AFC Telford United 0-2 Needham Market - Report
Kevin Wilkin’s side failed to test the Market in a dismal display, appearing disjointed and, in some cases, disinterested.
Ironically, Wilkin is likely now to be testing the market with some urgency.
The manager wasn’t shying away from criticism after the game and took responsibility for this defeat, admitting that some of his summer recruits weren’t of a sufficiently good standard.
Finding the right calibre of players to bolster his squad won’t be easy, but Wilkin’s demeanour suggested he was well aware of the price of inaction; the real question might be where to start.
In contrast to his own side, the visitors from Suffolk were solid, had more energy and had a togetherness that the Bucks lacked. They arrived at the ground late, delayed en route, and were only able to name two substitutes; however, they took those potential setbacks in their stride and showed why they have lost just once this season.
In doing so they displayed a determination to overcome that Wilkin’s side came nowhere close to matching. They may still be learning the game at this level, but too many of this Bucks side appeared to lack heart and may be about to learn that lack of desire to compete will eventually prove terminal, whatever the level.
Wilkin named a starting XI unchanged from the Bucks’ last match 11 days previously and named Nathan Fox on the substitutes’ bench, the left-back having missed 5 weeks of action with a hamstring injury.
The manager must have been hoping to see a continuation of the way his side played in the second half of their 2-1 defeat by Mickleover last time out, but their chances of doing so were dealt a blow by an early bolt from the blue.
Barely a minute had passed before the visitors’ main danger, Lee Ingram, was allowed too much space on the right-hand side. Any threat didn’t appear imminent, but Ingram struck a wicked left-footed shot that bamboozled Brandon Hall in goal, flying across him and into his top-right-hand corner.
It was a stupendous goal, but with 89 minutes still to play, you might have hoped that the Bucks would treat it as the freakish occurrence it appeared to be before resetting and starting again. It never really happened, and it wasn’t easy to pinpoint why, but too often the Bucks looked lackadaisical in possession, sloppy, and lacking intensity.
The home side forced a couple of early corners from wide positions but didn’t threaten from either delivery, and there was a sense that players were waiting for someone else to spark them, rather than taking the responsibility themselves.
Bucks’ keeper Brandon Hall was busier than his opposite number Marcus Garnham, holding Tevan Allen’s low shot but sometimes looking uncertain with the ball at his feet.
In truth, there was little penalty area action at either end, which would have been a disappointment in any circumstance but was made especially so given that the Bucks had enticed a big influx of local youngsters from grassroots clubs to attend.
Luckily, they seemed not to mind too much, possibly buzzing on a diet of chips and soft drinks, but some of the more mature Bucks followers weren’t finding things quite so palatable.
The ball wasn’t sticking with Montel Gibson up front; Tré Mitford and Ricardo Dinanga were struggling to get involved and Remi Walker seemed lost in amongst it all.
James McQuilkin picked up a booking for a knowing foul to stop a Marketmen attack developing, but on the stroke of half-time, the visitors struck, Ingram again the man on target.
If his first goal was sublime, his second was ridiculous, especially if you’re a Bucks defender. After winning a corner, taking advantage of Jordan Piggott being grounded following a heavy impact with the floor, the visitors swept in a low delivery from the quadrant and the Bucks appeared to simply freeze, allowing Ingram to bundle the ball past Halt at his near post and from within the six-yard box.
There was a brief response from the Bucks before the half-time whistle. Gibson was put through on goal but saw his effort rebound off Garnham; the keeper then saved Dinanga’s attempt to locate the open net, and although the Bucks recycled possession, Walker saw his shot blocked for a corner. From the delivery, defender Orrin Pendley showed great strength to win a header, but alas when it fell to Dinanga he swivelled onto the ball and took an air shot instead of making the net ripple.
Half Time: AFC Telford United 0-2 Needham Market
There had been some boos at half-time, and the Bucks would have known they needed to show some sort of response.
In the early stages of the half, the Bucks won a corner when a James McQuilkin free-kick was loaded into the 18-yard box, and the resulting kick brought some indiscipline from both sides; Garnham caught the ball but as the Bucks tried to prevent him from distributing the ball quickly the keeper, with the build of a nightclub doorman, appeared to lash out at a Telford player, sparking a melee.
Garnham was booked, as was his teammate, midfielder Dylan Williams, any Telford player escaping censure. Garnham was soon denying the Bucks entry, getting down to block Gibson’s shot with his body after the forward earned room with a little shove on a defender that went unnoticed. The ball looped up of Garnham’s body and spun, landing on the roof of the net.
That was probably as close as the Bucks came to breaching Garnham’s goal. Wilkin replaced the ineffectual Walker with Twariq Yusuf but had little by the way of options with which to change the game sufficiently.
The Bucks had penalty appeals turned down when Dinanga, looking a little more energised, went past Dan Morphew on the left but then went to ground as he looked to square the ball. It was easy to ask why Dinanga would have gone down in such a position, but it was hardly a cast-iron penalty claim either.
Wilkin’s side simply couldn’t establish any flow or momentum and continued to look anxious, yielding the occasional counter-attacking chance for the visitors.
Brad Bood replaced Mitford as Wilkin tried to find more width to get down the sides of the Needham defence, moving Dinanga closer to Gibson in the middle. Bood tried, making the occasional surge, but the home side simply didn’t possess what was required to break down an organised Marketmen defence.
Ingram could even have claimed the match ball in the 86th minute, but after some more nervy defensive work by Hall, the Needham man fired an angle shot high into the empty stand.
Gibson miscued a shot at the far post from a deflected Bood cross when it may have been better to try and get his head onto the ball, and after Dan Morphew was booked for a foul on Dinanga, McQuilkin’s 25-yard free-kick got up and over the wall but wouldn’t come down in time to trouble Garnham.
More boos greeted the final whistle, as a rather crestfallen and dejected Bucks group left the field. Many of the invited youngsters still greeted them enthusiastically, and Needham goalkeeper Garnham exhibited a nice touch by staying on the field after the game to face penalty kicks taken by some of them.
He and his team had earned the right to enjoy a little levity; for the Bucks, there were few reasons to smile.
AFC Telford United: Hall, Myles, Hodgkiss, Piggott, Pendley, McQuilkin, Dinanga, Mitford (Bood 73), Gibson, Walker (Yusuf 59), Moore.
Subs: Jones, Forsyth, Fox.
Needham Market: Garnham, Dye, Smith, K.Morphew, D.Morphew, Ingram, Williams, Page, Lay (Fraser 88), Allen, Harris.
Booked: Garnham, Dye, D.Morphew, Williams.
Referee: Daniel Pattison.
Assistants: Ashley Devonport, and James Scerri.