RYMAN LEAGUE DIVIISON ONE NORTH: AFC Sudbury 1 Needham Market 3: Needham Market manager Mark Morsley hailed his side’s bravery in coming from behind at rivals AFC Sudbury on Monday with 10 men.
There looked to be only one outcome at half-time, with the hosts ahead against the league leaders through Lawrence Yiga’s strike and the visitors seeing their captain Kem Izzet sent off.
But AFC went off the boil as a stirring second-half display saw Needham, whose victory made it six wins out of six, pin them back with Luke Ingram equalising from the penalty spot before Ian Westlake put them ahead 12 minutes from time.
It sparked a crazy climax to the match which saw Sudbury self-destruct with Ryan Henshaw and Ryan Maxwell both being sent off within two minutes of each other and Sam Newson’s injury-time goal followed by a further dismissal as the red mist descended over Craig Pope.
Former AFC boss Morsley said: “We came out the second half and we just passed it, we made the ball the 11th man.
“Every one of my Needham boys were brave and wanted the ball and to play the game the right way.
“It was a massive second-half performance and all credit to them.
“The unity and spirit in that dressing room is as good as I have seen for some time.”
But Morsley felt Izzet’s early withdrawal from the game was unwarranted, following his two yellow cards.
“It was a ridiculous decision,” he said.
“How can that slide tackle be a deliberate handball?
“The second one, he put his hand up but the guy has gone down like a sack of spuds and that is what happens.”
Needham, who welcomed back Danny Cunningham for Ace Howell, squandered a great early chance when Newson broke clear and rounded Alex Archer, only to slice his shot off balance.
At the other end, Sam Clarke saw his fierce drive parried before the hosts took the lead 22 minutes in.
Pope’s shot deflected into Yiga’s path on the edge of the area and he drove low past Shaun Phillips with the help of a deflection.
Henshaw and Jake Reed went close to adding to the lead, while Archer had to tip over from Needham’s Daryl Coakley.
Izzet was dismissed after 32 minutes for a second yellow card after using his arm to halt Kris Newby’s breakaway in front of the home dugout.
James Baker saw a header ruled out with Yiga offside, while Needham almost equalised when Ingram’s looping shot bounced back off the crossbar.
The dominant hosts closed the half with Reed unable to convert Newby’s cross before Phillips had to turn a Mallardo drive around the post.
The Marketmen started the second half like a train and were awarded a penalty just three minutes after the restart when Henshaw and Newson tangled, with Ingram calmly rolling in the spotkick.
Archer had to come to AFC’s rescue against the 10 men twice with good saves from Chris Hogg, Westlake and Cunningham.
The inevitable Needham goal finally arrived on a swift breakaway though, as Newson darted down the right and crossed for Westlake to head home.
Immediately after Henshaw was shown a straight red for an off-the-ball incident with Cunningham to even up the numbers.
But just two minutes later, Maxwell miss-timed a tackle on Westlake to receive his second yellow card.
As AFC chased an equaliser, they were caught on the break three minutes into added time as Newson beat Yiga to a long goal-kick and clipped it past the onrushing Archer.
Pope was also immediately dismissed in the aftermath after knocking his man to the ground in an ugly end.
Needham begin their FA Cup journey in the preliminary round at home to divisional rivals Soham Town Rangers tomorrow (3pm), looking to repeat last year’s memorable run, which saw them narrowly miss out on the first round with defeat to Cambridge United.
“Soham will be tough but if we can beat them we go to Cambridge City away and at their ground and then see how good we are,” said Morsley, who hopes to have Ryan Crisp (thigh) back.
“But the FA Cup is great, the crowd love it, the chairman loves it and we will be giving it our best shot.”