REPORT & GALLERY: Felixstowe & Walton United crush rivals Hadleigh United
- Credit: Lucy Taylor
Thurlow Nunn Premier Felixstowe & Walton United 4 Hadleigh United 1 These are troubled times for Hadleigh United. Four defeats in six matches before Saturday had cast serious doubts over whether the long-standing Thurlow Nunn Premier League leaders could finish the job.
Those doubts intensified when Felixstowe & Walton United ran wild in a telling victory which will further fuel speculation of an impending and catastrophic Hadleigh meltdown.
The impressive Danny Thrower was joined by skipper Ben Cranfield, Rhys Barber and Tom Dew in providing fresh evidence to naysayers who claim we are witnessing a high-flying team suddenly in freefall, struggling under the weight of their own expectations as a league title, which for so long has apparently been under air-tight control, threatens to slip away.
Whereas Felixstowe put on a clinic of clinical finishing, Hadleigh botched a series of attacks. Headers flew wide, crosses evaded forwards, shots found the back fence.
The gloomy performance was in stark contrast to the Seasiders, who sizzled in the sun in front of their biggest crowd of the season.
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Some 185 fans were drawn to the top-of-the-table clash. Even Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey, fresh from winning her battle to cut bingo duty in the Budget, showed up.
Indeed, it was almost a full house at The Goldstar Ground, a place where the home fans witnessed a brand of skill redolent of the six-goal drubbing away to Brantham Athletic three weeks earlier; crisp counter-attacks, incisive passing, smart runs, intelligent movement, unerring finishing – everything a hard-working Hadleigh side clearly coveted but failed to replicate.
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Stuart Crawford, the Hadleigh manager, admitted their blunt display had left them “scratching their heads” in the changing room.
He will no doubt be working on a revised blueprint ahead of Saturday’s fixture away to Kirkley & Pakefield, a side which Brightlingsea Regent – arguably Hadleigh’s closest rivals in third place; nine points adrift but with four games in hand – dispatched 3-1 in a statement of defiance.
An easily-avoidable goal in the fourth minute set the tone. Following a quick-free kick with Bradley Barber, Thrower marched towards the Hadleigh box with ominous intent. The dozy defence failed to apply any pressure before he fired home a low missile from 25 yards.
Fortified by an industrious midfield, Thrower thrived in his free-roaming role. He surged forward soon after, charging past his first challenger and confounding his next with a blinding set of trickery. The sleight-of-foot created space for a shot, but this time Fred Howe, the Hadleigh goalkeeper, would not be beaten. The ball pinged off his body and split two incoming attackers in serendipitous fashion.
Meanwhile Cranfield was the fountainhead of many attacks. In his customary position up front, he teed up onrushing midfielders and sent wingers haring down the wing.
Just after 30 minutes, he arrowed in a fine effort following a simple ball lofted over the backline.
On the hour mark it was three and easy as Barber crashed home an uncontested header from a corner.
Hadleigh remained committed though. Josh Mayhew squared a pass to Richard Logan, a 15th-minute substitute for the injured Tes Bramble, but he clipped the bar.
The visitor’s fragile defence was exposed again in the closing stages. Dew was the final piece of a fine counter-attack, chipping over Howe.
Logan claimed a late consolation that was almost derided by the Hadleigh contingent. Their side were given a powerful reminder of the importance of precise finishing; a lesson that must soon be heeded.