First Game, First Point
A. F. C. Sudbury began a new era in the Bostik League North Division with a vastly changed squad from that which ended life in the Premier Division as a relegated side at the end of the last season. Today’s opponents were fellow-relegated side Canvey Island and therefore represented a good touchstone to the season that lies ahead.
Before kick-off, a minute’s applause was observed in memory of former A.F.C. Sudbury youth player Zac Smith who tragically lost his life in a road accident. A warm, glowing tribute from the public address summed up the great affection Zac was regarded by all at the football club and how much he will be missed by everyone who knew him.
Back in MEL Group livery, A.F.C. Sudbury kicked off the game attacking from right to left as viewed from the Brian Tatum seated stand.
On four minutes the physical presence of L’Heureux Menga troubled Conor Gough in the Canvey Island goal, but the ball ricocheted off the tall Sudbury number nine for a goal kick.
Canvey’s first break came on eight minutes when some hesitance through the centre of the park freed James Walker whose shot was blocked bravely by Alfie Carroll in the heart of the home defence. The Gulls had started stronger of the two former Premier League sides and on twelve minutes Julian Smith’s half clearance fell kindly to Frank Merryfield who couldn’t direct his header wide of Paul Walker in the home goal as he gathered the ball with comfort.
After a strong run along the right, Tevan Allen crossed superbly towards the on-rushing Menga who was just unable to get his head in the path of the ball. Dave Cowley then ran into and wide across the penalty area and his pass cut back into the path of Jake Turner saw the Sudbury number four’s shot blocked.
On twenty five minutes A.F.C. Sudbury nearly grabbed the lead when the highly impressive Tevan Allen thundered a fine strike against the right-hand upright. The lovely end-to-end flow of the game continued as both sides played some excellent attacking football. Adam Mills curled an effort off the outside of his right boot which was easily gathered by Conor Gough perfectly positioned in the Canvey goal, before Mitchell Gilbey discovered Paul Walker equally well drilled between the home sticks.
On the half-hour George Sykes was allowed too much space and time in a central position and his dipping shot was excellently tipped over the bar by Paul Walker at the expense of a corner kick. L’Heureux Menga became the first A.F.C. Sudbury yellow card recipient of the new season when he was adjudged to have fouled Frank Merryfield in what appeared to be a fifty-fifty collision.
A mix-up in communications between Paul Walker and Tevan Allen almost led to embarrassment for the home side, but somehow the ball was ushered and prodded clear of danger. Just when it seemed as if the sides would go in at the break with the deadlock unbroken, George Sykes superbly volleyed home a right wing cross to give the Gulls a slender half-time lead.
Half -Time;- AFC Sudbury 0 Canvey Island 1
Jake Pitty and Adam Mills tangled on the far touchline after a tackle and were spoken to by the referee. Jake Turner was then shown yellow for a challenge on Frank Merryfield as the second half began in a more disjointed fashion than the pleasing attacking symmetry of the open forty-five.
Dave Cowley was taken out unceremoniously by Steve Sheehan who also entered the referee’s notebook. On sixty-five minutes Cowley and L’Heureux Menga, both of whom had put in excellent shifts, were replaced by debutants Jeremiah Kamanzi and Louis Blake. With twenty minutes on the clock Tevan Allen again tormented the Canvey Island left wing and whipped his cross through the penalty area where Gough rose commandingly to gather.
With six minutes left Louis Blake’s shot was an easy save for the tall Conor Gough in the Gull’s goal as the home side tried to force the equalising goal.
With a minute left on the clock, Sudbury were awarded a free-kick in a central position on the edge of the Canvey Island penalty area presenting an excellent opportunity for the home side to grab something from the match. Adam Mills (pictured) stepped up to drive the ball home via a slight deflection and celebrated with possibly the best tumbling somersault seen in these parts since March hares roamed free on the King’s Marsh in the eighteen hundreds! After the celebrations and mobbing by his team-mates, AFC manager Jamie Godbold took the jubilant Mills off for a rest and Ollie Dunlop came on for the final few minutes of the game.
And so a very hard-fought game ended in an honourable draw and bodes well for the season ahead as A.F.C. Sudbury seek to mould their new squad into a hard-to-beat unit. There were impressive performances by Julian Smith at the back who was solid all afternoon, Tevan Allen was very impressive, L’Heureux Menga was a real physical force up front in a promising team performance.
A.F.C Sudbury move onto Maldon and Tiptree on Tuesday evening before a return next Saturday to the Wardale Williams Stadium next Saturday for an F.A. Cup Preliminary Round meeting with Aveley.