Gallery: Super Swifts do the double over table-topping Market
- Credit: James Ager
Needham Market’s lead at the top of the Ryman North Division was cut to just two points on Saturday as the Suffolk side fell to a 1-0 defeat at Heybridge Swifts.
Joe Pearman came off the bench to fire home a superb winner for Heybridge, who have made great strides under boss Cliff Akurang since his appointment in December, in a disappointing day for Needham – topped off by title-rivals Harlow’s 2-1 triumph at Chatham Town.
This result enabled Heybridge to complete the league double over Needham, following a 2-1 win at Bloomfields earlier in the season, and the Essex side put in a terrific defensive performance to topple the league-leaders.
But Needham should not have lost this game. It was just one of those days where they probably still wouldn’t have scored even now.
Without the deadly strikeforce of Sam Newson (hamstring injury) and Michael Brothers (suspended), Needham lacked that killer touch upfront – with replacements Rhys Henry and Ryan Crisp particularly wasteful in front of goal.
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The Marketmen dominated possession throughout but the ultimate aim of putting the ball in the back of the net deserted them, and Crisp could not have gone much closer in the 10th minute when his powerful low strike brought a fine save from Danny Sambridge’s feet.
Crisp was off target seven minutes later after a terrific passing move including exciting youngsters Keiran Morphew and Luke Ingram presented him with a chance, while another eye-catching move in the 29th minute should have seen Kem Izzet strike for goal, but instead the former Colchester United captain opted to pass with Jack Barham almost turning into his own net.
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The visitors upped the ante in the final moments of the half with Darryl Coakley’s cross-cum-shot producing an excellent save from Sambridge, with the goalkeeper also at his flying best to deny Ingram’s 25-yard thunderbolt.
Coakley was narrowly off target with another long-range effort moments before the interval, with Henry and Crisp wasting chances early in the second half.
Heybridge, well-marshalled by centre-halves Daniel Barber and Sam West, defended valiantly throughout, but found possession and chances hard to come by.
They made it count when it really mattered though, in the 60th minute, when Pearman found himself with a bit of space on the edge of the box and beautifully struck a shot that nestled into the net via the inside of the post.
Henry then blazed over again before being withdrawn alongside Crisp in the 69th minute, with manager Mark Morsley rolling the dice with a double substitution and a change of formation.
But the changes made little impact as Heybridge continued to shut the door in Needham’s faces in a plethora of goalmouth scrambles.
One opportunity saw centre-half Ollie Fenn, who moved upfront in the dying moments, inexplicably miss an open goal after excellent work from Izzet and Ian Westlake.
Then, just as proceedings entered the five minutes of injury time, Needham must have thought that they’d got their ‘get out of jail free card’ when Westlake tumbled under the challenge of Damien Green, only for referee Mr Paul Quick to stun everyone in waving away the resultant appeals.
Jubilant Cliff heaps praise on Pearman
Heybridge Swifts boss Cliff Akurang hailed the quality of super-sub Joe Pearman’s match-winner on Saturday.
The left-winger, on as a second-half substitute, lit up Scraley Road with a goal of top class to condemn table-toppers Needham to a surprise defeat.
“It was a fantastic strike,” said Akurang, who has helped turn Heybridge from relegation candidates to a solid mid-table outfit since his arrival in December.
“It’s something that he does week-in, week-out in training but we just haven’t seen it enough in games.
“I’m glad he’s got one today because a lot of his goals come from dead balls.
“We’re now starting to see a little more from him in open play and what he’s actually capable of.
“He’s a player with tremendous talent, and I think he’s getting his confidence back.
“He’s been chasing that goal for so long and now he has got it, hopefully he can get more.”
The boss also paid compliment to his team’s defensive solidarity, but admitted he had his heart in his mouth in the closing stages as Ian Westlake took a tumble under the challenge of Damien Green in the penalty area.
“The funny thing is I actually had flashbacks of the Maldon game when Damien made the exact same tackle,” laughed Akurang.
“He got sent off and we conceded an equaliser, but thankfully the decision went our way and we got the three points.
“I think it ended up righting a wrong because Maldon stole two points away from us, and now we’ve got it back.”
Heybridge welcome Thurrock to Scraley Road on Good Friday, kick-off 1.30pm.
Heybridge: Sambridge, Regis, Hayes, Barber, West, Cocklin, De Silva Dias, Cole (Green) , Barham (Pearman), Pedulu, Hunt.
Needham: Phillips, Brown, Coakley (Nunn), Fenn, Whight, Morphew, Izzet, Ingram, Henry (Hogg), Westlake, Crisp (Pelling).