RYMAN LEAGUE PREMIER DIVISION: AFC Sudbury 3 Staines Town 1
Three first-half goals proved to be enough for AFC Sudbury to claim all three points at The Wardale Williams Stadium this afternoon against mid-table Staines Town and put back-to-back league defeats behind them.
James Baker opened the scoring in the 19th minute following a corner, while a precise Sam Bantick headers doubled the Yellows’ advantage just after the half hour mark.
A sublime individual goal from Dylan Williams, the Cambridge United loannee’s first for the club, made it 3-0 just before half-time, despite the balance of play being fairly even.
The visitors got on top after the break and Brandon Adams’ 58th minute strike appeared to suggest a comeback could be on the cards.
But AFC, helped by goalkeeper Marcus Garnham, weathered the storm and went on to end the game the stronger side to collect a much-needed three points that moved them up to 13th place.
Despite winning two of their last three in all competitions, AFC had gone into the match looking to halt a running run of league form which had seen slip down to 15th spot after losing three of their last four.
Jamie Godbold named striker Luke Callander on the substitutes bench after a prolonged injury spell, with Adam Tann starting in central defence for the injured Tyler French and Craig Parker making his full return from injury in place of Liam Wales.
There was a minute’s silence ahead of kick-off for recently passed-away AFC supporter Bill Burroughs.
Baker, who had played at centre-half and central midfield over the previous two matches, was back in the number nine role up front which was his regular position when he joined the club.
Staines, who started the day 10th in the table, made a few promising early break but did not properly threaten until the ninth minute when Max Worsfold cut the ball back from the byline for Adrian Clifton, but his effort was straight at Marcus Garnham.
AFC began probing at the other end and Rob Eagle wasted a decent opportunity when he fired a bouncing ball well over.
But the hosts took the lead in the 19th minute after profiting from a poor piece of defending. Sam Bantick’s right-sided corner should not have beaten the first man, but a sliced clearance from Devante McKain kept the danger alive and the loose ball broke for Baker who drove a low effort into the far corner.
Staines immediately went in search of an equaliser with Garnham fisting a cross clear before Adam Tann used his experience well to hold off his man when the ball is chipped back in.
But AFC doubled their advantage in the 31st minute when Bantick, not known for his heading ability, rose well to a pin-point left-wing delivery from Jack Wilkinson, following his long-throw coming back to him, and directed his header beyond Jack Turner.
It was the midifelder’s eighth goal in all competitions and he had an opportunity to add another soon after but sent a low shot straight at the Staines goalkeeper, following calls for a penalty when Rob Eagle was nudged over on the ball being dismissed.
At the other end, Mohammed Bettamer’s near-post shot was initially spilled by Garnham before he collected.
The Sudbury custodian was then grateful to see a heavily deflected from Adrian Clifton fall straight into his arms.
With three minutes until the break, AFC went into a 3-0 lead when Williams, who had been occupying the number 10 role, robbed a defender of the ball on the right edge of the penalty area and cut across the area on a mazy run before firing into the left-hand corner to the delight of the home fans.
Adams did well to work some space at the other end for a shot but sliced his angled drive over the crossbar.
The visitors, who would have felt unfortunate to be 3-0 behind on the balance of play, soon took control of the game after the restart with Garnham having to touch a dangerous cross over his bar, while AFC scrambled clear the resultant corner at the second attempt.
At the other end, Baker fired into the side-netting as the hosts looked to put the result beyond any doubt.
But The Swans had a foothold back in the game in the 58th minute when, from Clifton’s left-wing cross Ryan Henshaw could only divert the ball into the patch of Adams who found the bottom corner.
As AFC’s defence continued to look unsettled by the pressure, Garnham soon had to come to the rescue to push Clifton’s drive around his post, as Staines almost got a second back.
Just after the hour mark Baker sent a powerful half-volley past the far post, while Bantick curled a free-kick over the crossbar soon after.
Garnham was soon called into action at the other end, pushing out a tricky dipping effort from substitute Chinua Cole at his near post, as well as going full stretch in the air to tip away a long-range effort from Adams.
Staines kept piling on the pressure on the AFC goal but could not find a way past Garnham, who was alert to catch Afolabi Coker’s head after he rose above Tann from a free-kick.
With 10 minutes to play AFC began to hold on to possession again and Baker hit a rising left-foot shot over the crossbar, while substitute Liam Wales almost scored within minutes of his introduction, seeing his effort deflected out by the outstretched leg of Turner after a quick breakaway move with Craig Parker.
Sudbury were almost caught out by a counter-attack by Staines but Tann made up good ground before executing a perfect sliding tackle on substitute Jonathan Hippolyte.
With Baker back in midfield after Wales’ introduction, Adams wasted a good chance by volleying well over from Worsfold’s deep cross.
With home substitute Jordan Blackwell going over awkwardly on his ankle, striker Callander came on for the last few minutes, which passed without either side fashioning another chance.
It was a vital three points for AFC, who could have dropped as low as 20th in the table with a third successive defeat.
Their calmness at the back seemed to dessert them in the second period, with Garnham’s performance keeping them out of trouble, but they continued to look a threat at the other end and could have extended their lead.
AFC Sudbury: Garnham, Newman, Wilkinson, Williams, Henshaw, Tann, Bantick (Blackwell 73), Clarke (c), Baker, Parker, Eagle. Subs not used: Mallardo, Wales, Callander, Robinson.
Free Press Man of The Match: James Baker. Marked his return upfront with a goal and on another day could have had a hat-trick.
* For a video interview with manager Jamie Godbold, log back onto this website from 1pm on Monday.