AFC Sudbury 1
Lowestoft Town 1
AFC Sudbury were moments away from picking up a much-needed three points when one of their former players struck late to leave them anxiously looking over their shoulder.
After capitulating in spectacular style at Needham Market on Boxing Day, and then being held to a draw at home to the league’s basement side Canvey Island, The Yellows were desperate to end their first festive period as a Ryman League Premier Division club with a win.
Lowestoft Town were the visitors at The Wardale Williams Stadium on Monday for what was a second game in the space of three days for both sides.
A schedule which mirrors those plying their trade in the professional game, but really has no place at this level, especially when you consider that all five substitutes made on Monday were due to injuries.
Lowestoft’s Chris Henderson limped off after just 11 minutes, while AFC’s first injury of the afternoon was of more concern when young winger Jordan Blackwell left the field on a stretcher, with suspected medial ligament damage, in the closing stages of the first half.
Left-back Aidan Austin was the second enforced change for The Yellows, coming off at half-time after picking up a knock late in the first half, and in the second half Sudbury’s Erkan Okay and Lowestoft’s Harvey Hodd were both forced off.
Away from the injuries, after a goalless first half it was AFC who struck the first goal at The Wardale Williams Stadium in 2017. And it was certainly worth the wait.
Sudbury manager Jamie Godbold described it as “a good training ground routine” and it was clear to see why.
Rob Eagle sent a low corner towards the edge of the Lowestoft penalty area, where Craig Parker fooled the visitors with a clever dummy.
Dylan Williams ran on to the loose ball and fired an unstoppable first-time strike into the corner, beyond a helpless Jake Jessup in the Lowestoft goal.
The breakthrough for the hosts had come less than a minute into the second half, and from then on Godbold’s side rarely looked like relinquishing their narrow lead.
But with barely one minute of normal time left on the clock, AFC’s defence was finally breached.
Adam Smith’s free-kick was met by the head of Jake Reed, a former Sudbury player, to steal a point for the Trawlerboys and ensure the Yellows began the year hugely disappointed.
“It’s a bitter pill to swallow,” Godbold conceded. “If we can’t just do the bread and butter stuff when we’re organised and track runners and get in front of people, then it’s going to be a long season.
“It’s frustrating. To hold the lead for so long, to be so close to the final whistle and not win the game. It feels like a loss, but at the same time when we look back it’s not a bad point, but we need three points.
“I quoted seven (points from three games over Christmas) and we’ve got two.
“We should have won today, we should have beat Needham and a draw against Canvey was a fair result.”
Ahead of facing his former club for the third time this season, Godbold made three changes to his starting line-up from Saturday’s 1-1 stalemate with Canvey.
Okay (suspension) and Jack Wilkinson (injury) both returned, while Blackwell made only his fifth league start of the campaign.
In a cagey first half it was visitors Lowestoft who had the better of the few chances on offer, with the returning Wilkinson making a timely block to deny Hodd a clear shot at goal on 16 minutes, before the same player fired well over the Sudbury goal a minute later.
AFC ended the half brightly with chances from Williams and Eagle both going off target, before the latter went down in the box in first half stoppage time, but the referee booked the ex-Lowestoft man for diving.
After taking the lead inside the first minute of the second half, Sudbury then had a chance to double their advantage when half-time substitute Sam Bantick pulled the ball back for James Baker.
But despite Lowestoft goalkeeper Jessup having been drawn out of his goal, Baker saw his effort hacked off the line by a brilliant goal line clearance from visiting defender Harry Barker, which kept Lowestoft in the game.
With added time looming, The Trawlerboys finally broke AFC’s resistance when Reed, who had a brief spell with the Yellows at the start of the 2014/15 season, headed home from Smith’s cross in the 89th minute.
“Once again (we’ve come) so close,” Godbold reflected.
“It’s another 1-1 and I guess the positives are that’s two unbeaten. We’ve played well today, I thought particularly in the second half.
“It took us a while to get going and on the balance of the second half we deserved to win. I thought we were the better side.
“We have been the better side in the two (league) games we’ve played against Lowestoft.
“But it’s frustrating not to see out the game because I couldn’t really see how they were going to score.
“It was just a ball into the box and we’ve not defended well enough and we’ve walked away with a point.”
A valuable point gained, or two dropped? Only time will tell.