Needham claim Ridgeons title
NEEDHAM Market claimed the Ridgeons League Premier Division title last night, but they were made to fight all the way by Kirkley and Pakefield.
Two goals inside the first quarter of the match from strikers Danny Smy and Darren Bethell appeared to put Needham on course as they controlled the opening half.
But Kirkley, who pulled one back via Russell Stock, piled on the pressure after the interval and came close to equalising and taking the title race to Saturday’s final day of the season.
Needham, knowing a win would mean the title and guaranteed step 4 football next season, took the lead after 12 minutes when Smy raced clear of the defence on to a long through ball and coolly shot past Sam Thacker from the edge of the area.
The visitors doubled their advantage after 23 minutes when a long throw by James Evans was flicked on by Rhys Barber and the ball was only half headed clear, allowing Bethell to pounce and steer his stooping header into the bottom corner of the net.
Needham, with Angelo Harrop pulling the strings in midfield, looked solid in defence and it was something of a surprise when Kirkley pulled one back eight minutes before half-time.
Joe Jefford’s long ball was flicked on by Aly McKenna and Stock sent a sweetly struck dipping right-foot volley over Danny Gay and into the top far corner of the net.
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Craig Parker was booked for upending McKenna three minutes after the restart and Kirkley, assured of a fourth place finish – their highest ever in the league – started to turn the screw.
Lewis Pemberton was out-muscled by the lively McKenna and Gay had to come to Needham’s rescue by blocking the striker’s shot with his legs in the 57th minute.
Needham’s Evans limped off to be replaced by Danny Phillips and after Andy Key was booked for a late tackle on Pemberton, Kirkley almost equalised.
Key’s left-wing corner dropped to Nathan Stone beyond the far post and his drive flashed across the crowded penalty area and thumped against the far post much to Needham’s relief.
The match between these two sides, who meet again on Monday afternoon in the Ridgeons League Cup Final at Diss, started to get fiesty and referee Mike George called the two captains together in an attempt to calm things down.
Needham had a great chance to put the result beyond doubt in the 78th minute when Harrop intercepted Thacker’s throw out and exchanged passes with Bethell but the keeper redeemed himself by tipping Harrop’s shot just over the bar.
Although Kirkley continued to press in the closing stages Needham held on to the delight of their travelling fans to secure the title which means their trip to Dereham on Saturday is now academic as they can’t be caught by either CRC or Leiston.
The Ridgeons League trophy was presented on the pitch after the match by Kevin Antcliffe, deputy president of the league.
Kirkley & Pakefield: Thacker, Grint, Manning, Jefford, Cole, DeCoteau, Stone, Martin, McKenna, Stock, Key. Unused subs: Dawson, Carter, Boggis.
Needham Market: Gay, Pemberton, Horlock, Parker, Boyland, Barber, Evans (sub Phillips 61 mins), Harrop, Smy (sub Denniss 76 mins), Bethell, Thrower. Unused subs: Buckle, Severy.
Referee: Mr M George (Norwich).