Saturday's local football round-up: Halstead Town beaten by Hashtag United but Ely City and Harleston Town pick up crucial wins in the Thurlow Nunn League
In what was a big day at the top and bottom of the Thurlow Nunn Leagues, Halstead Town saw their First Division South title hopes all but extinguished by a 1-0 loss at home to leaders Hashtag United.
Mark McLean’s men headed into the contest six points adrift of their visitors, but they did hold a potentially crucial game in hand.
However, in front of a mammoth crowed of 833 at Rosemary Lane, that gap has now been extended to nine points thanks to Tom Williams’ whipped free-kick in the 31st minute.
The trailing Humbugs applied plenty of pressure after the restart but Hashtag held out, with Chris Harris spurning the best chance to score an equaliser when he headed off target early in the second half.
It now looks like Halstead have a battle on their hands to hold on to second place as White Ensign, who they travel to face next weekend, are lurking two points behind having played a game less.
From the top of the First Division South to the bottom of the Premier Division, where Long Melford moved out of the relegation zone, although there is bound to be a tinge of disappointment when they reflect on their 3-3 home draw with third-placed Godmanchester Rovers.
After falling behind goals from Ross Waugh, Nathan Rowe (pen) and Deklyn Roy put the Villagers 3-1 in front, but they were unable to see the game out.
The point has lifted Melford one clear of second-from-bottom Great Yarmouth, while Ely City hold a three-point cushion - played a game more - after their 1-0 win on the road at fifth-placed Walsham-le-Willows.
Sam Reed scored the only goal of the game at Summer Road to end the Robins’ five-match winless run in the league.
There was also some cheer for bottom-of-the-table Framlingham Town, who won for just the sixth time this season.
It was an emphatic victory as well, coming from a goal down to beat hosts FC Clacton 4-1 with the likes of Mason Ransome and Matt Aldis on the scoresheet.
Relegation still looks inevitable for the Castlemen though - the gap to safety being eight points with five games to play.
Elsewhere in the division, Stowmarket Town capped a week that saw them bow out of the Suffolk FA Premier Cup semi-finals by losing 2-0 at Whitton United, while Haverhill Rovers lost by the same scoreline at home against Brantham Athletic.
Stow stay fourth, six points behind Woodbridge Town (2nd), who beat Thetford Town 4-1, and Godmanchester Rovers (3rd).
Newmarket Town, meanwhile, saw their run without a victory in all competitions stretch to three matches after they went down 3-1 at home to Norwich United.
A Blake Kicks header had drawn the 10th-placed Jockeys level at a goal apiece early in the first half, but Norwich struck twice after the restart to seal all three points.
It was much more of a positive afternoon for Hadleigh United though as they put seven points between themselves and the bottom two after winning 1-0 at Gorleston.
Mekhi McKenzie was the hero for Christian Appleford’s charges, with his match-clinching goal coming eight minutes from time.
In the First Division North, Harleston Town now hold a seven-point lead over Mulbarton Wanderers in second following their 5-1 home win over struggling Haverhill Borough.
Owen Betts (2), Nathan Stone, Nicky Howell and Nathan Russell were all on target for the leaders while Ryan Swallow replied for Borough, who slipped to their 12th defeat in a row and sit fourth from bottom.
However, ahead of next weekend’s local derby between the sides, Diss Town were unable to do neighbouring Harleston a favour as they suffered a 4-0 loss at Swaffham Town.
The victorious Pedlars are third and nine points off Harleston, but they do have three games in hand, which were they to win would lift them a point clear at the summit.
Lakenheath have dropped down to seventh following their first away defeat of 2019 - inflicted by a Needham Market Reserves side who ran out 4-1 winners.
Elsewhere it would seem Cornard United might have had more than half an eye on their cup semi-final next Friday after they were held to a 2-2 draw by a hosting Wisbech St Mary outfit that headed into the game bottom of the table and on a 10-match losing run.
Debenham LC’s difficult second half of the season continued with a 1-0 loss at home against Norwich CBS, while under the lights on Friday AFC Sudbury Reserves played out a 1-1 draw at home with Ipswich Wanderers.
At Step 4, there was frustration for Mildenhall Town in their bid to pull off the great escape in the Bostik League North Division.
Ricky Cornish's team, who started the day eight points from safety, took the lead twice at Brentwood Town through a Jarid Robson brace, but on both occasions they were pegged back, with the home side's second equaliser coming three minutes from time.
Witham Town's late defeat to Canvey Island means Mildenhall are now seven points from getting their head above water, but with just five matches left to play, time is running out.
Incidentally, that was Mildenhall's 11th draw of the season - no side in the North Division has recorded more this term.
Up the other end of the table in seventh Bury Town halted their five-game sequence without a win thanks to a 2-0 triumph at Barking.
Neither side found the net during the first half at Mayesbrook Park, but Emmanuel Machaya and Ollie Hughes struck for the Blues in the second period.
That victory has moved Ben Chenery's men to within two points of west Suffolk rivals AFC Sudbury after they were beaten 3-0 at a revitalised Dereham Town, who are managed by former Harleston chief Adam Gusterson.
There was also a defeat for 17th-placed Soham Town Rangers, though they did push champions elect Bowers & Pitsea all the way at Julius Martin Lane before losing 1-0 to a last-minute Bradley Warner goal.
Meanwhile, after a run of eight Evo-Stik League South Premier Division Central games without a win, Needham Market gave their supporters something to smile about with a 1-0 victory at Rushall Olympic.
It was the in-form Jamie Griffiths that secured the three points with a free-kick just before the half-time whistle, sealing a result that moved the Marketmen up a place to 11th.
* For reaction to these matches, plus a look ahead to what is to come next weekend, see this week's print editions.