Ben Fowkes nets a hat-trick on his debut as Needham Market put Stowmarket Town to the sword in Suffolk Premier Cup semi-final
Needham Market found two goals in each half, including a hat-trick from debutant Ben Fowkes, as they beat lower-league Stowmarket Town 4-1 to comfortably book their spot in the delayed 2019/20 Turners Hyundai Suffolk Premier Cup final.
Fowkes, who Needham signed from Norwich United, scored twice with angled finishes inside two minutes from the 29th minute to put the Marketmen firmly in the driving seat with a 2-0 half-time lead.
Stowmarket responded well and got their reward when Charlie Clarke prodded home in the 64th minute. But Callum Page restored Needham's two-goal advantage in the 72nd minute before Fowkes completed his hat-trick in style five minutes from time.
Stowmarket, who had been losing semi-finalists in both of the last two runnings of the competition, were without five first-team regulars in Luke Read (suspended), Craig Parker (cup-tied), Christy Finch (ribs), Danny Cunningham (ankle) and Jamie Shaw (hamstring).
While Needham Market's goalkeeper Marcus Garnham recovered from an ankle injury to play, they were without Kieran Morphew (calf) and Joe Marsden (tooth) while summer signing Byron Lawrence was cup tied. But fellow new recruits Josh Pollard and Ben Fowkes were both handed their competitive debuts.
Needham, who ply their trade two levels higher in the pyramid, had the better of the opening 25 minutes with Callum Page firing a low ball across the face of goal with Gareth Heath coming close to sliding in on it.
Soon after Page himself saw venomous low effort come back off the foot of the left-hand post with Luke Ingram's follow-up effort tipped over the crossbar by James Bradbrook.
Needham deservedly took the lead in the 29th minute when some neat interplay saw Billy Hunt slip Fowkes into the left-hand side of the penalty area and he provided a cool low finish into the far corner.
No sooner had the crowd begun to digest the former Norwich United man's first competitive Needham goal he provided an even more eye-catching finish to double their advantage.
Within a minute of his first, more neat passing worked the ball to the left-hand side of the penalty area again where Fowkes this time rifled an unstoppable shot into the top right-hand corner.
Stowmarket had it all to do and from a free kick they fashioned their first chance of the match in the 39th minute. But although Charlie Clarke's header crossed the line the referee rightly blew for a foul on Garnham, whom he had barged over the line.
The lower-league side ended the half strongly though with another free kick seeing Charlie Clarke head wide of the near post.
Page fired another good low shot at goal which arrowed wide early in the second half before Stowmarket's Robbie Sweeney got a sight of goal but blazed well over the bar.
The game was now more open with Sweeney not able to get a good enough connection on Dunbar's throughball before Josh Mayhew and Seb Dunbar had efforts blocked as Stowmarket ramped up the pressure.
Joe Jefford saw a header deflected wide at the far post and led the protests for a handball approaching the hour mark, but the referee was not interested.
Up the other end Page played in Hunt who lashed wide at the near post while Ingram ended a run with a wayward effort as Needham looked to kill the tie off with a third goal.
But it was Stowmarket who made the breakthrough in the second half in the 64th minute. Dunbar's crossfield ball found Mayhew on the right who laid it across to the on-rushing Charlie Clarke nudged it into the net.
Stow's players now had a spring in their step and an awkward high ball saw Garnham rush out to push it away with Mayhew's follow-up blocked before the loose ball was put over the bar.
There way back into the game appeared to be extinguished in the 72nd minute though when Needham restored their two-goal cushion. Heath played a ball into the are for Page who turned inside Jefford before firing the ricochet off him low into the bottom left-hand corner.
It seemed to break the Thurlow Nunn League side's resolve with the pressure building until a fourth arrived in the 85th minute. It stemmed from Dunbar giving the ball away with Fowkes' first attempt being well blocked from Bullard. The ball eventually broke loose for the number 11 on a tight angle on the left but he once again rifled it home for his hat-trick.
A minute later Jose Santa replaced him to a standing ovation.
Needham's hunger for further goals was evident as Ingram had a shot parried out with Santa not able to sort his feet out quickly enough from the rebound.
But it stayed at 4-1 with Lowestoft now awaiting them in the final, at a venue and date to be confirmed, after beating Bury Town 2-0 at Felixstowe & Walton United tonight.
Needham: Garnham, Dye, Sturgess, Collard, Pollard, D Morphew, Ingram, Heath (c), Hunt (Mills 67'), Page, Fowkes. Unused subs: Munson (GK), Fitzgerald, Santa.
Stowmarket: Bradbrook, Brown, Dunbar, Ainsley, Jefford, Bullard (c), Docherty, Sweeney (Licence 67'), C Clarke, Mayhew, A Clarke. Unused subs: A Clarke, Potter (GK), Lockwood, Phair.
Attendance: Yet to be confirmed
Free Press Man of the Match: Ben Fowkes. A hat-trick in your competitive debut in a derby semi-final. Does it get much better?