GALLERY: Hadleigh United scrape past Walsham Le Willows in Thurlow Nunn Premier

Hadleigh ( blue) v Walsham le Willows

Football Hadleigh ( blue) v Walsham le Willows - Credit: Lucy Taylor

On the day chosen to celebrate non-league football, Hadleigh United and Walsham le Willows served up a feast of action that saw the hosts emerge victorious, just.

Hadleigh, last season’s champions, started and finished the afternoon top of the Thurlow Nunn Premier Division table.

What came between, however, was a monumental scrap that often saw struggling Walsham, with just one win from five league games before kick-off, make a mockery of their lowly position.

Paul Smith’s side had the better of the opening exchanges in the first half, deservedly taking the lead, and never backed down in the second period, so much so that the game was on a knife-edge until the final whistle.

Walsham, who went 3-1 down after a harsh penalty was converted by Kevin Inglis, could have even been going home with all three points had Andrew Wood’s early second-half shot not cannoned off the post with his team 2-1 down.

The visitors took the lead after just eight minutes, having soaked up some early pressure from the hosts. Smith’s men broke quickly and with a man over on the right, the ball found winger Luke Austin, via the impressive Wood, and he fired across Ben Nower from 16 yards.

At times, Walsham showed exactly why they were in the lower reaches of the league though, with some questionable defending and they conceded a soft equaliser on the half hour.

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Having worked tirelessly to close Hadleigh down and deny Stuart Crawford’s men any width, they eventually succumbed with a move that started wide on the left.

Austin lost the ball to Scott Chaplin who was allowed to run with the ball before threading a pass to the unmarked David Lorimer on the right who beat Lee Pacey from 12 yards.

The leaders had started to get a grip of the game moments before the equaliser – manager Crawford adopting a diamond formation to try and get in between the visitors’ rearguard – but when they took the lead on 42 minutes, their usual brand of silky football played second fiddle to route-one tactics.

Rose supplied a long diagonal ball down field. However, his pass caught out the Walsham defence who stood and watched as Duane Wright nipped in ahead of Lee Pacey to head over the goalkeeper and into an empty net from 18 yards.

That was harsh on Walsham who went close when the lively Charlie Webb’s 25-yard shot was saved by Nower.

Their front players in particular were giving Hadleigh centre-backs Mark Goldfinch and Paul Donnelly plenty of problems – the lanky Wood with his guile and aerial ability, Webb with his non-stop running and wide men Austin and Dan Easlea providing good options on the flanks.

It was Wood who almost gave the visitors a dream start in the second half, but the striker could only curl his shot against the post after Inglis had given the ball away.

The same man then fired narrowly wide a minute later before the Brettsiders cleared with some panic after Nower made a hash of collecting a left-wing cross.

Such misfortune can back to haunt Willows when Hadleigh went 3-1 up on the hour. Chaplin dinked a ball into the box which brushed Austin’s hand and referee Paul Quick surprised several of the 122 watching at The Millfield when he pointed to the spot.

Inglis sent Pacey the wrong way from 12 yards and what followed was a period of possession and chances that could have killed Walsham off.

Aaron Churchyard headed Rose’s cross wide before Liam Scopes looped a header on to the bar.

This time, Hadleigh’s profligacy cost them dear as Wood started and finished a move, curling a shot in off the post from 18 yards.

That lifted Walsham but Hadleigh stood firm this time and substitute Gavin Crane brought a good save from Pacey, before Inglis’s deflected free-kick hit the top of the bar.

The hosts thought they had the game sewed up when Neil Calver hit an unstoppable right-foot shot into the top corner from the edge of the box seven minutes from time, but Walsham didn’t give up.

After Wood intercepted Inglis and got round Nower, the striker played in substitute James Tatham who fired into an open goal.

That goal rounded off the scoring, much to the leaders’ relief.

They had been part of a battle that was fitting for non-league’s special day.

Hadleigh: Nower, Scopes, Rose, Inglis, Goldfinch, Donnelly, Churchyard, Wright (Barwick), Lorimer (Crane), Calver, Chaplin (Hurd). Subs not used: Logan

Walsham: Pacey, McLaughlin, Agricole, Musgrove, Cobbold, Robinson, Austin (Thorrold), Curry, Webb, Wood, Easlea (Tatham): Subs not used: Bolton, Driscoll

Attendance: 122

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