GALLERY & REPORT: Needham Market 2 AFC Sudbury 1
- Credit: James Ager
In the end Needham Market deserved to progress to today’s FA Cup Fourth Qualifying Round draw, but they were pushed all the way by a battling AFC Sudbury team depleted by injury.
Luke Ingram’s heavily-deflected strike five minutes into the second half gave the Marketmen the lead before Ian Westlake seemingly wrapped the tie up for the hosts with three minutes remaining.
However, throwing everything at the home team, Sudbury won a late lifeline when the lively Matthew Daniels was brought down in the box by Sam Nunn, and Jamie Forshaw converted from the spot.
Had that goal been scored a few minutes earlier, then it would have made for an intriguing finish, the visitors having pushed impressive centre-half Greg Crane forward to great effect – the big defender throwing his weight around well.
The bumper crowd of 634 inside Bloomfields witnessed an exciting finish as Needham held on, and it was no more than they deserved after a first half which failed to get going.
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Missing Steve Spriggs, Michael Shinn, James Baker and Ross Watson, who was only fit enough for a place on the bench, Sudbury were the better side in a cagey opening period.
That was despite Needham creating the best three chances of the half.
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However, they only came on the rare occasions that the impressive Sudbury backline, brilliantly marshalled by Crane and skipper Ryan Henshaw, failed to clear their lines.
It could have been a different story had Needham taken the lead inside the first 90 seconds, the livewire Sam Newson forcing a tremendous save from the excellent Alex Archer – the keeper palming out the striker’s sweet volley from 18 yards.
That early scare woke Sudbury up and from that point they looked in control of the game, happily stretching the play from back to front, and from right to left – getting flu-stricken winger Dave Cowley on the ball to good effect.
The diminutive left-winger was clearly struggling to breathe easily but that did not stop him teasing and tormenting the Needham defence and he played in a number of testing centres that put the hosts under pressure.
It was from the other flank though where Sudbury almost created their first opening of the game. Scott Mitchell’s cross from the right caused a melee in the box and home goalkeeper James Shea, under pressure from two Sudbury players, was awarded a free-kick in the box.
The visitors were frustrating the hosts who were electing to go high and long on a number of occasions, tactics that were meat and drink to Crane and Henshaw.
When they did get the ball down and try to utilise the flanks, Newson who was trying to open up the play down the left channel, was finding it difficult to get past right-back Michael N’Cho.
Sudbury created two more half chances with Forshaw’s back post header being comfortably saved by Shea and Sam Clarke’ shot also being smothered by the former Arsenal stopper.
The game needed some inspiration and Needham almost found it 10 minutes before the break. Dave Wareham cut inside from the right on his left foot and fired in a fierce shot which Archer, diving to his left, spectacularly palmed away.
Then, as half-time loomed, Wareham missed a real sitter, snatching at a volley from six yards out, the ball going wide with the goal at his mercy after N’Cho had failed to clear a ball into the box.
The visitors had the first chance of the second half, Daniels firing wide from range before Needham took the lead on 50 minutes.
Newson picked the ball up on the right and played a searching ball out to the left which eventually found Ingram. From there, the winger ran at the defence before cutting inside and unleashing a shot which was diverted past Archer by Henshaw’s desperate diving header.
That immediately opened the game up and Sudbury almost found an instant riposte when, after a superb three-man move, Daniels forced a superb save from Shea who saved his header low down to his right.
Needham hit back and Archer added to his collection of fine saves with a sprawling stop to deny Ingram a second from range, before Newson cut his way in from the left byline and stung the goalkeeper’s palms with an effort that was parried to safety.
Sudbury pressed for an equaliser but were denied a golden chance to equalise on 65 minutes.
N’Cho’s ball in from the right was headed goalwards by Forshaw who brought a great reaction save from Shea.
Then, as the ball came back to him, the winger agonisingly headed the ball wide of the post.
Then came the sucker-punch for Sudbury. Newson, who had been terrier-like in the second half, giving the visitors’ backline no time to settle, flicked Darryl Coakley’s forward ball in behind the defence and Westlake lobbed a shot over the on-rushing Archer from 10 yards out.
Sudbury grabbed a late lifeline when Daniels was unceremoniously dumped to the floor by Sam Nunn and Forshaw sent Shea the wrong way from the spot.
David Batch’s team tried one last attack, aimed towards the head of Crane but Needham held out, much to the delight of the majority inside Bloomfields.