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Ben Fowkes nets stoppage time winner as Needham Market do the double over Stratford Town

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BEN Fowkes came off the bench to score the winner in the eighth minute of second-half stoppage time and give Needham Market a dramatic 3-2 victory over Stratford Town on Tuesday night.

The Bards were far from their best and it seemed as though the points were going to be shared as the Southern Premier Central contest reached its end.

However, the final quarter of an hour brought the arrival of a flurry of goals, with Ashley Sammons’ thunderbolt from 25 yards out giving the home side the lead with 12 minutes remaining.

Straight from kick-off, though, the Marketmen were level. Fowkes saw his initial shot cannon off the inside of the post, but the ball bounced kindly into the path of Callum Page to tap home into an unguarded net.

When Jordan Williams rose highest to head in from Will Grocott’s corner in the 84th minute, it seemed that would be the three points sealed for the Bards. That proved not to be the case and right on the 90th minute Page brought the visitors level, heading in from Luke Ingram’s cross.

There was plenty of stoppage time to come following a number of injuries for both teams at the Arden Garages Stadium and it was right at the very death when the Marketmen snatched all three points to secure the league double over their opponents.

The Bards had a number of opportunities to clear their lines, but the ball somehow found its way through to Fowkes on the left-hand side of the box and he arrowed a shot into the bottom corner to give the visitors a dramatic victory in the 98th minute.

Question marks will be raised over the nature of the defending for the winning goal and allowing Needham to get back into contest not once, but on two occasions. On top of that, Dan Vann, Jack Turner and James Fry all came off with injuries.

A win for Stratford would have seen them climb up to ninth, instead they dropped to 12th with three games remaining.

Interim boss Ian King made one change to the team which beat Barwell on Saturday, with Vann coming in for Will Dawes. With Vann in at right-back, Lewis Wilson was moved further forward to accompany Jack Storer up top.

The early exchanges were scrappy, with neither team taking a stranglehold of proceedings. That said, Storer was once again making a nuisance of himself and only a last-ditch block stopped his left-footed effort from troubling Needham goalkeeper Ewan Johnson.

Having scored a spectacular strike in the victory over Barwell, Storer was brimming with confidence and there was always a sense something would happen when he got on the ball. After some quick feet he managed to create some space on the edge of the box, but the shot was tame and the chance went.

Fielding a much younger squad than normal with four players under the age of 20 in their line-up, Needham looked a slightly different proposition, but they could have gone ahead in the 19th minute when Seth Chambers found himself clean through on the left only to drag his left-footed shot wide of the far post.

Five minutes later the visitors spurned another opportunity to break the deadlock at a rather quiet Arden Garages Stadium, with Liam O’Brien getting his fingertips on Luke Ingram’s angled drive towards the far corner.

At this point in the game the hosts were struggling to string two passes together and that was allowing Needham to assert themselves on proceedings. Ingram and Chambers were proving to be a handful on the wings while Thomas Fitzgerald was finding time and space on the ball in the centre of the park.

Stratford continued to play the ball long, but Storer often found himself isolated and lacked support from strike partner Wilson. Despite being the only real outlet, Storer continued to cause problems when he could and on the half-hour mark he flashed an effort narrowly wide.

Needham continued to probe and while restricted to shots from distance, O’Brien needed to get a hand to Jack Dye’s wildly dipping effort to keep the scores level going into the half-time.

At the start of the second half the Marketmen brought on Page for the injured Dye and within 11 minutes of his introduction he had the chance to put the visitors in front. A lobbed pass was missed by a Bards head and Page raced through on goal, but somehow he prodded wide of the mark.

Immediately up the other end Wilson had the ball in the net with a delightful lobbed finish, but his joy was short-lived as the offside flag was up on the far side. Back came Needham and once again O’Brien was needed to keep the visitors at bay, this time saving with his feet to deny Chambers.

It took until the hour mark for the Bards to really test Johnson in the Needham goal, with Dan Lafferty’s point-blank header from a Sammons cross expertly tipped over. Chances continued to come to either side, with Page seeing a shot tipped round the post by O’Brien and from the resulting corner Daniel Morphew saw his header cleared off the line by a well-placed Vann.

Having been on the back foot for large parts of the second half, the Bards broke the deadlock in style 12 minutes from time. Storer was once again the focal point and he teed up Sammons who dropped the shoulder to create that extra yard of space, and unleashed a fierce dipping and curling effort that flew over Johnson and into the back of the net.

Stratford’s lead lasted barely two minutes, though. Substitute Fowkes saw his shot hit the inside of the post and the ball bounced kindly into the path of Page who the simple task of slotting into an unguarded net.

Finally, the game had some edge to it and despite that setback, the Bards continued to push forward and Johnson did well to tip another Sammons thunderbolt over. And from the resulting corner, Grocott’s chipped delivery was powerfully headed in by Williams from close range to put the hosts back in front.

There were shouts for the Bards to remain focussed and tight at the back to prevent another instant reply. That was all to no avail, as six minutes later it was all-square once again. Ingram found himself with plenty of time on the right-hand side to lift a deep cross towards the back post where Page was on hand to head in his second of the evening.

Stoppage time seemed to last an age and with their very last attack, Needham ensured the points were heading back to Suffolk. The Bards had three chances to just hack the ball clear, but instead it somehow landed at the feet of Fowkes and he confidently lashed home into to bottom corner to make it 3-2, with O’Brien visibly and audibly frustrated at his defence.

The Bards visit Royston Town on Saturday (3pm kick-off).

STRATFORD: O’Brien, Vann (Field 82), Higginson, Fry (Aisthorpe 90+4), Turner (O’Regan 69), Williams, Lafferty, Sammons, Storer, Grocott, Wilson. Unused subs: Beresford, James, Aisthorpe.

NEEDHAM: Johnson, Dye (Page h/t), Sayer, Hammond, Cullum, Morphew, Clark, Fitzgerald, Ingram, Brothers, Chambers (Fowkes 77). Unused subs: Sturgess, Maycock.


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