DIVISION ONE NORTH
AFC Sudbury 3 Romford 0
Pride hung in the air over King’s Marsh as the kids — thrown in with five senior players out — proved more than worthy of their shirts.
With an average age of 23, it was the youngest first-team side ever fielded since AFC Sudbury were formed in 1999 — — and they let no-one down.
One club official even described the three points over a physically superior, but relegation-threatened Romford as the club’s result of the season.
With central defensive partnership James Baker and Ryan Henshaw beginning two game suspensions along with top scorer Kris Newby, while captain Sam Clarke was sitting out one more game, you could have forgiven the club for not trying too hard to prepare for a pitch inspection.
But before 8.30am volunteers had been out in force spreading three tonnes of sand to overcome heavy rain and get the game on.
And they will have been glad they did, being treated to homegrown talents coming of age and proving the future at the Yellows is bright.
After a first-half where a newlook defence rode out some hairy moments to keep the contest goalless, Terry Rymer gave them an early second-half lead. It was added to when Nathan Cooper deflected Jordan Blackwell’s cross into his own net soon after, and the appropriate icing on the cake came when teenager Gianfranco Mallardo came off the bench to seal the victory in added time.
Manager Jamie Godbold will have plenty of selection headaches ahead with fans willing him to let his young stars shine again, with full debutant Kryan Clements one of those hoping to have caught his eye.
“I was given my chance to start and hopefully I have done enough to keep progressing and keep in the picture to be involved,” said the 17-year-old A-Level student who started at centre-half alongside his Suffolk Under-18s teammate, Stefano Mallardo.
“It is good that me and Steph, both 17, have come in and are able to get a result and keep the promotion push alive.
“It gives us confidence that they are happy with us and want us to progress.”
With 22-year-old right-back Ben Robinson the veteran of the backline, he admitted experienced goalkeeper Marcus Garnham played a big role in helping them to a clean shirt.
“Marcus is vocal and demanding and tells us what he wants to be done and it is up to us to do it,” he said.
The centre-backs’ combined age was less than 41-year-old Lee Flynn, whose tight hamstring ensured the club broke new ground with the average age of a first XI.
Third-from-bottom Romford, 19 places below AFC in the Ryman North table, sensed an opportunity to halt a run of four defeats from their last five games.
On a difficult surface, they carved out the best early opportunities of the first half, without being able to make the hosts pay.
Nick Reynolds was a thorn in the inexperienced backline’s side, getting behind them early on only to send a cross flashing across the face of goal.
Terry Rymer put over the bar at the other end, while Clements headed into Aaron Omand’s hands, but they were two rare chances for an AFC side largely worrying about raids on their own goal.
Callum Ibe fired over, while Reynolds found Garnham’s hands before seeing his glancing header come back off the post with the keeper beaten.
The warning was not heeded as Jack Grant was allowed a free header only to put it over with the goal gaping.
The hosts could have gone in at the break ahead though, with Craig Parker inches from connecting to a low Rymer cross.
A combination of Mallardo and Clements blocked Eddie Hart’s shot on the turn, before Ben Robinson broke up the other end to force Omand to parry out, while Aryton Coley saw an effort saved by the keeper’s legs.
AFC gained confidence from their strong end to the half and took the lead after 51 minutes when a brilliant counter-attack saw Ollie Berquez split the defence with a throughball which sent Rymer away and he finished on an angle into the far corner beyond the advancing Omand.
Garnham played his part in preserving the lead by coming off his line to clear ahead of Ibe, before AFC doubled their advantage with a helping hand in the 62 minute.
Blackwell galloped to the right by-line and his cut-back was rolled into his own net by a distraught Cooper.
That changed the complexion of the game, with the confidence flowing in AFC’s swift attacking moves.
Parker had a shot saved, while he put Rymer clear only to see him fire just wide of the near post while substitute Scott Kemp was denied by Omand’s legs.
The final goal was a lesson in counter-attacking; Garnham producing a fine save at one end before Robinson’s clearance turned defence into attack with the ball breaking in the box for substitute Gianfraco Mallardo to finish at the second attempt.