown, Wardley, McLaughlin (Downing 46), Goldfinch, Gaisford, Josiah, Calver (Jennings 80), McGlone, Bloomfield (Layne 80), Canfer. Unused subs: Driscoll, Barwick.