Sam Bantick’s 92nd minute winner against National League South Gosport Borough sparked wild scenes at The Wardale Williams Stadium as AFC Sudbury recorded a 2-1 win to propel them into the FA Trophy second round for the first time in their history.
After The Yellows had seen their half-time advantage from Rob Eagle’s 35th minute opener wiped out by Chris Flood’s close-range finish six minutes into the second half, substitute Bantick prevented a Tuesday night trip to Hampshire for a replay in the dying embers of the game.
The attacking midfielder picked up Dylan William’s pass in the area before cutting expertly inside a few desperate challenges before rifling an unstoppable shot into the far corner.
It was just reward for a superb team display against a side who had reached the final of the FA competition just three years ago and finished ninth in the Vanarama National League South last season.
Jamie Godbold had made four changes to the side which had exited the Alan Turvey Trophy Ryman League Cup on Tuesday at AFC Hornchurch, with James Baker coming back in to lead the line, having been a converted centre-half in recent seasons.
In the lashing rain it was the hosts who looked the higher-league side as they used the ball better than their opponents, playing some neat football which worked several openings.
After Ryan Henshaw was on hand to block a Warren Bentley angled drive after the wideman took too heavy a touch on the throughball early on, Erkan Okay, on his home debut, headed over before Craig Parker saw his shot pushed out by goalkeeper Ellis Grant.
Parker headed an Eagle cross straight at The Boro number one before Joe Oastler fizzed a powerful effort just over at the other end.
But AFC’s neat approach play was rewarded shortly before the break when Henshaw’s raking pass out of the back went over James Baker’s head before Williams used his pace to latch on to it and pull it back, after committing Grant, for Eagle to steer into a gaping goal ahead of a desperate challenge.
It was no less than the home side deserved heading into half-time.
But they were soon caught out at a set piece as Gosport got back on terms in the 51st minute when Tom Bird’s deep free-kick was pumped into the far post and beyond Garnham. Henshaw just about won the race to it but he failed to get a good connection on it to hook it clear, with Flood gleefully taking advantage of the loose ball to roll it into the back of the net.
The goal galvanised the National League outfit who began to pin AFC back as a scrappy period of the game played out to the background of the referee’s whistle.
After big striker Ben Wright made a mess of a good chance at one end, Okay choose the wrong option at the other, trying to pick out a pass when the impressive Eagle had teed him up well for an angled drive.
Bantick entered the fray in the 72nd minute, shortly before Williams dragged a shot from a promising opening wide of the far post, with Eagle again instrumental in the build-up.
Tyler French’s excellent whipped cross was just touched away from falling into Eagle’s path by Grant as the game entered the final 10 minutes, while soon after Bantick put fellow substitute Luke Callander in on goal only for the offside flag to go up.
It was clear AFC were not prepared to settle for a draw and take their chances in a replay and they came close to a winner in the final minute of normal time when substitute Jordan Blackwell, with his first touch, slid Austin’s pass at goal only to see Grant block with his feet.
The home side looked to cash in on their momentum by leaving a three-pronged forward line up when they lost possession.
They got their reward in the second of three minutes of added time when Bantick danced around a challenge in the area before converting with a powerful effort that arrowed into the far corner to the delight of the home crowd and his team-mates, who he soon disappeared among in the ensuing celebrations.
It means The Yellows will be in Ryman League Premier Division action on Tuesday when Burgess Hill Town, 2-1 winners at home to Billericay Town this afternoon to move them up two places to one below AFC in 17th, visit Suffolk (7.45pm).
If AFC can get anywhere near to re-creating today’s performance on Tuesday they should be looking at a much-needed three points to lift them up the table and away from danger.
* For a video interview with match-winner Sam Bantick, log back onto this website on Monday morning, ahead of the FA Trophy second round proper draw.
AFC: Garnham, French, Austin, Okay, Henshaw, Tann, Williams, Clarke (c), Baker (Callander 84), Parker (Bantick 71), Eagle. Unused subs: Carroll, Newman, Callander, Blackwell.
Free Press Man of The Match: Rob Eagle. Scored and orchestrated AFC’s best attacking moves.