THURLOW NUNN LEAGUE
Haverhill Rovers 1
Mildenhall Town 2
Dan Brown admitted his stoppage-time winner at Haverhill on Saturday has the entire Mildenhall squad believing they can win the Premier Division title this season.
Dean Greygoose’s side controlled virtually all of the encounter at The New Croft, yet it appeared their domination was going to count for little as they were continuously thwarted in their attempt to cancel out Rory Jebb’s first-half goal for the hosts.
However, the in-form Luke Parkinson finally broke Haverhill’s resistance 14 minutes from time, before Brown came off the bench to keep his team eight points clear at the summit with a game in hand.
It is the third time — after Hadleigh United and Godmanchester Rovers — that Hall have left it late in recent weeks.
And it those moments that has last season’s leading goalscorer believing the fine early-season run of 15 wins from 16 matches will be converted into the main prize come April.
“I think everyone in the dressing room is really confident the team can win the league,” said Brown, whose two goals in May sealed Hall the Thurlow Nunn League Challenge Cup crown.
“We have won three or four games recently where we have been behind and scored late on. Last year we would have drawn those games or even lost by the odd goal.
“I have not seen a team that are better than us. We are a very close knit group and there is plenty of competition in the squad.”
Of his match-winning impact, Brown added: “I don’t normally score goals like that one, more often I am running on to the ball and shooting.
“You cannot beat the feeling of the cup final goals, but that was close.”
The visitors, with the wind in their favour, made most of the early running in south-west Suffolk as Chris Bacon saw his low shot deflected behind for a corner, from which Rob Ruddy was off target.
Haverhill attacks were sporadic to say the least, though their first venture into Mildenhall territory did result in the opening goal after 12 minutes.
Mason Newman — a recent arrival from Ely City — made a jinking run inside from the right flank and smartly picked out Jebb on the edge of the box.
The striker’s first touch appeared to be on the heavy side, but as Mildenhall captain Luke Butcher moved across to snuff out the danger, the Haverhill marksman unleashed a powerful effort that flew into the roof of Josh Pope’s net.
Mildenhall were the superior force thereafter, although for the remainder of the half they were limited to shots from distance, with Matt Green and Gareth Simpson both clearing the target.
The one-way traffic was ramped up a notch after the restart, with the 58th-minute introduction of Dan Brown in place of Lee Clift providing Mildenhall with more pace in attack.
Nevertheless, Charlie Turner in the Haverhill goal found himself well protected as Simpson, Green, Butcher and Parkinson were all denied by last-ditch blocks.
But just when Greygoose may have been contemplating a first league defeat on the road since early February, his men struck.
A Stephen Spriggs corner was not properly cleared and through a crowded penalty area Parkinson squeezed the ball inside Turner’s near post for his fifth goal in three outings.
Within 60 seconds Dan Brown was sent scampering clear and he unleashed a rasping strike that seemed destined for the top corner, only for Turner to spectacularly divert the ball on to the crossbar.
Spriggs volleyed Parkinson’s cross at the back post over and after Bacon was inches away from turning in Brown’s drilled cross four minutes into injury time, a draw looked inevitable.
However, one final assault on the Haverhill goal saw Mildenhall right-back David Cooper tempt Turner off his line with a hoisted cross, only for the keeper to be beaten by the rising Butcher.
The ball broke free 10 yards from goal, with Brown reacting quickest to dispatch into an empty net.
Mildenhall: Pope, Cooper, Asensi, Butcher, Ruddy, Simpson (Spriggs 68), J Brown, Green, Parkinson, Clift (D Brown 58), Bacon
Journal Man of the Match - Dan Brown: He may only been on the pitch from 58 minutes onwards, but his pace and direct approach gave Mildenhall more of a threat.
n Holders Mildenhall have been drawn at home to First Division Downham Town in the last 16 of the Challenge Cup.
The tie will be played at Recreation Way on Tuesday, November 29 (7.45pm).
n The leaders will be away from home on Saturday when they travel to Wivenhoe Town (3pm).
The Essex side, who are 11th and one of three teams locked on 23 points, are without a victory from their last six outings in all competitions.
n Mildenhall have moved their league fixture against rivals Ely City — originally scheduled for Saturday, January 7 — back to Friday, January 6 (7.45pm).