RYMAN LEAGUE PREMIER DIVISION: AFC Sudbury 2 Lowestoft Town 2
Rob Eagle returned to haunt the club he left in the summer by snatching a point for AFC Sudbury at Lowestoft Town this afternoon (August 29) with a header deep into stoppage time.
It concluded a breathless end to the Bank Holiday Monday derby, with visiting goalkeeper Marcus Garnham, who also signed from The Trawlerboys, pulling off a string of outstanding saves to keep his side in the contest, including a penalty from Chris Henderson.
It was the former Bury Town winger who had fired his side, relegated from the Vanarama National League North last season, into an eighth minute lead which had been cancelled out by Craig Parker’s 63rd minute rocket.
It had looked like home substitute Joe Marsden’s phenomenal individual effort in the 84th minute would seal all three points for Lowestoft, before Eagle’s last-gasp effort.
AFC Sudbury management team Jamie Godbold and Andy Reynolds, making their return to the club where they have legendary status for their time as players, made three changes from the side who beat Enfield Town 2-0 on Saturday.
Left-back Jack Wilkinson came in for his first action of the season, having recovered from a hamstring injury in pre-season, with recently-resigned winger Dave Cowley making way and Aaron Greene shifting back to his more natural position.
Liam Wales started up front in place of Luke Callander and Jack Newman came into the midfield at the expense of Sam Bantick.
AFC were immediately on the backfoot as the game got under way in brilliant sunshine and were soon behind.
The Trawlerboys shifted the ball from right to left with ex-AFC man Jamie Forshaw picking up Andrew Fisk’s pass to play the ball across to Henderson who drove at Adam Tann before firing an angled drive into the far corner.
Frazer Blake-Tracy curled a free-kick over the crossbar before the visitors registered their first notable effort at goal when Jack Newman’s 16th minute free-kick saw Jake Jessup dive to his right to save.
It was a rare opportunity for Godbold’s side though as Lowestoft continued to set the tone at the other end, with James Baker having to come to the rescue to dispossess Blake-Tracy after a lofted pass had caught Ryan Henshaw out.
The hosts should have extended their slender advantage going into the break but Shaun Bammant was guilty of a bad miss in front of goal when not catching Jake Reed’s centre, with AFC somehow scrambling it clear.
AFC brought on Luke Callander and Ben Robinson at half-time and immediately they looked more of an attacking threat with a targetman to work with.
Greene and Eagle both sent efforts over before their pressure led to an equaliser just after the hour mark.
Clarke cleverly turned the ball around the corner for Parker through the centre from Eagle’s pass and the midfielder ran forward before unleashing an unstoppable effort from 23 yards which flew into the left-hand corner of the net.
Lowestoft almost had an instant reply when they cut straight through the AFC backline only for Blake-Tracy to shoot straight at Garnham.
But the hosts began to dictate play again and substitute Marsden produced a piece of magic to put them back in front with six minutes of normal time remaining.
Henderson threaded through a pass into the penalty area and Marsden, with his back to goal, flicked the ball up with his right before leaving his markers for dead by flicking it over his head and firing a dipping volley into the far corner.
A minute later Lowestoft had the chance to put the game to bed when Henderson’s shot was adjudged to have hit Wilkinson’s arm in the area.
But Garnham, at full stretch to his left, pushed away Henderson’s spot-kick.
The ex-Trawlerboy then made a save from the same player at point-blank range before also thwarting Forshaw as the game entered six minutes of injury-time — much to the surprise of a bumper crowd.
Henderson was guilty of a glaring miss after Forshaw got in behind Baker before playing the ball across to him unmarked, but he fired it wide of the right-hand post.
It was to prove a costly miss as a late AFC Sudbury attack yielded the almost unthinkable equaliser.
Greene crossed from the right and from Parker’s effort was eventually headed off the line before Callander’s subsequent header came back off the crossbar before Eagle threw himself at it to nod it over the line.
The goal, which sparked wild scenes among the visiting players and travelling fans, ensured AFC Sudbury’s unbeaten start to the season stretched to six matches, with the point keeping them fourth in the table.
AFC Sudbury: Garnham, Tann (Robinson 46), Wilkinson, Newman (Callander 46), Henshaw, Baker, Eagle, Clark (c), Wales (Bantick 82), Parker, Greene.
Free Press Man of The Match: Marcus Garnham. Goalkeeper reminded the home fans of what they are missing since his departure with a series of great saves, including a fine penalty stop.
* For match reaction and a preview to the weekend’s FA Cup game with Halstead Town, see Thursday’s Suffolk Free Press.