DIVISION ONE NORTH
AFC Sudbury 1
Needham Market 0
DANNY Laws conceded his side were fortunate to get away with just a narrow defeat at rivals AFC Sudbury — their third straight loss over the festive period.
In front of a bumper crowd of 517, Needham never got going, despite still fashioning a couple of good chances, before being reduced to 10 for the last 20 minutes when Deakin Napier received two yellow cards for quickfire late challenges.
A Dan Emmanuel strike, often a thorn in Needham’s side, on the counter-attack on the half hour was enough to see AFC over the winning line, but in truth the winning margin should have been greater, as Laws acknowledged.
“All credit to Sudbury, they deserved the win on the day,” he said. “Obviously when we went down to 10 we played risky football.
“On the break they probably should have felt they should have added to their lead. They hit the bar twice and had one cleared off the line.
“But we gave it a go second half. We tried to keep it tight first half and we are a bit of a wounded animal at the moment so it was good in a way we were only 1-0 down at half-time the way we have been capitulating.”
With Sam Newson, Danny Thrower and Duane Wright all missing through injury, Jose Espionsa spearheaded a 4-2-3-1 formation, though was later replaced at half-time having failed to make enough of an impact in his manager’s eyes.
Sudbury flew out of the traps with James Baker’s header comfortably held by Andy Plummer before the Needham goalkeeper got his body in the way of Dave Wareham’s low effort.
Nathan Clarke’s header flew past the post and Pip Boyland made an excellent sliding challenge to thwart Emmanuel as Sudbury piled on the pressure early on.
The Marketmen, top of the league at Christmas before back-to-back defeats, were weathering a storm, but Napier should have done better when registering their first effort on target after 19 minutes after Ryan Henshaw got in a mess at the back.
Baker fired wide before AFC took a well deserved lead with an incisive counter-attack on 31 minutes. A Rhys Barber long throw was cleared to Martin who put Wareham away with a fine pass. The winger bounded forward and took an age to square to Emmanuel, but when he did his team-mate poked in from six yards with his left foot.
Needham almost hit back when Danny Bloomfield dragged his shot a foot wide after good interplay with Napier, the latter miscuing a shot after skipping past Henshaw.
Scott Chaplin replaced Espinsoa at the start of the second half for Needham but they were almost two down within minutes when Martin hit a curling shot from outside the area which cannoned off the crossbar.
Ollie Fenn went close to the target from long range before Fox blocked well just before Sloots stopped a certain goal from James Evans after throwing his body in front of a powerful effort.
Plummer somehow beat out a Sam Clarke header before Martin again hit the bar with a curling effort, this time from a full 30 yards out on the left.
Needham were then reduced to 10 men with 20 minutes to play when Napier collected two yellow cards for rash challenges within two minutes of each other.
A second goal looked inevitable for Sudbury as Needham pushed four up front. But somehow the killer goal eluded the Yellows with Wareham volleying against the outside of the post from a fine Baker cross and Howell denied by a fingertip save while Nathan Clarke saw his bundled effort chalked off for a foul.
Free Press man of the match: Andy Plummer.