2 v 0
Two uncharacteristic defensive errors proved costly for the Bucks as hosts Needham Market condemned them to a first league defeat since September.
Kevin Wilkin’s side enjoyed the upper hand in the first half of this encounter in Suffolk; however, a collective lapse in concentration early in the second half put them in trouble against the second-placed Market Men, and a further lapse put the game out of their reach a quarter of an hour remaining.
This defeat for Wilkin’s side doesn’t completely rule them out of the title race, but it has cast into further doubt whether they possess quite enough to attain automatic promotion.
They are certainly still playoff contenders, but the margins for error won’t allow for too many results of this nature over the final fifteen games of the season.
The balance of probabilities suggests that the Bucks are more than capable of bouncing back from this loss. They had plenty of this game but having failed to turn their pressure into goals in the opening half-an-hour, they were undone in a second half dominated by the hosts.
There is no disgrace in that, but the Bucks had arrived at Bloomfields looking to do far more than just avoid any sort of ignominy. Hopes were high that they could end Needham Market’s unbeaten home record, but with those hopes came a recognition that they would need to deliver a near-flawless performance to do so.
There was both good news and bad for Wilkin when it came to his team selection. Jordan Piggott was fit to return to the Bucks’ midfield, and he replaced the injured Byron Moore. Ricardo Dinanga’s excellent performance and winning goal as a substitute in the 2-1 win over Stourbridge earned him a start in place of Ellis Brown, whilst Montel Gibson replaced Reece Styche in the forward line.
There was to be no involvement for Matty Stenson, whose foot injury has healed, only for the striker to turn his ankle in training on Thursday. Jared Hodgkiss was able to return, however, and he began on the substitutes bench.
The hosts have a pair of greyhounds on their crest, but it was the Bucks who were quickest out of the traps at the start of this keenly anticipated contest. Within the first fifteen minutes of action, the Bucks had forced five corners and had the Market Men pinned back in their penalty area on more than a few occasions.
In the fifth of those fifteen minutes, midfielder Remi Walker went close to securing an early lead. Walker controlled a clearance from a corner in the ‘D’ and got the ball onto his right foot, but his bending and rising shot was turned over his crossbar by keeper Marcus Garnham.
After eleven minutes, a foul on Nathan Fox earned a free kick in a wide position on the right, and when Piggott won a header on the back post, Dinanga couldn’t get enough venom into his shot, Garnham plunging to his right to hold a tame effort.
Walker had Garnham scrambling after fifteen minutes when his low shot from twenty yards might have been creeping into Garnham’s bottom-right corner with the aid of a deflection, the keeper making sure it didn’t by pushing it around the post.
The corner earned by that action saw the Bucks go close again when, after changing the angle on the delivery, the ball was helped onto the brow of captain Fraser Kerr by the head of a teammate. It surprised Kerr a little and he couldn’t keep his effort down, clearing the crossbar.
That early onslaught began to lose impetus, but the Bucks remained in control of the game until the half-hour mark when the hosts began to stir. An Orrin Pendley clearance was partially deflected, and Needham’s Adam Mills was the fastest to react, picking up possession and quickly releasing a shot that Brandon Hall claimed he didn’t touch as it flashed across his and wide of his far post. Nevertheless, a corner was given.
A few minutes later it was Mills who tested Hall again, darting into the inside left position and aiming a shot on target as the angle was narrowed by Hall, who blocked the effort with his legs.
Those efforts brought a response from the Bucks, and Garnham became the first player from either team to be booked as a result. The keeper, who presents a big barrier, appeared to misjudge the bounce of the ball, and was ruled to have handled outside his penalty area. It was a marginal call, and it certainly didn’t deny a scoring chance, but Garnham was to do that himself when he redeemed his error, parrying Fox’s well-struck free kick that went through the defensive wall.
The half-time interval arrived soon after, and whatever Needham Market manager Kevin Horlock said to his side, it had the desired effect. The former Manchester City and Republic of Ireland international would have been thrilled by how his side took a grip on this game, Wilkin less so.
Within a couple of minutes of the restart, they had the lead, and the Bucks were left looking at one another as they appeared to switch off to the threat from a corner. Pendley conceded a corner on the left and when the inswinging delivery to the near post found Dan Morphew’s head, he directed it goalwards. Hall appeared to make a save and the loose ball was smashed home by Jamie McGrath, but by all accounts, Morphew’s effort had crossed the line.
The Bucks’ defence didn’t have much time to conduct an inquest, as the Market Men looked to press home their advantage. Seth Chambers’ appeals for a penalty for a foul by Sam Whittall fell on deaf ears, and Fox had to be alert to anticipate a Mills’ thrust deep into the Bucks’ half, cutting across the lively forward to take the ball away.
There was little respite. Chambers forced his way past Pendley, the defender hesitant to try and win the ball but being outpaced and seeing Chambers’ shot go high across goal but wide. The Market Men retrieved possession and with the Bucks at sixes and sevens, a low delivery to the near post came off one of the hosts’ attackers and went wide of Hall’s far post.
Wilkin changed personnel and formation, moving to a 4-4-2 from 5-3-2 and replacing Whittall and Walker with Styche and Brown. The plan offered more threat and to use Brown and Dinanga’s width, but it didn’t truly deliver.
Chambers could have added a third when a set-piece opportunity was directed to him in the six-yard box; he reacted but couldn’t keep his instinctive shot down, and cleared the crossbar with Hall grateful, having been exposed.
After 72 minutes the Bucks did have the ball in the net, from a free kick, but a push in the penalty area meant that Gibson’s powerful header past Garnham was chalked off.
Four minutes later, Chambers put the game out of the Bucks’ reach once and for all. It was another free kick that led to the goal, and the away side’s defence was caught napping by a quickly taken effort that found Chambers beyond the defence and with just Hall to beat. Chambers diagonal run meant he was running away from goal to the left, but he showed good composure to fire a shot across Hall and into the net to his left.
Wilkin’s side hadn’t been able to match the hosts’ intensity, and a further effort on Hall’s goal from Kyle Hammond went wide of the far post as time ran out for them. A third goal would have flattered Horlock’s side, but overall, they were good value for their victory.
The result was a blow for the Bucks, but not a mortal one. There has been enough in the progress made by Telford this season to suggest such slip-ups that cost them are far less likely to happen nowadays, but whilst you can minimise errors, eradicating them is pretty much impossible.
Their bad fortune was to make two of them against a side good enough to make them pay.
Match Date: February 3rd, 2024 3:00 pm
Competition: Southern League Premier Central
Kick Off: 15:00
Venue: Bloomfields, Quinton Rd, Needham Market, Ipswich IP6 8DA
- Ellis Brown (replaced Sam Whittall, 61 minutes)
- Reece Styche (replaced Remi Walker, 61 minutes)
- Ty Webster (replaced Montel Gibson, 85 minutes)
Referee: Christopher Darling
Assistant 1: Matthew Whitworth
Assistant 2: Ceredig Cattanach-Chell
Official 4: n/a