Thetford Town claim league derby honours with 3-2 Walsham-le-Willows triumph
Thetford Town claimed the winning honours by the odd goal in five from their trip to derby rivals Walsham-le-Willows on Wednesday night.
It had been billed as the battle of the bottom two sides, with both teams rooted to the foot of the Thurlow Nunn League Premier Division and with just three points to show from their first two months of fixtures.
The 3-2 away win for the Brecklanders moved them off the bottom and into 17th position ahead of their trip to league leaders Stowmarket Town on Saturday (3pm).
Thetford player-manager and former Walsham defender Matt Morton was in charge of his first game in the dugout and he said: “A first win and at my old club too.
“I felt that we started the game quite nervously, we had a slightly different system than we have done so far this season, more compact, and it made us a bit predictable.
“Today I was up against my former centre half partner who was in the other dugout – played with Trev (Trevor Newman) over here for many years, I captained and was captained by him. There was a lot riding on it, it’s a great feeling to come away with the points.”
Despite the two clubs’ precarious league positions, there was plenty of quality and competitive spirit on show in an exciting derby to keep the spectators warm on the chilly October evening.
Walsham went 1-0 ahead in the 37th minute, with sustained pressure in the Thetford half paying dividends with an own goal; Craig Nurse’s spinning ball into the box proving too hard to direct anywhere but the back of the net for a 1-0 lead into the break.
Max Melanson got the visitors back on terms in the 53rd minute, with a powerful shot from 20 yards out.
It was then Thetford’s turn to take the lead with a second goal minutes later, Michael Campbell going on a solo run before beating the ‘keeper one-on-one in the 59th minute.
Walsham still had something to say, with Craig Nurse scoring a wonderful side-footed flick from the edge of the box, beating everyone to drop into the bottom left corner for a 2-2 scoreline.
Both teams had chances to take the win, with the final 20 minutes the most exciting of the game.
Thetford twice cleared off the line in as many minutes before Dan Stobbart made a top notch double save to deny Ross Bailey, to leave the game on a knife-edge.
And, as everyone was starting to settle for a point each, the referee awarded the visiting side a penalty after Liam Hemming was deemed to have been brought down in the box.
Melanson put the penalty away to nick the victory on the final whistle.
Morton said: “Walsham’s movement was better in the first half and they deserved to be in front.
“But second half I thought we came out of the traps right from the first minute, we addressed a few things at half-time and all the credit goes to the lads for executing everything perfectly.
“We caused them a lot of trouble and they just couldn’t live with it.
“We thoroughly deserved the win – in fact, when the equaliser went in, I thought we should have been in front by a couple of goals and we just hadn’t quite taken that chance and left the door open for them to get back into it.
“You leave Craig Nurse a couple of yards of space too much – it was a great touch from him to be fair – but you know what he’s got in his locker, so if we had been tighter to him, that wouldn’t have happened. We have to be critical of ourselves, especially with where we are right now.
“But a big positive is that we came back from a goal down; in the last five or six games, we have been playing well until we conceded a goal.”
Speaking about his appointment, he said: “I’m not feeling pressure or excitement to be honest.
“I’m proud that they have asked me to do it and that they feel I am capable of pulling the club out of the trouble it’s in at the moment, but I’m certainly not nervous about it.
“I’ve played in and managed very good games before and I’ve managed a lot of players in that dressing room already.
“With Gym United, I managed the team through national cup games and the standard and pressure of that is equal or even higher than this league, so I definitely feel well-versed in managing and I’m pleased to have a good team around me.
“I need to add a couple of players to add depth to a few positions, but the nucleus of that team is very good and very experienced.
“All I have to do is get them a bit fitter and make sure they care enough, tonight we saw that.”
* Teams –
Walsham-le-Willows: Stobbart, Warren, Peters (c), Saffrey, Miller, Sim, Call, Hammond, Nurse, Collins, Clark. Subs: Twinn, Jennings
Thetford: Humphrey, Bond, Cusack, Smith, Bailey, Morton, Sandell, Bailey, Campbell, Melanson, Conroy (Hemming 65’). Subs: Sanders, Hunt.
Free Press Man of the Match – Max Melanson: Not only did Thetford’s number 10 get his team back level after the disappointment of an own goal, but he went on to convert the winning penalty.
* Walsham-le-Willows are set to host 16th-placed Long Melford on Saturday (3pm). Walsham will look to pick up a second win of their league campaign while also boosting their win percentage, which is currently just 12.5 per cent.
But, despite The Villagers also struggling for points early on, Walsham will welcome a team who have taken two of their three league wins across their last two fixtures.