Winning run comes to an end for AFC’s reserves but best finish is on

STANDOUT DISPLAY: Liam Bennett shone for AFC Sudbury Reserves in a number of roles down the right-hand side
STANDOUT DISPLAY: Liam Bennett shone for AFC Sudbury Reserves in a number of roles down the right-hand side

THURLOW NUNN LEAGUE

FIRST DIVISION

AFC Sudbury Reserves 0

Debenham LC 2

Profligacy ended up halting AFC Sudbury Reserves’ winning run at four games on Saturday, but the bigger picture is of an academy that is able to flourish at all the levels it competes in.

At the start of the season, the academy squad were set a target of 40 points at Step 6 — five better off than in 2016/17 where the side finished 18th.

But heading into the weekend’s encounter in 10th with eighth-placed Debenham, they were only five points off that with 12 games still to play.

The defeat, after dominating the chances only to be stung twice by their more clinical opponents, saw them slip a place to 11th. But with the prospect of a top-nine finish, to achieve their highest Thurlow Nunn League placing (previously 10th in 2015/16), is very much still on the table.

And all this has come despite Mark Morsley relying heavily on the academy in his first-team side.

Craig Power, who took charge of Saturday’s game with Ian Miller in the absence of Gavin Peters, who had overseen the quartet of wins, said: “Our target was 40 points, and we have 35, so it certainly shows players come into this side and do well, which is really pleasing.

“In the first game (of the day) the boys lost 1-0 to Waltham Abbey who are top of that (Essex Senior) reserve league we play in and then there was seven lads from the first-team today who could have played for us.

“It just shows a real strength in depth.”

On Saturday, Max Booth rippled the side-netting early on while Nathan Read blasted over after a good run and Kie Dyer’s effort was only kept out by goalkeeper Stephen Fenner’s feet.

But Debenham, who had not played since January 20 due to pitch postponements, grew into the game and took the lead in the 31st minute when striker Craig Jennings was presented with a simple close-range finish after Luca Collins spilled Jack Severy’s effort from outside the area.

Oliver Gravett came close to an instant response with an angled drive that was just over before the same player went on to force a low save out of Fenner with a shot on the turn.

AFC went into the break feeling they could and should have been ahead, instead of trailing 1-0.

That plot line only grew in strength in the second half as shots rained in on the Debenham goal without forcing Fenner into serious action.

At the other end, captain Milo Grimes had to lift a Jack Severy effort desperately over his own bar.

As the game entered the last 15 minutes Read wasted a good chance to level things up, firing wide after some intricate play opened the Hornets up, not for the first time.

But the sucker punch arrived in the 81st minute when substitute Martin Westcott was the beneficiary of a terrible pass by Grimes and kept his nerve to beat the goalkeeper with a low shot into the left-hand corner.

Fenner had to make a good recovery save after Booth’s low cross deflected off a defender, while there was still time for Read to hit the post not once, but twice, which rather summed up the afternoon.

“It is a shame it (winning run) has ended but Debenham took their chances on the day when they have had probably a quarter of what we have had. That is the frustrating thing,” reflected Power.

“The second was a breakaway goal and we have gifted them that and even the first one, really.

“I think there were some really good bits and some really good performances. It is just a matter of taking chances.”

AFC: Collins, Bennett, Munday, Dettmar, Grimes (c), Altintop, Gravett (Skubich 58’), Hammett, Read, Dyer (Vincent 64’), Booth. Unused sub: Miller. Attendance: 30

Free Press Man of the Match: Liam Bennett. Still not old enough to be a member of the academy at 16, he showed maturity above his years as he shone in three different positions down the right flank.

• On Tuesday, AFC Sudbury Reserves lost 1-0 to Braintree Town Reserves and are without a match this weekend.