Maldon & Tiptree hit Stowmarket Town with a late sucker-punch as three points turn into one again
Football can have a nasty habit of kicking you in the teeth and that was the case for title and promotion-chasers Stowmarket Town for the second time in four days at Greens Meadow tonight.
To all intents and purposes it looked like Bermundan international Willie Clemons' early second half finish was set to deservedly give the Old Gold & Blacks all three points against Maldon & Tiptree.
But the Jammers, who were the Pitching In Isthmian League North Division's most in-form side over the past six matches – having won five and drew one – levelled via Shamari Barnwell's lob inside the final 10 minutes.
There was still a final chance for justice to be served in stoppage time but Clemons had his head in his hands after sending Tommy Smith's precise cross up into orbit.
It saw the storyline mirror Saturday's frustrating outcome against lowly Barking who came back from 2-0 down at half-time to claim a point in a 2-2 draw.
Paul Musgrove's side could have gone level with second-placed Canvey Island with three points tonight and to five behind leaders Aveley still holding a game in hand.
But the second draw in four days on their home turf means they end the evening two points off The Gulls – whom Maldon had impressively defeated 4-1 on Saturday – while the gap to Aveley is seven points. The point saw the Essex side use their game in hand to cut the gap to the final play-off spot to two points.
Musgrove made two changes to Saturday's line-up with captain Tom Bullard returning from an ankle injury while Ben Hunter also came in, Craig Parker and Emmanuel Osei dropping to the bench.
Despite The Jammers camping themselves in the Stow half early on, it was the hosts who drew the first save with Tommy Dixon-Hodge turning away Lambe's free kick. Jack Ainsley and Chris Casement both saw on target shots at the resultant corner blocked off by defenders.
The visitors' Olumide Oluwatimilehin failed to test James Bradbrook from the edge of the area up the other end before Josh Mayhew's beat Dixon-Hodge's dive only to see his 22-yard effort thunder back off the underside of the crossbar. Video footage of it (see below) seemed to show it bouncing over the line.
Stow, who were well on top, went desperately close to opening the scoring again in the 33rd minute, Bullard seeing his header from a Lambe corner hacked off the line by Emmanuel Martins.
The assault on the visitors' goal continued with Willie Clemons sent a fizzing half volley not far past the upright.
Maldon ended the half with a couple of chances of their own, Shad Ngandu's snapshot whistling wide before Oluwatimilehin sent a curling effort several yards over the top of Bradbrook's crossbar.
There was no doubt, however, that the hosts had been the more threatening side with Chris Casement's stoppage time free kick requiring a diving save to push it away.
They had the goal their endeavours had deserved within three minutes of the second period though. Clemons drove into the penalty area after taking down a long pass and cut inside before firing low into the left-hand corner.
Stow looked to press home their advantage but the final ball was not quite falling right in the area while Casement's free kick was straight at Dixon-Hodge.
Up the other end a rare sight of goal just past the hour mark saw full-back Lordon Akolbire drag a powerful low shot well wide.
The all-important second goal looked like it was incoming in the 80th minute but after Lambe's initial shot-cum-cross was parried out, he managed to also push away Mayhew's follow-up.
It was to prove a pivotal miss as within a minute a long ball found Barnwell out wide on the left and with Bradbrook beginning to run out to it, he took his chance with the bouncing ball. Greens Meadow then held its collective breath as his lob took an age to come down before it dropped in perfectly at the far post to the dismay of the home players.
It provided a sickening moment for the promotion-chasing hosts but there was still a late opportunity for Clemons to put smiles back on faces. but as he ran on to a perfectly delivered ball to the far post from Smith in stoppage-time he got far too under it.
It seems the play-offs are now what the Old Gold & Blacks are playing for over their last five matches, beginning at relegation-threatened Witham Town on Saturday before travelling to play-off hopefuls Felixstowe & Walton United next Tuesday.
And there is then the distinct possibility Maldon & Tiptree could be one of those they could be set to face in the end-of-season lottery.
The only thing you can likely bank on is there being more drama before that 38th round of matches are concluded on April 23. Hold on tight Stow fans.
Stowmarket Town: Bradbrook, Casement, Smith, Ainsley, Curry, Bullard (c), O Brown, Hunter (Collard 88'), Lambe (Parker 88'), Mayhew (Brown 80'), Clemons.
Maldon & Tiptree: Dixon-Hodge, Akolbire, Martins, Clark, Turpin (c), Winn, Kemp, Ngandu (Ifeyani 58'), Barnwell, Oluwatimilehin, Napa (Cole 58').
Booked: Akolbire (45+1)
SuffolkNews Man of the Match: Jack Ainsley. An aggressive and energetic display from the former Ipswich Town man saw him win plenty of balls and pop up all over the pitch.