Needham Market’s lead at the top was reduced to just one point, despite coming from behind to draw 1-1 with play-off chasing Dereham Town.
Back-to-back draws over the Easter weekend put a dent in the Marketmen’s Ryman League Division One North title hopes, with nearest challengers Harlow Town winning 2-1 at Ware to close the gap to a point with three games to go.
Despite seeing their advantage diminished, manager Mark Morsley is far from concerned just yet as he aims to get back to winning ways at already-relegated Burnham Ramblers tomorrow (3pm).
“I am not concerned just yet,” said Morsley. “It was not the Easter period we would have hoped for but they were two difficult games.
“We have to retain that confidence and belief in what we do and if we can win on Saturday then we are still in control ahead of a straight shootout with Harlow.
“I’ve said before that the Halrow game after this one would always go some way to decide the title race and I still believe that.
“If you would have offered me the position we are in now where we could win promotion,—even if it has to go to the last game of the season—at the start of the campaign, then I would have taken it.
“Everyone is expecting us to beat Burnham but they are still very dangerous.
“We have to play to a high level as I always expect and remain focused to get the job done.”
Following a goalless draw at Wroxham on Saturday, Morsley made two changes to the side, as top goalscorer Sam Newson and Joe Whight were both recalled to the starting line-up.
In front of a sizeable Bloomfields crowd only eclipsed by the New Year’s Day derby with AFC Sudbury, it was the visitors that struck first.
After a corner was not cleared, the ball fell to Ryan Hawkins whose low finish from close range gave the Magpies a 12th-minute lead.
It took until 24 minutes for Morsley’s men to test Andrew Wilton for the first time, as Newson’s strike was palmed away to safety by the Dereham goalkeeper.
The visitors arrived at Bloomfields in fine form, having won their last three matches to sit just one point and one place off the play-offs.
And the Norfolk side were more than a match for Needham in the first-half, as first Hawkins then Liam Wales missed golden chances to put them further ahead.
Hawkins’ shot from outside the box on 29 minutes flew inches wide of the far corner, before Wales was unable to make the most of a defensive error.
Whight’s slip in front of his box was pounced on by the Dereham striker, however his free shot at goal went just the wrong side of the post.
With half-time looming Needham came close to an equaliser, as Ollie Fenn’s shot from a corner was hacked off the line by Dereham’s Lewis Wallace.
And despite the home side’s desperate appeals that the ball had crossed the line, Needham went into the break trailing 1-0.
The Marketmen came back out for the second-half with renewed vigour, as the lively Michael Brothers volleyed Darryl Coakley’s cross-field ball into the arms of Wilton.
Needham kept the pressure on with a series of corners, before Brothers found the breakthrough for the Marketmen on the hour mark.
Dereham defender Daniel Morphew sliced Brothers’ dangerous delivery beyond Wilton to inadvertently get the home side back on level terms.
Morsley’s men pushed for a second goal that would give them the lead for the first time, and came close when another volley from Brothers forced a save from the Dereham goalkeeper.
Needham’s momentum was temporarily halted when Wilton went down with a head injury on 79 minutes, but in truth a winner never looked likely for the league leaders.
Dereham substitute Luke Tuttle blazed over when well-positioned on 85 minutes, before a free-kick from Brothers in the final minute of normal time fizzed across the box.
Victory tomorrow over Burnham would end a run of three games without a win and give needham’s title charge a much-needed boost.
The Ramblers have just five wins to their name all season to sit bottom of the Division One North table, with Morsley’s men hoping for a repeat of when the two sides met back in November.
Goals from Luke Ingram, Sam Newson, Kem Izzet, Ollie Fenn and Ryan Crisp gave the Marketmen a commanding 5-0 victory at Bloomfields, and a similar result this weekend would give Needham some serious momentum heading into what is likely to be a ‘winner takes all’ clash next weekend.
Second-placed Harlow visit Bloomfields a week tomorrow for Needham’s final home game of the season, which is expected to be a drama-filled decider to determine who takes the sole automatic promotion place into the Premier Division next season.