Tonbridge Angels 3 Needham Market 4
THE battle at the top of the table was going so well for the Angels with a two-goal advantage and half an hour to go.
Needham Market then scored three goals in 22 minutes to win the game and reclaim third spot in the league, while Tonbridge drop to fourth.
In truth the danger signs were already in evidence with the team down to 10 men and having to make a goalkeeping substitution.
The Angels made the better start and they went ahead after 18 minutes when Nicky Wheeler’s short corner was collected by Tom Phipp and his angled cross was headed past Danny Gay by Ugo Udogi.
Needham Market managed to gain a foothold in the game but it was the Angels who went further ahead.
Luke Allen’s perfect delivery from the left was met by the head of Nathan Elder, who scored his 50th goal for the club.
An injury to Angels keeper Anthony di Bernardo just before half-time saw goalkeeping coach Stuart Copeland take over between the sticks: it was to have a significant bearing on events.
At the start of the second half John Sands took full advantage to get a goal back for the visitors.
But Tonbridge gave themselves a two-goal cushion again on 52 minutes with a Mitchell Nelson header.
With Copeland having gone walkabout just a minute later, Angels right-back Udogi was dismissed for preventing a goalscoring opportunity and from then on the home defence were struggling.
Needham Market scored 63 minutes later through Luke Ingram, and equalised on 77 minutes through Reece Dobson.
Their fightback was completed with five minutes remaining, Samuel Nunn scoring the crucial goal.
Deep in stoppage time, Angels substitute Dan Thompson turned well in the area only to see his goalbound shot blocked on the line, and that meant all the points were going back to Suffolk.
Angels manager Steve McKimm admitted that the sending-off and the injury to di Bernardo were significant factors but added that the team should have been able to deal with these challenges.
“We made basic errors with ball retention in all areas, which meant we were handing them possession far too easily.
“We’ve not been doing that in recent games so why today? If we had won, it would have given us some breathing space and would have still given us an outside chance of the title.
“So its not getting any easier but we’ll roll up our sleeves and keep fighting for that [second place] play-off spot.”