Needham Market suffer just fourth Ryman League North defeat of season, against Harlow Town

Needham equalise against Harlow

Needham equalise against Harlow - Credit: Archant

Needham Market were toppled from top spot in Ryman North One by arch-rivals Harlow Town in a gritty, windswept showdown at Barrow’s Farm on Saturday.

Needham apply pressure on the Harlow goal

Needham apply pressure on the Harlow goal - Credit: Archant

Mark Morsley’s men suffered only their fourth league defeat of the season – they have won all their other 15 league fixtures - as hosts Harlow extended their impressive unbeaten start to the season.

Starting the day two points better off than Harlow, though having played a game more, Needham were on the back foot from the very first minute, struggling to cope with a gusting wind at their backs.

Trailing inside two minutes, through Alex Read’s strike, the Marketmen did gradually wrest control as the first half wore on, and a quality goal from Danny Cunningham had them on level terms in the 53rd minute.

However, Harlow regained their lead just 10 minutes later, via substitute Shane Stamp, and held on to leapfrog the Marketmen to the top of the pile.

Needham's Sam Nunn gets a push in the back

Needham's Sam Nunn gets a push in the back - Credit: Archant

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Needham will now be hoping to return to winning ways, when they play host to Redbridge at Bloomfields tomorrow evening.

The Marketmen were chasing shadows for the first quarter of the game, no doubt ruffled by Read’s early goal. Spotted in the clear by fellow front-runner Junior Appiah, an in-form Read tucked a low shot beyond Shaun Phillips and into the bottom corner of the net. The shot lacked power, but had precision – it was the prolific Read’s 18th league goal of the season.

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The visitors were under the cosh for long periods, with their defence at times all at sea, but they made sure that they did not concede a killer second goal.

Centre-half Chris Hogg did well to block a ferocious shot by David Cowley, at point-blank range on four minutes, while right-back Robbie Martin screwed a shot wide in the 26th minute.

Needham simply could not get going, despite playing with a strong wind at their backs, and there was a heart-stopping moment when keeper Phillips spilled a swirling cross by left-back Layne Eadie on the half-hour mark.

Fortunately, the loose ball eluded every home attacker and rolled wide for a corner. Phillips again failed to catch the ensuing corner, taken by skipper James Smith, but again the rebound fell kindly for the Suffolk side. Morsley’s decision to change his team’s formation, midway through the first period, had the desired effect. The three centre-halves system was shelved, with Keiran Morphew pushing further forward into a 4-3-3 shape, and suddenly Needham had some joy.

Ian Westlake ballooned a header over the bar from Luke Ingram’s free-kick, with what was the Marketmen’s first real goal attempt as late as the 36th minute, while Sam Newson had a half-chance in front of goal just before the break, keeper Ed Thompson clawing away his effort.

It had been a bad-tempered end to the first period, with a succession of late challenges and niggly fouls, but it was the visitors who showed calm heads early on in the second half.

Newson turned to hook a shot over the bar, from the edge of the six-yard box on 48 minutes, before Cunningham equalised in the 53rd minute.

Cunningham put the finishing touches to a neat move, cutting in from the left to drill home a low shot from an acute angle.

But Needham failed to build on this position, and it was Harlow who were in the driving seat for the final half-hour.

Stamp, introduced as a 60th minute substitute, took just three minutes to conjure up the winner, superbly burying Small’s teasing cross with a diving header at the far post. It was a goal worthy of winning any game.

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