Needham Market 1
Billericay Town 1
Needham Market gave Billericay Town an almighty fright on Halloween, and manager Richard Wilkins has called for more of the same over the coming weeks.
Billericay arrived in Suffolk with former England international Paul Koncheskey and a Champions League finalist in Jermaine Pennant among their ranks, as well as a host of other players boasting previous Football League experience.
And they looked the part for 45 minutes, with The Marketmen indebted to their goalkeeper Danny Gay for keeping the deficit down to one.
But 19th-placed Needham, watched on by a league record attendance at Bloomfields of 607, were a different proposition in the second half, one that refused to be overawed by the reputation of those in an opposition blue shirt.
Gareth Heath’s goal earned them a deserved point and it could have been even better, with Needham looking the more likely to conjure a winner from the dying embers.
The result extended Needham’s winless run of league form to five matches, but the nature in which it was achieved meant there was plenty of good feeling around the place come the final whistle.
Basement boys Worthing are Needham’s next visitors tomorrow (3pm), followed by Tuesday’s derby at Lowestoft Town (7.45pm), with Wilkins eager for Tuesday’s hard work not to go to waste.
“It is a big point for us, but we have to make sure we put in the same passion and desire going forward,” said Wilkins, who confirmed that Nathan Munson has stepped up to the role of assistant following the departure of Tom Rothery.
“The benchmark has been set from today. Anybody watching that would have thought we were worthy of a place in the top six, not the bottom six as we currently are.
“We need to go and prove that is the case, starting with Worthing. It is a game we need to win.
“There is no reason why we cannot go on a run of six or seven games unbeaten. It takes a bit of time to get belief, but that is coming and the lads are starting to play the way I want.”
The platform for Needham to go on and claim a share of the spoils was very much provided by their experienced goalkeeper.
Gay made three saves of high quality during the first half, the pick of the bunch being a full-length dive to turn Jake Robinson’s header away for a corner.
Robinson had already scored by that point, having gotten the better of Gay from the penalty spot in the 23rd minute.
Needham were not happy with the decision to award a spot kick after the referee had deemed Sam Deering was upended by Kieran Morphew.
Former Brighton & Hove Albion man Robinson was not hanging around to ask any questions, though, as he duly sent Gay the wrong way from 12 yards.
Jamie Griffiths — looking sharp after a lengthy lay-off with a knee injury — signalled Needham’s intentions early in the second half with a low shot that was collected by the previously under-worked Alan Julian in the away side’s goal.
Needham continued to push and they were duly rewarded in the 66th minute with an equalising goal.
Adam Mills rose highest to flick the ball on, freeing Heath to stride through a gap that appeared in the centre of the Billericay defence.
There was still plenty of work for the captain to do, but he finished with aplomb, leaving Julian no chance with a drilled shot that struck the far post on its way in.
Deering fluffed a chance to restore Billericay’s lead almost immediately, but after that it was Needham who were on the front foot.
Julian denied Jack Simmons with his legs, while an off-balance Kieran Morphew shot over from inside the box as the encounter ended all square.
Needham: Gay, Dye, Coakley, Wright, K Morphew, D Morphew, Simmons, Heath, Griffiths, Ingram, Mills
Free Press Man of the Match: Danny Gay
n After beating Arlesey Town 3-1 away from home on Saturday (Heath 2, Mills), Needham have been drawn away to Brentwood Town in the second qualifying round of the Buildbase FA Vase.
The tie is due to be played on Saturday, November 11 (3pm).