Kouassi shines on derby day
This new-look Mildenhall Town side may not be a one-man team, but in Evans Kouassi there is no doubt they have added that extra sprinkling of match-winning stardust that is currently making the difference at key moments.
The winger made an instant impact upon his arrival from Heybridge Swifts, scoring one goal and setting up another in Mildenhall’s first Bostik League North Division win of the season against Dereham Town on September 25.
And the fleet-footed attacker was at his devastating best again on Saturday, giving rivals Soham Town Rangers – and in particular their left-back Will Gardner – a torrid time at Julius Martin Lane.
Kouassi doubled Mildenhall’s lead early in the second half after Tom Debenham’s sixth of goal of the season had given them a 16th-minute lead, before setting up a third for substitute John Sands after hosting Soham had threatened a comeback through Jack Mochalski’s back-post tap-in.
It is now two goals and two assists from just 180 minutes of football in a Mildenhall shirt, leaving Kouassi understandably delighted with his start to life at the club.
“I have just come here to enjoy my football again,” he said.
“I know some of the lads already, and they are very good players.
“We showed on Tuesday how much quality we have and I said to the manager I could not believe we had not won before that.
“I am here to help turn that around and hopefully it has already started.
“The fans were great today and they helped to push us on.
“I am really enjoying it so far, but now we have got to keep it up. It is a tough standard and we cannot let it slip.”
While the new man was undoubtedly Mildenhall’s star man on the day, the contributions of his team-mates should not be overlooked.
Led by captain and centre-back Luke Butcher with James Seymour alongside him, they were – in the main – solid at the back.
The midfield trio of Panny Boxer, who was red carded along with Soham’s Lloyd Groves in stoppage time, Lee Watkins and Jarid Robson snapped at the home side’s heels, rarely giving them time in possession.
And when they managed to win the ball back, the service into likes of Kouassi was more often than not precise.
The first example of this came in the 14th minute when Boxer halted a Soham move, and after collecting the loose ball, left-back Aaron Smith sent Mildenhall on their way.
The attack ended with Debenham firing left-footed across goal, which former Mildenhall goalkeeper Josh Pope managed to parry to safety.
However, when that duel was renewed just two minutes later, it was the visitors’ number nine who came out on top.
Groves cleared Emmanuel Osei’s cross from the right, but Butcher kept the move alive by hoisting the ball back into the Soham box.
And, with the home defence appealing for a combination of handball and offside, Debenham did not stop to ask any questions, instead taking one touch to steady himself before coolly steering the ball in.
Kouassi then started to take centre stage as he glided beyond Gardner, who in his defence was offered very little support, almost at will.
It was his cross from the right that Osei lashed off target from a tight angle, while he also spurned an opportunity himself after being put clean through.
Sustained Soham attacks were hard to come by during the first half, with their only chance of note coming in the 25th minute from a Ryan Auger corner.
The whipped ball evaded everyone until it was met by skipper Jon Kaye at the back post, but his prodded effort was turned away by Blake Horton in the away team’s goal.
At the break Robbie Mason will surely have demanded more from his off-colour troops, who had looked far from being a side buoyed by collecting their first win of the season during the week.
But, within six minutes of the restart, that team talk had gone out of the window as Mildenhall doubled their lead.
Debenham held up a long throw from Smith down the right flank, waiting patiently until Osei offered support.
The winger then took over the attacking mantle, sending in a low cross from the left which picked out Kouassi.
A first time shot was on, but he took a different option, first controlling the ball and then side stepping an off-balance Groves to create the space for a shot that even a goalkeeper of Pope’s calibre had no chance of stopping.
To Soham’s credit they responded well to falling further behind and just 10 minutes later they were back in the contest.
In a rare moment of uncertain defending, Mildenhall failed to sufficiently clear Callum Russell’s long throw.
The ball was eventually worked to Auger, who played a smart pass on the blindside of Smith for an advancing Russell.
His low cross flashed across the face of goal, where Mochalski was waiting to apply the finishing touch.
Russell’s throw-ins were now looking like Soham’s biggest threat and it was from another one of those in the 64th minute that they went so close to an equaliser.
A header from Robson fell to Joe Carden 20 yards from goal and he unleashed a side-footed volley that bounced to safety via the top of the crossbar.
It seemed at this point Soham had generated some momentum, but that was drained away in the 77th minute when Mildenhall restored their two-goal advantage.
The impressive Robson picked out Kouassi on the right wing and with grass to run in to, he did not need a second invitation.
The new addition beat Gardner twice to get to the byline, from where he drilled in a cross for Sands, who made no mistake 11 minutes after he had replaced Debenham.
That was the striker’s third goal since he returned to his boyhood club in the summer, and he would have had another as the minutes ticked away if Pope had not spread his body well to thwart the bicycle kick.
The afternoon ended on a slightly sour note for Mildenhall when Boxer was dismissed for retaliation in an incident that also saw Groves sent off, but it did little to detract from the club’s first league win at Soham since March 2007.
Soham: Pope, Okay, Gardner (Baulk 81), Connor (Hall 70), Mochalski, Groves, Kaye, Auger, Russell, Mulready, Carden
Mildenhall: Horton, Camilo-Tayaca, Smith, Butcher, Boxer, Seymour, Osei (Cooper 85), Watkins, Debenham (Sands 66), Robson, Kouassi (Nolan 88)
Journal Man of the Match – Evans Kouassi: Made the difference at key moments
* On Saturday Mildenhall host Heybridge Swifts (3pm), and Stowmarket Town in the Suffolk Premier Cup on Tuesday (7.45pm). Meanwhile, the Under-18s are at home against Wroxham in the FA Youth Cup tonight (7.45pm).