Mildenhall Town 2
Maldon & Tiptree 2
When Tom Debenham joined Mildenhall Town in November, he did so in the belief that he was being recruited to help tighten things up defensively.
Fast forward to Tuesday’s clash with Maldon, though, and the former Bury Town and Walsham-le-Willows man had a very different remit.
Wearing the number nine shirt, Debenham operated as a lone frontman, charged with the task of leading an attack that this season has often been too blunt for manager Dean Greygoose’s liking.
It was a tactic that had initially been deployed on Boxing Day against AFC Sudbury when — chasing a late equaliser — Debenham was thrown forward from his central defensive berth.
He retained that more advanced position as Mildenhall collected four points from clashes with Hertford Town and Norwich United, before going on to score what turned out to be the decisive goal in Saturday’s 2-1 win at play-off hunting Canvey Island.
And while he was unable to add to his tally in the entertaining score draw with Maldon, Debenham looked every inch the striker — making intelligent runs, holding the ball up well and winning a number of headers.
“I played up there when I was 13 or 14, but not since then,” he said.
“I was definitely signed as a centre-half, but the gaffer wanted to change things up because we were struggling for goals and I am enjoying the role.
“I was a little bit worried to start off with, but you get your touches in, the boys start to get around you and it starts to come together.
“It seems to be working. We are on a decent run and were unlucky not to win tonight as well.”
Debenham made his presence felt as early as the sixth minute against fourth-placed Maldon, challenging for a high ball that eventually broke for his team-mate Claudio Ofusu.
The Stevenage loanee — scorer of the opener at Canvey — sized up the chance 25 yards from goal and flashed a shot just wide of the target.
It had been a bright start by the home team and they went on to break the deadlock in the 29th minute.
Left-back Jack Wilkinson, who last week rejected an approach from a higher-league club, set up both of Mildenhall’s goals at Canvey and he was the architect once again.
His deep cross was intended for Debenham, yet before Mildenhall’s converted frontman could get a touch, Maldon defender Grade Milende intervened, only succeeding in turning the ball into his own net.
Greygoose’s men were on top early in the second half as well, and they had a golden opportunity to double their advantage two minutes shy of the hour mark.
Gareth Simpson lofted a pass forward for Ofusu to chase and he did so willingly, eventually seeing his route to goal halted by both Maldon centre-backs.
The referee had a little hesitation in pointing to the spot, but visiting goalkeeper Tim Brown guessed correctly to keep out Matt Green’s low effort from the spot.
After that, Maldon started to show just why they are currently in the play-off picture.
They were level in the 68th minute when striker Oluwole Akinsanya bundled in after Mildenhall’s debutant goalkeeper — Norwich City’s Jake Hallett — had been unable to hold a cross.
With parity restored, the two teams were now trading blows and it was Mildenhall who were next to strike as they regained the lead 12 minutes from time.
The fit-again Jake Chambers-Shaw was the scorer, but he owed much to Ofusu after the number seven had sped towards the byline and laid on a chance that required the simplest of finishes.
And when Akinsanya somehow headed over from only a couple of yards out in the 85th minute, it seemed Mildenhall were destined for back-to-back wins against two promotion candidates.
However, Maldon continued to rally and they broke the hosts’ resistance for a second time with 88 minutes on the clock — Akinsanya this time making no mistake from substitute Ernest Okoh’s low cross.
Mildenhall: Hallett, Hood, Wilkinson, Kerins, Curry, Simpson, Ofusu, Green, Debenham, Chambers-Shaw, Ingram (Crow 35)
Journal Man of the Match: Josh Curry
n Sixteenth-placed Mildenhall, who have lost just one of their last nine games, host Aveley (20th) on Saturday (3pm).