Jockeys blow two-goal lead

LEADING MARKSMAN: Lewis Whitehead (red) bagged his 19th goal of the season for Newmarket
LEADING MARKSMAN: Lewis Whitehead (red) bagged his 19th goal of the season for Newmarket

THURLOW NUNN LEAGUE

PREMIER DIVISION

Walsham-le-Willows 2

Newmarket Town 2

If ever a match encapsulated Newmarket’s season, it was Saturday’s trip to Walsham-le-Willows.

For 45 minutes, The Jockeys made light work of a tricky playing surface at Summer Road, showing some moments of real fluidity and creativity in the final third.

As such, goals from Jordan Foster and Lewis Whitehead — his 19th of the season in all competitions — had given Kevin Grainger’s men a deserved 2-0 lead at the interval.

It appeared the second half was going to be a case of how many Newmarket would win by, only for the defensive woes to rear its ugly head once again.

Nathan Clarke, who was switched from centre-back to centre-forward after the restart, reduced the deficit in the 69th minute, before Ryan Gibbs rescued a point in the closing stages.

It was an outing that highlighted just why Newmarket are the division’s highest goalscorers, yet only nine sides have conceded more.

And manager Grainger has warned his charges that if they continue in a similar vein, their chances of finishing in the top three — and potentially promotion into the Ryman League set-up — will evaporate.

“We had a good tempo about us in the first half, but maybe we thought the game was won,” said the Newmarket chief.

“It is up there as one of our most disappointing results this season.

“Both the goals we conceded were sloppy, and they came at times when we seemed to be comfortable.

“We tend to switch off a bit and once that tempo goes, we become vulnerable. It has been a case of naivety creeping in at times as well.

“We are not going to win anything or finish in the top three playing that way.”

The clock had not even reached the five-minute mark when the visitors grabbed the lead.

Newmarket winger Deakan Napier had already got the better of his marker, Edward Elers, on a couple of occasions when he worked his way past the left-back once again.

The subsequent low cross caused confusion between Walsham goalkeeper Craig Brand and his defence, leaving the lively Jordan Foster to nip in and calmly apply the finishing touch.

Jamie Thurlbourne — playing in a more defensive position on this occasion — drilled a free-kick just wide, while Charlie Bowen saw his headed effort land on the roof of the net as Newmarket set about scoring a second goal.

And after some sustained pressure, the lead was eventually doubled in first-half stoppage time.

Napier was again heavily involved, this time from the opposite flank.

The number seven’s pass picked out Whitehead on the edge of the box, with his shot proving to be too powerful for Brand in the home net.

It was the summer signing’s 15th league goal of the campaign, moving him to within just one of current chart-topper Connor Ingram, of Gorleston.

A selection of Walsham players headed for the dressing room locked in a heated debate, although the disagreement only served to unite the hosts in the second half.

However, it could have all been so different had Foster tucked away his second goal of the afternoon in the 64th minute.

The home defence failed to deal with a high ball, leaving Newmarket’s young striker in the clear. Foster’s shot was tame, though, and Brand saved with ease.

And, five minutes later, Walsham were back in business.

Clarke had presumably been thrown further forward for his aerial prowess, but it was on the floor where he did the damage.

His first touch from Jack Brame’s left-wing cross set up the chance, which he duly poked beyond the reach of advancing Newmarket goalkeeper Ben Nower.

The visiting keeper was beaten again in the 82nd minute, but this time the upright came to Newmarket’s rescue as Brame was the man left frustrated.

Yet, luck deserted Newmarket in the 85th minute when Gibbs’ shot from 20 yards out took a deflection that wrong-footed Nower, with the keeper seeing the ball squirm underneath his hand and roll over the line.

Attacks were mounted at both ends in the dying embers, but neither custodian was truly tested as the encounter ended level, although for those of a Newmarket persuasion, it felt more like a defeat.

Newmarket: Nower, Ball (Webster 72), Thurlbourne, Chivers, Bowen, Watson, Napier (Betson 59), Paterson, Foster, Diaper, Whitehead

Journal Man of the Match: Jack Watson

Attendance: 80

n Third-placed Newmarket will be on the road again on Saturday, this time as they travel to the Essex coast to take on relegation-threatened FC Clacton (3pm).

On Tuesday, that is followed by a Thurlow Nunn League Challenge Cup encounter at First Division leaders Coggeshall Town (7.45pm).