Needham Market 2
Harlow Town 1
What a difference a couple of months can make in football.
Back in September, Reece Dobson missed a late penalty to compound Needham Market’s misery during their 5-1 defeat at the Harlow Arena.
But, the lively attacker atoned on Tuesday evening in the reverse fixture, scoring both of his side’s goals to send Mark Morsley’s men a point clear at the summit of the Premier Division.
It was a brace of genuine quality from the number nine, taking his tally for 2016/17 to 12 — a return all the more impressive when considering he has spent much of the season out on the left flank.
“The boys dug in deep and it was a good performance,” said the match winner.
“When we went down to their place earlier in the season they gave us a real hiding. It was a bit of a lesson.
“We wanted to get them back for that and thankfully we managed it.”
However, with regards to the likelihood of this being a title or promotion-winning campaign for Needham, Dobson played his cards much closer to his chest.
After all, Dobson is wary of the fact that second-placed Bognor Regis Town and Havant & Waterlooville in third have two and three games in hand respectively.
“We will see the year out and have a look at the table again in January before we start to set some targets,” he added.
“As the manager has said, we are genuinely taking it game by game.
“The league is tight and teams do have games in hand, which if they win knocks us off the top.”
The opening exchanges at Bloomfields passed by without any major incident of note, but that changed in the 15th minute when Dobson broke the deadlock with the game’s first shot on target.
Ollie Snaith, cutting in from the right wing, made a nuisance of himself as he squeezed the ball through to Dobson on the right side of the penalty area.
From that angle it seemed certain the marksman would cross, but instead he picked out the top corner with a left-footed curler that beat David Hughes in the Harlow goal all ends up.
Darryl Coakley tested Hughes and Snaith fired into the side netting as Needham looked to hit the visitors with a swift second sucker punch — this coming after dazed referee Josh Few had to be replaced because of a head injury.
Instead, it was the team from Essex that inflicted the next blow in the 25th minute.
It was a moment Needham full-back Jake Dye will want to banish after he swung and missed while attempting to clear Ibrahima Sonko’s knockdown.
The alert Alex Read pounced, firing into the far corner from six yards out before Danny Gay in the Needham goal had a chance to react.
Back came the hosts, with Colchester United loanee Callum Harrison just off target from distance following a well-worked Joe Whight corner, before Snaith glanced Billy Holland’s right-wing cross wide of the left upright.
Harlow were also carrying a threat of their own and they went close two minutes before the break through Syrus Gordon, whose downward header left Gay flat footed, only to see the ball bounce just past the post.
Luke Ingram should have restored Needham’s lead in the 52nd minute when he drove straight at Hughes, as should have Dobson shortly after, but he dragged the ball wide when through one-on-one.
Yet, all was forgiven in the 62nd minute. A misjudgment from Hughes saw him beaten to the loose ball by Dobson 20 yards out.
The Needham man retained his composure, turning on the spot and lifting the ball over the two Harlow defenders that had got back on the line to cover their stranded goalkeeper, one of whom appeared to use his hand — an offence missed by the officials.
Harlow, who headed into the contest with just one defeat to their name since October 18, enjoyed most of the possession thereafter.
But for all of their domination, the Hawks found it nigh on impossible to puncture Needham’s solid central defensive partnership of Ian Miller and Sam Nunn.
On the one occasion they did make some useful inroads, Gay got down well to push clear Jared Small’s header in the 74th minute.
The win — Needham’s 12th of the season and sixth at home —means they host Hendon on Saturday (3pm) knowing that another victory will see them spending Christmas Day looking down on the rest of the league.
Hendon are one place above the relegation zone.
n On Saturday Needham came back from Enfield Town with a point after John Sands’ 87th minute equaliser earned a 3-3 draw.
Harrison and Dobson were also on target in the first half.