RYMAN LEAGUE ALAN BOON CUP FOURTH ROUND
Needham Market 2
AFC Sudbury 2
(Sudbury won 4-3 on penalties)
DANNY Gay returned to Bloomfields to haunt former club Needham Market on Tuesday night, after the keeper’s penalty heroics secured Sudbury’s progression through to the quarter-finals of the Alan Boon Cup, with a 4-3 penalty shootout victory.
The Suffolk and Ryman Division One North rivals could not be separated after 90 minutes as midfielder Rhys Darg’s double, before being dismissed, either side of a Jose Espinosa brace, sent the tie to a shootout and set the stage for Gay, who left the Marketmen to sign for AFC in the summer, to star.
Gay saved the home side’s first two penalties, denying Danny Bloomfield and James Evans.
And with the shootout going to sudden death after Jemel Fox missed the opportunity to settle the tie with his side’s fifth spot-kick, the keeper took responsibility, dispatching the sixth with ease before saving the decisive final effort from Scott Chaplin to clinch progression.
The hosts started strongly and almost broke the deadlock after just 10 minutes, but Chaplin’s low left-foot drive from the edge of the area was pushed away by Gay.
Sudbury responded 15 minutes later and were gifted the opportunity to snatch the opener as Evans’ throw to Rhys Barber fell short, allowing striker James Baker to pip the Needham defender to the ball and race through on goal. However, with just Andy Plummer to beat, Baker screwed his right-foot shot across goal and wide of the left post.
And he was made to rue that miss moments before half-time as Danny Thrower released Espinosa beyond a static AFC defence and the striker kept his calm to slot his effort past Gay into the bottom right corner.
However, the lead did not last long as just five minutes after the restart, Darg brought the sides level, beating Plummer to Ryan Henshaw’s deep free-kick into Needhams’ area to rise highest and head into an empty net.
In a increasingly-frantic affair, the home side regained the lead in the 69th minute as Espinosa grabbed his second.
The AFC defence failed to clear Bradley Barber’s cross from the left and the powerful striker took advantage, drilling a low right-foot shot past Gay.
Darg drew the visitors level for a second time in the 73rd minute. Dave Wareham’s deep cross from the left was volleyed back into play by Ryan Henshaw and, as Baker’s volley from close range crashed back off the bar, Darg was in the right place to head home past Plummer.
However, just two minutes later, Darg turned from hero to villain as he was dismissed, picking up a second booking for a late challenge on Plummer, having been booked for unsporting behaviour early in the second half.
Despite being down to 10 men, it was the visitors who had the best chance to win the game within normal time as in the 83rd minute Wareham raced on to Rhys Barber’s weak backwards header but could not beat an onrushing Plummer, leaving the tie to be settled on penalties.