MATCH REPORT - Needham Market 1 Harlow Town 1. Fluke goal sees Needham Market drop two points against fellow promotion hopefuls Harlow Town as a Ryman North play-off finish is now out of the Marketmen’s hands
- Credit: Archant
A late and rare mistake from goalkeeper Andrew Plummer saw Needham Market drop two crucial points against fellow promotion hopefuls Harlow on Saturday as their agonising race for a Ryman North play-off spot continues.
Ryan Crisp’s precise finish shortly after half-time looked like the Marketmen were going to pick up an invaluable victory that would have left them level on points with third-place Harlow. But there was to be a cruel twist near the death as Plummer misjudged substitute George Smith’s innocuous-looking cross, with the ball evading the stopper’s desperate grasps and ending up in the back of the net.
Needham came into the game in scintillating form having won their previous six games in a row, conceding just one goal.
And, in truth, they looked good value to extend that winning run to seven on the bounce with an encouraging display against a good side who all but sealed their play-off position with this result.
After a quiet first period, Needham started the second half in spectacular fashion with Crisp’s goal seemingly giving them confidence.
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But despite dominating long periods of the game afterwards, Needham couldn’t build on their slim advantage as they found that elusive killer second goal a step too far before they were made to pay with a fluke but defining equaliser.
Harlow aren’t third in the league without merit though, and their pace on the break caused Needham moments of difficulty during the afternoon, particularly after just two minutes when Junior Dadson opted to shoot straight at Plummer instead of squaring to the unmarked James Smith, who would’ve had a tap-in.
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Striker Crisp, who seems to have rejuvenated his confidence levels at Bloomfields after a somewhat difficult spell at Suffolk rivals Leiston earlier this season, looked far too isolated in the opening 45, but it was he who was closest to opening the scoring as he flashed an inviting opportunity from a good position narrowly wide.
Luke Ingram, instrumental in Needham’s recent fortunes, was also off target in a half which defences dominated with both sides seemingly reluctant to take too much of a gamble, and understandably so, considering the importance of the game.
Needham were the side who needed to win though and their boss Mark Morsley threw caution to the wind at the interval by edging number 10 Michael Brothers up directly alongside Crisp in the search for a breakthrough.
And sure enough, just five minutes after the break, the Marketmen were celebrating as after some excellent wide play from Brothers, Crisp ruthlessly punished a nonchalant piece of defending by Stanley Muguo with a clinical finish from eight yards.
The same pair combined again moments later as an excellent run from Crisp saw him drift beyond challenge after challenge, presented Brothers with a golden opportunity, but under pressure, he could only find the side netting.
Crisp had found his strike-partner with an exquisite back-heel in this phase of play and playing with confidence, the striker looked a class apart in the second period.
The same player should’ve perhaps doubled his side’s advantage mid-way through the half but after turning both Donny Barnard and Jonathan Glowacki inside out, Knowles denied the young forward with a great save from an acute angle.
Winger Dave Cowley was also an actively involved player for the hosts as things wore on, and he went almighty close with an outrageous half-volley from 25 yards that flew narrowly over.
It was, however, his deep second-half withdrawal that sparked a late flurry of action, in which anything could’ve happened.
James Smith was a threat for the hosts all afternoon and his mazy run through the centre presented Alex Read with a perfect one-on-one opportunity but Plummer denied him with an excellent sprawling save.
Then came the pivotal and defining moment that Plummer and Needham will want to forget in a hurry.
After referee Burridge deemed Muguo not to have clipped the heels of substitute Sam Newson in a Needham attack, there looked to be little on when the ball broke to Harlow substitute Smith, 25 yards out from goal.
But with an innocent-looking 83rd minute cross that 99 times out of 100 would be a bread-and-butter routine take, the unfortunate Plummer misjudged the flight of it and, despite desperately trying to scramble his way back to save his blushes, it was too late and the ball found the back of the net in the most fortuitous of circumstances.
Needham were stunned and Harlow were buoyant, and there was still plenty of time for even more action at both ends.
Harlow’s biggest goal-threat Mead, finally started to find some gaps in the Needham defence, and he would’ve liked to have done better as he got the wrong side of Sam Nunn towards the death but he was wildly off target.
Needham’s Newson won’t have had a better opportunity to snatch the desired win for the Marketmen with moments to go, but he lacked composure when clean through as he struck straight at Knowles, before Read saw strong penalty appeals controversially turned away after escaping the clutches of Nunn with literally seconds on the clock.
Harlow will be the happier side with a point, and while the result sees Needham stay in fifth and remain very much in the race for the play-offs, they will surely have to now win both their remaining games and hope other results go their way.