Four first half goals brought AFC Sudbury’s unbeaten run — stretching back 12 games and including 11 wins — to an abrupt end at The Wardale Williams Stadium this afternoon (Saturday, January 30) as title challengers Thurrock ran out 4-0 winners.
The Fleet had gone into the match with only one win in four but turned the form book on its head with a breathtaking first half performance that stunned the league leaders, leaving them trailing 4-0 in what was arguably the game of the day in the Ryman League.
Two goals in three minutes, an own goal from Ryan Henshaw after 12 and a wonder strike from the boot of Tom Cummings, put the visitors well in command.
A further brace in four minutes from just after the half hour mark, via Michael Toner and Ronnie Winn, had the home side staring firmly down the barrel of what was to be their first defeat in 13 matches, and a rude wake up call for their ambitions of running off with promotion and the league title.
But with news of AFC Hornchurch losing 3-1 at fellow top six side Harlow Town, their six point lead at the summit does remain intact, even if their pride on the day was not.
AFC boss Jamie Godbold, who had had to bring himself on for a club debut in the impressive 4-0 win at Redbridge, was not named in the squad as he made three changes.
Ben Robinson returned at right-back while Ollie Berquez, who had also missed the previous match due to illness also slotted back into the starting XI, while on-loan Braintree Town winger Joe Maybanks started with youngsters Stefano Mallardo, George Clarke and Jack Newman dropping out.
There was a minute’s silence before kick-off in memory of former Sudbury Wanderers and Sudbury Town player, and fervent AFC Sudbury supporter, Roger Farthing, who had passed away on January 20.
An early warning sign for the hosts was fired by Winn, who sent an effort rolling past the far post.
But AFC Sudbury failed to heed the warning and found themselves 2-0 down within quarter-of-an-hour.
There had been some encouraging signs before they fell behind but Luke Callander had seen the referee blow after he nipped in to nick a back-pass off the keeper, having caught him as well, and Craig Parker had broke down the left only to scuff an effort under pressure well wide.
The Fleet, who were the last team to hit more than three goals past Sudbury, in their 5-1 home win back in October, were handed the lead in the 12th minute when Joe Christou created some space on the right-hand side of the area to fire in a cross-cum-shot which, with Ross Wall lurking with intent, saw Henshaw take no chances only to end up diverting into his own net.
There was barely time for AFC’s supporters in a strong crowd of more than 400 to digest what had happened when Cummings produced a bit of quality to grace any level of football when he sent a thunderbolt from his left boot from all of 30 yards out arrowing into the top corner following a corner breaking loose.
If two goals in three minutes left the hosts on the ropes against their title challengers, who could go three points behind the Yellows should they win their games in hand, another two in four minutes effectively provided the knockout blow.
With Jamie Godbold’s side failing to muster anything else resembling a chance in-between, insult was added to injury in the 31st minute when Michael Toner fired in from an angle following two blocked efforts from Lewis Clark, the second spinning up off the diving Ollie Berquez, with penalty appeals soon being replaced by a further goal celebration.
AFC began to desperately search for a way back into the game but were soon trailing 4-0 when a long ball down the right-hand side was picked up by Winn. He seemed to all-too-easily beat marker James Baker before waiting for Marcus Garnham to come off his line to roll the ball past him.
The Yellows came out for the second half determined to make amends for their out-of-character first 45 minutes and managed to double their efforts at goal for the match in a matter of minutes of the re-start.
First, Parker’s shot cannoned up off a defender and dropped down onto the roof of the net and then captain Sam Clarke saw some space open up ahead of him and let fly, seeing his long range effort fizz not far over the crossbar.
At the other end, Ross Gleed sent his own effort from range wide of Garnham’s left-hand post.
But there was to be no Newcastle-Arsenal-style comeback in this contest as the AFC efforts well-and-truly dried up from then on in.
The home fans were given a glimmer of hope just after the hour mark when Thurrock were reduced to 10 men through a moment of madness from Clark. The number three decided to verbally vent his fury at referee Jack Packman for blowing up for a foul on Callander down The Fleet’s right-hand side, leading to two quickfire yellow cards, after the first appeared not enough to convince his to drop his vocal protests.
Callander, who had 10 league goals to his name going into the match, looked unlike his normal sharp self and exemplified that point by looping a header well over the bar when well placed.
That was to be his last action as Godbold responded by moving Baker up front and bringing on Stefano Mallardo.
But, aside from getting his side’s first booking of the day, the club’s former 20-goal-a-season talisman was unable to make an impact at the other end of the pitch as a disappointing day ended with the Yellows having fired their first blank since November 11’s 0-0 home draw with Cheshunt — 14 games ago.
AFC’s players do have a quick chance to make things up to the home support when they host sixth-placed Tilbury, who drew 0-0 at home to Haringey Borough this afternoon, on Tuesday (7.45pm).
AFC Sudbury: Garnham, Robinson, Wilkinson, Berquez, Henshaw, Baker, Blackwell, S Clarke (c), Callander, Parker, Maybanks. Subs unused: Wales, Bailey.
Free Press Man of The Match: Difficult to choose anyone, really, but skipper Sam Clarke was the closest the hosts came to a goal and, as always, never threw the towel in, keeping up his high work-rate throughout.
Referee: Jack Packman
* For a video interview with AFC Sudbury manager Jamie Godbold and his assessment of what the result and performance meant, log back onto this website from 1pm Monday.