Whitehead thriving during second Newmarket stint

HOT SHOT: Newmarket's Lewis Whitehead celebrates one of his 24 goals this season

HOT SHOT: Newmarket's Lewis Whitehead celebrates one of his 24 goals this season

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Lewis Whitehead is the first to hold up his hands and admit he was far from ready to flourish upon joining Newmarket Town ahead of the 2013/14 season.

After the impressive Cambridge University Press side was broken up, Whitehead — like a number of his team-mates — headed for The Jockeys, who had just sealed their return to the Thurlow Nunn League Premier Division.

But while Newmarket blossomed on their way to finishing ninth, the young attacker struggled to make the grade, featuring on only a handful of occasions before moving to Ely City.

Whitehead’s stay with The Robins was also brief, but after a stint travelling he rose to prominence in the Cambridgeshire County League Kershaw Premier Division wearing Great Shelford’s colours.

Thirty-five goals in 67 Shelford outings was enough to convince Newmarket manager Kevin Grainger to hand Whitehead a second chance to shine in the summer, and from that moment onwards, he has not looked back.

Tuesday’s brace at Coggeshall Town took the 24-year-old’s goal tally for the campaign to 24 in all competitions, 18 of which have come in the league, making him the division’s leading marksman.

And Whitehead, who has featured numerous times out on the left wing since returning, has conceded he owes much of his recent form to the spell at Shelford.

“I never expected to be Newmarket’s top scorer this season, let alone lead the league standings at any point,” he said.

“It is easy to see it now — I was not ready to play week in, week out for Newmarket the first time around.

“I made the wrong decision to sign at that time — it was too much.

“Shelford helped to build my confidence, and the managers there were great with me.

“It was the first time I felt relied upon and important to the team.

“We won plenty of matches and I scored plenty of goals. That helped build up momentum and I have taken that with me to Newmarket.

“The way I felt at Shelford is how I now feel playing for Newmarket.”

Whitehead’s contribution has been one of the leading reasons as to why Newmarket currently sit third in the Premier Division.

A tilt at the title is likely to be asking too much, but having already accrued 14 more points than they managed throughout 2015/16, a top-three finish for the first time since 1994 is not out of the question.

“If we can finish in the top three that would be a great season,” added Whitehead ahead of Saturday’s trip to Hadleigh United (3pm).

“Considering we added so many players in the summer, it has already been a decent season. Hopefully we can finish it off.

“We are building something here and the plan is to be challenging right up at the top next season.”