BetVictor Southern Premier Central
Needham Market 1 (Marsden 90 pen)
Stratford Town 0
Report by Bryan Hale
STRATFORD Town came within a whisker of claiming just their third away point of the season before a last-gasp Joe Marsden penalty gave hosts Needham Market the victory.
A combination of resolute Town defending and wasteful Needham finishing appeared to have provided the visitors with a crucial point at Bloomfields until Dan Vann conceded a penalty for handball in the 90th minute, which was thumped in by Marsden to give Needham some sort of revenge for their defeat at the Arden Garages Stadium on the opening day of the season.
Town’s starting line-up showed two changes from New Year’s Day, with Mo Sebbeh-Njie – who was part of last season’s play-off squad – returning from a spell at Kettering Town while there was a debut for Senegalese defender Abdou Diakhate who has latterly been on loan from Parma at Belgian club Lokeren.
Dropping to the substitutes bench to make way were Gedeon Okita and Tom Mehew.
Early attempts from Lewis Wilson and Ross Oulton flew wide, but Needham went closer in the fifth minute with a fiercely-struck left-footed effort from Will Hunt deflected behind off Diakhate followed by the offside flag halting a threatening run from Adam Mills.
A foul by Vann on Sam Squire five yards outside the penalty area offered Needham a better chance, but Heath hit the free-kick straight into the Town wall and as Needham continued to press forward, Jack Bennett pulled off a smart close-range save from the lively Hunt to keep the scores level.
Another decent save from Bennett prevented Hunt from firing Needham into the lead before a rare Town foray upfield saw Javia Roberts’s shot ricochet behind and from the corner a Chris Wreh cross fizzed inches wide.
On 35 minutes a mistake by Sebbeh-Njie gave the ball away to Mills only for Heath to fire wastefully over from his pin-point cross.
But a couple of minutes later Needham should have gone ahead when Mills found himself with time and space in the penalty area to shoot past Bennett only for Kyle Rowley to somehow get back and clear the ball off the line.
Town had another escape five minutes before the break when Mills picked out Russell Short, whose low drive from 20 yards out was pushed away by Bennett plunging to his left with Kai Woollard-Innocent in the right place to complete the clearance.
Soon after a poor Bennett punch from a Squire cross led to a scramble on the penalty spot before the ball was booted away as half-time was reached with afternoon still goalless.
Diakhate was replaced by Otaki for the restart and slotted in at left-back with Lewis Wilson taking over in the centre of the backline while Woollard-Innocent switched into midfield.
But Needham continued to have most of the possession and Mills squandered another opportunity from a Marsden cross and a driven-in Heath centre from the left was just out of Hunt’s reach at the far post.
As the pressure intensified Wilson did well to hook away another Marsden cross and Courtney Richards blocked a rasping Hunt effort at point-blank range.
At the other end Wreh’s persistence midway through the half earned a corner which came to nothing, but back came Needham with a Callum Sturgess free-kick which didn’t miss by much.
By now Needham were beginning to run out of ideas and their frustration was increasing both on and off the pitch as Town pulled everyone back except Wreh as they battled to see the game out.
With eight minutes to go Mills had another effort deflected behind and Town had got through to the final minute of normal time when it all went wrong, as Vann was adjudged to have handled as he went in to challenge Hunt and Marsden blasted the spot-kick past Bennett with the minimum of fuss.
NEEDHAM: Marcus Garnham, Joe Marsden, Callum Sturgess, Russell Short, Keiran Morphew, Dan Morphew, Sam Squire (Jake Dye 83), Gareth Heath, Will Hunt (Jamail Godward 90+1), Luke Ingram (Craig Parker 67), Adam Mills. Unused subs: James Baker, Finlay Shorter.
TOWN: Jack Bennett, Dan Vann, Kai Woollard-Innocent, Courtney Richards, Abdou Diakhate (Gedeon Otaki 46), Kyle Rowley, Lewis Wilson, Mo Sebbeh-Njie (Tom Mehew 61), Chris Wreh, Ross Oulton (Shiloh Remy 78), Javis Roberts. Unused subs: Rheiss McLean, Will Davidson.