Braintree Town 1 AFC Sudbury 0: Iron get the job done in the FA Trophy as Sudbury bravely bow out
Simeon Akinola was the match-winner for Braintree Town on Saturday as the Conference Premier side narrowly defeated local rivals AFC Sudbury in the First Round Proper of the FA Trophy.
Akinola struck in the 57th minute to break Sudbury hearts in a game where the Suffolk side could be proud of their performance.
David Batch’s Ryman North Division outfit went toe-to-toe with an Iron side situated three leagues above them in the non-league pyramid, and could have snatched a late equaliser when James Baker’s 88th minute header struck the crossbar.
It was certainly a case of what might have been for Sudbury, not that the Suffolk side could begrudge Braintree the win.
Before his rasping 57th-minute winner that left Sudbury ‘keeper Marcus Garnham rooted to the spot as the ball flew into the bottom corner, Iron striker Akinola had certainly enjoyed better days in front of goal.
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Guilty of missing three first-half opportunities, the talented forward, snapped up from Ryman Premier club Harrow Borough in the summer, was left both delighted and relieved man when he eventually did find the back of the net.
Underdogs Sudbury came into this game on the back of two straight league defeats, but you would not have guessed it.
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Totally unfazed by the situation, they made their intentions clear from the first whistle on Saturday, ensuring they did the basics right to keep up with their higher-level opposition.
Lone striker Terry Rymer ran his socks off, hassling and making life difficult for the Iron centre-half pairing of Matt Paine and Alan Massey, while in defence, James Baker was outstanding.
The former Braintree player, who is a striker by trade, did not put a foot wrong at the heart of Sudbury’s back-line, winning every single header and tackle.
Well-established Braintree striker, Sean Marks, could not get a kick all game.
Determined not to let themselves down on the big stage, Sudbury were the better side for the first 20 minutes and their intense start carved out a few dangerous openings.
One of those openings nearly ended up as a goal as Jack Wilkinson almost capitalised on a cross that was misjudged by Iron ‘keeper Nick Hamann, However, the ball was cleared with the stopper grounded, and the net gaping.
Taking the game to Iron with their flexible 4-5-1/4-3-3 formation, Sudbury pressed high for the first quarter, getting in Iron’s faces.
This tactic was working well until the 20th minute when they were caught and should have been punished.
One-on-one with Sudbury defender Craig Pope, who did well not to commit a professional foul, Akinola looked certain to score after rounding Garnham who kicked at thin air just outside his penalty area.
With Garnham grounded and just Pope and a fellow Sudbury defender on the goal-line to beat, the striker took his time to seemingly add an easy finish from 10 yards, but instead struck a post.
It was easier to score than miss, and it was a huge let off for Sudbury.
On 24 minutes, Akinola went close again as a neat move and cross down the left allowed him a sight of goal, but his side-footed effort was supremely saved by Garnham with Sudbury full-back Lee Flynn courageously blocking Mitch Brundle’s goal-bound follow-up.
Five minutes later, Akinola must have thought his shooting boots had well and truly deserted him as he slid wide from just six yards after a measured cross from Brundle.
In truth, this was the only real spell in the game where you could see the gulf in difference between the sides, and Sudbury were very fortunate not to go into the break at least a goal behind.
Still, credit must go to them for recovering with such bravery and determination.
Akinola finally got the goal he was looking for 12 minutes into the second half as he pounced on a loose ball just inside the box, his effort whistling past numerous bodies and into the net.
It could have then been easy for Sudbury to fold, but they still refused to throw towel in the towel.
The Suffolk side’s ball retention deteriorated a little as the game went on, but they continued to stick with Iron, and, at just 1-0, still had a chance.
As the minutes ticked over, Batch threw on striker after striker to try and steal a goal, hoping to get that famous cup moment, and they nearly got it two minutes from time.
Up from the back for a free-kick, Baker could not have done more with Wilkinson’s set-piece, but unfortunately for him and Sudbury, his header was centimetres away from forcing a replay – the ball striking the woodwork and rebounding to safety.
Sudbury would have been fortunate to have nicked a draw, but they got within touching distance, having already beaten higher-level in Bognor Regis Town, Maidstone United, and St Neots Town.
For Iron, it was a case of getting the job done, and avoiding a potential banana skin.
Alan Devonshire’s men will learn who their Second Round opponents are later today as the road to Wembley continues.