RYMAN LEAGUE DIVISION ONE NORTH: PLAY-OFF SEMI-FINAL: Witham Town 1 Needham Market 0: Mark Morsley told the referee they would not be playing minutes before kick-off after seeing their loan player would be lining up against them.
An 88th-minute winner from Kris Newby eventually ended their promotion hopes in a cagey match which came close to not even starting in Witham on Tuesday.
All hell broke loose before kick-off when a late Witham teamsheet dropped the bombshell on-loan Needham player Lee Townrow was starting with the Suffolk club still paying a third of his wages.
This was despite Needham manager Morsley claiming he had a text message from home boss Garry Kimble saying they would not play him under a gentlemen’s agreement to allow him to be available for a potential final.
“He has broken an unwritten code that us managers all abide by,” said Morsley. “Witham Town will now find it very hard to do their football business as a result of this.”
He revealed Needham have decided not to appeal the result despite believing the late teamsheet 20 minutes before kick-off — referees request them 45 minutes before — and other things on the night had been done to rile them.
“We are not going to pursue the appeal as we feel it is just dragging ourselves down to their level,” he said. “It was a disgraceful turn of events, but at the end of the day we lost a game of football.”
But Morsley, who opted to leave the ground swiftly after the final whistle after a coming together with Kimble, said it was only his players who convinced him to rise above the situation by playing.
“They knew what they were doing and I went and told the referee ‘we are not going to play the game’,” he said. “I brought the players in and told them my feelings and the players wanted to play, saying he was not good enough to get in our team and that is why we let him go.”
Morsley added the club had also decided to retain the higher ground by not recalling the ex-AFC Sudbury player from his loan spell ahead of the final on Sunday, with a recall clause available to them.
The game ended up kicking off five minutes later than scheduled with Townrow, who had not played under an agreement the last time the sides met in a 1-0 win for Needham at Bloomfields on April 3, starting up front.
Needham kept the same side who miraculously overturned a six-goal deficit to get them into the play-offs against the odds in a 7-1 home victory over Chatham Town on Saturday.
It had seen Sam Newson score a hat-trick and Ryan Crisp two, with a Michael Brothers effort and an own goal the others.
But despite having the better of the chances in a tense first half, the Marketmen could not get their noses in front.
Luke Ingram stung the home goalkeeper Martyn Guest’s fingertips in the fourth minute, while Chris Hogg had a far-post header saved and Newson found the roof of the net with a volley after Guest sliced into his path.
At the other end, Sam Nunn had to head over his own bar and the lively Tom Wraight found Andrew Plummer behind his long-range drive.
Plummer had to parry out Newby’s long-range drive straight after the break before Needham got on top.
They had a number of chances to take the lead, but Brothers’ header was caught at the second attempt by Guest and the number 11 fired well over from a good position after being put clear, while Hogg also put over the bar.
There was a sign it was not to be Needham’s night when a big appeal for handball against Townrow from Coakley’s dangerous cross was waved away.
Witham were stretching Needham’s backline on the counter and made the breakthrough two minutes from time through Newby, who cut in from the right before wrongfooting Coackley with a stepover and sending a low left-footed shot inside Plummer’s near post.
The visitors rallied, with Plummer going up for a late free-kick in added time, but it was to be a second successive season of play-off heartbreak, having lost last year’s final to Enfield.
“I just said to the lads everyone has got to take strength from the night and the season,” said Morsley. “We overhauled the squad in the summer and the building blocks are now in place.”