THURLOW NUNN LEAGUE
Haverhill Rovers 2
Hadleigh United 0
After conceding 14 goals in their previous three outings, this was just the tonic Haverhill Rovers needed.
Player-manager Marc Abbott had seen positives in those matches — a 4-4 draw with Saffron Walden Town followed by shipping five goals in defeats to Kirkley & Pakefield and Thetford Town — but football is ultimately a results business.
And that is what Rovers delivered on a bitterly cold Friday evening against relegation-threatened Hadleigh.
A goal in either half, from Alfie Carroll and Rafal Wozniak, proved enough to secure a first victory since the start of last month.
Abbott, who patrolled the midfield on the 3G surface at The New Croft, said: “In recent weeks we have not kept clean sheets and we felt that if we could do that tonight we could go on to win the game because attacking-wise we have lots of threats and quality.
“On the pitch we may have been a little nervy or cautious with recent results, but in the changing room that is not the case.
“We wanted to exploit the spaces again because some of our combination play over the last month has been outstanding — we showed that again.
“We were expansive and there was plenty of flair in the final third.
“We dominated the game through the midfield. The rotation tonight was bright and we looked alive. Two-nil probably did not justify the possession and chances we had overall, but it is three points and we needed that.”
While Rovers were worthy victors, on reflection, they could quite easily have found themselves a goal or two behind during the opening exchanges.
Just two minutes had been played when Hadleigh’s Ben Reegan was sent scampering clear, only for Rovers goalkeeper Evan Jeckells to come to his team’s rescue with a brave stop at the attacker’s feet.
Veteran frontman Danny Smy did manage to beat an advancing Jeckells in the 18th minute with a lofted effort.
However, with many of the away players ready to celebrate the deadlock being broken, the ball drifted just wide of the target. Sandwiched in between those two Hadleigh near-misses, Haverhill striker Jamie Judge was thwarted by Nick Punter after being put clean through.
After that Rovers started to move through the gears and they got their noses in front with 27 minutes on the clock.
It was all about the recently-signed Carroll, who jinked his way forward from right-back before curling a left-footed shot into the far corner from the edge of the box.
Abbott’s men controlled the remainder of the half without carving out too much in the way of clear goalscoring opportunities.
That was put right less than 120 seconds into the second half, though, as Punter had a moment to forget.
It appeared to all intents and purposes that the visiting custodian had a routine high ball to collect, yet he inexplicably spilled it between his legs.
Rovers’ Sam Holmes may well have been in an offside position, but he was aware enough to leave it for Wozniak to apply the finishing touch from close-range.
The hosts started to play with some real freedom thereafter as the midfield quartet of Abbott, Ben Bradley, Luke Haines and Joe Bennett dictated proceedings.
Substitute Rory Jebb had a golden opportunity to add a third goal for Rovers in the 67th minute, but after capitalising on a mistake from Hadleigh defender Ben Golding, he ran the ball too close to Punter and was thwarted.
Punter continued to make amends in the 75th minute — this time denying Bradley after the lively midfielder had been afforded the space to turn and shoot for goal inside the Hadleigh area.
To Hadleigh’s credit, they soaked up all of that pressure and went on to end the contest on the front foot.
Smy will have been disappointed when he volleyed into the side netting from six yards out, taking with it any hopes that the strugglers had of setting up a grandstand finish.
“You could see towards the end we were carrying a few tired legs,” said Abbott.
“But it was all about the clean sheet tonight and it is really pleasing we have been able to deliver that.
“If we can repeat that going forward it gives us a big chance because we will always score goals.”
Rovers: Jeckells, Carroll, Fox, Haines, Milne, Holmes, Abbott, Bradley (Tait 86), Judge (Jebb 31), Bennett, Wozniak (Clarke 65)
Echo Man of the Match - Ben Bradley: A bright performance from the fit again midfielder before he came off late on, both in and out of possession.