Shropshire Star

Analysis: Travel-sickness strikes as AFC Telford United suffer a first defeat

Kevin Wilkin was left a little frustrated and disappointed as his team fell to their first defeat of the season.


Travel issues hampered the Bucks as they made their longest trip of the league campaign, returning empty-handed from Suffolk.

Wilkin also felt that his team were second-best in playing to the conditions on the East Anglian coast but wasn’t willing to accept either as mitigation.

There were positives in this defeat. The margin of defeat was narrow, and with more composure in the final third, the Bucks could have emerged with at least a point. Whether that would have been wholly deserved is debatable, but Wilkin would have taken it had it happened.

The performance of substitute Ty Webster was positive too.

Webster was introduced with half-an-hour remaining and the Bucks two goals adrift but provided a spark that had been largely absent and will doubtless be claiming the Bucks’ late consolation goal.

Leiston finished third in the division last season, and although their play-off failure led to an exodus of talent, there was plenty of evidence to suggest they will once again punch well about their weight for a small town of fewer than 6,000 people.

Wilkin was forced into a couple of team changes from last weekend’s 3-0 victory over Royston Town. Midfielder Remi Walker’s hamstring injury ruled him out, and teenage defender Steffan Jones was absent due to a family holiday. Midfielder George Forsyth returned from injury and filled the berth left by Jones, whilst James McQuilkin started in place of Walker.

Kick-off was delayed until 3.15, the Bucks not arriving until close to 2.30, but they started brightly on a similarly bright and warm afternoon, cooled by a firm breeze that gusted and which was to exert an influence on the game.

The Bucks could, and perhaps should, have taken an early lead. Ricardo Dinanga was sprung free of the home defence in the inside right channel, but his angled shot struck home keeper Sam Donkin rather than finding the space on either side of him.

The game was soon to become a scrap for supremacy, with both sides aiming to impose themselves. Leiston midfielder Ollie Saunders imposed himself painfully onto McQuilkin’s ankle, leading to a puzzling incident.

Referee Jack Willmore booked Saunders, but not before he’d first booked a startled Bucks captain, Fraser Kerr. A directive was given to officials in the summer to issue yellow cards to teams felt to be pressurising officials by crowding around them, and Kerr presumably fell foul of this ruling on behalf of his team.

The home side won a succession of corners and free-kicks, and in the 27th minute, they made the breakthrough. Most of their deliveries had been sent directly into the box, but instead, they took a corner on the right-hand side short; forward Spencer Keller received the ball and flighted a curling shot over keeper Brandon Hall and into the far corner, over Hall’s right hand.

Soon afterwards, Forsyth, who was drawn out of position in the move leading to the goal, committed the same error and pulled down Ross Crane, to earn a booking.

Leiston’s scorer Keller had to be substituted after sustaining an injury, but the threat remained and after Loza’s hard and low effort from a corner was blocked, midfielder Joe Marsden’s quick-fire return from the edge of the box dipped over Hall and skimmed to safety off the top of the crossbar.

Playing with the wind at their backs in the second half, the Bucks didn’t immediately go onto the attack, and from an early Leiston corner, midfielder Jordan Piggott was booked when he overstretched into a challenge and fouled full-back Wyatt Hill.

A calamity was then averted as Orrin Pendley almost out through his own net. Looking for a forward pass but seeing few options, Pendley struck the ball back towards Hall without looking; Hall had advanced off his line to give Pendley an option to retain possession and had to race back hard into his six-yard box to hack the ball away as it trundled towards his goal.

The Bucks began to find a response. Gibson had a shot blocked and then Byron Moore’s run and lofted cross from the right of the box was just too high for a waiting Dinanga at the far post.

It was to be something of a false dawn. Leiston added a second goal in the 56th minute when a ball into the penalty area from the left wasn’t dealt with and midfielder Marsden arrived at the far post to turn the ball in from a few yards out.

Loza tried to add a third from 45 yards, but he took slightly too big a club from his metaphorical bag and put his effort over the crossbar.

Two-nil down in the long shadow of the Sizewell B nuclear power station, Wilkin needed a reaction of his own. He introduced a new element, Ty Webster replacing McQuilkin, who had been unable to exert an influence.

The 18-year-old Crewe Alexandra academy alumni got himself straight into the game, adding energy and zest. Webster was happy to receive the ball, give it and then go looking for a return pass, and from a corner won soon after his arrival, Gibson placed a header off the outside of the far post.

The Bucks began to enjoy possession, but the sense was that Leiston was happy to let them have the ball in areas where they could pose little threat. They moved the ball back and forth, 20 yards into the Leiston half, but could rarely find the opening they needed.

Wilkin withdrew Forsyth and Moore for two more attackers, Twariq Yusuf and Tré Mitford, but Leiston continued to hold the door closed. As the game moved into added time, Mr Willmore awarded the Bucks a penalty kick, as Dinanga skipped around a defender and, off balance, was sent to the turf.

Dinanga took the kick but struck it at a decent height for keeper Donkin to push away to his right, repeating his penalty save that knocked the Bucks out of the FA Cup in a shoot-out in the 2020/21 season.

Donkin savoured the moment but might have done better to keep his eyes on the ball, which stayed in play; when the Bucks returned it along the floor, Webster raced onto it and his low cross-shot under Donkin pinballed off a defender and billowed the roof of the net. Webster will surely prefer to take the credit for it than the unfortunate defender. Wilkin wasn’t in any doubt that his team are merely at the start of a long journey following last weekend’s opening-day victory, and this performance and result underlined that point.

AFC Telford United: Hall, Myles, Fox, Forsyth (Yusuf 84), Kerr, Pendley, Piggott, Moore (Mitford 84), McQuilkin (Webster 61), Dinanga, Gibson. Subs: Bood, West.

Leiston FC: Donkin, Hill (Jackson 81), Dunbar (c), Saunders, Casement, Dronfield, Crane, Rossi Jarvis, Keller (Spooner 33), Marsden, Loza (Ryan Jarvis 90). Subs: Rayworth, Dawson.

Attendance: 231.