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Needham Market start the 2023-24 Southern League Central Premier Division season with a 6-1 defeat at Stratford Town.

New signings Tevan Allen, Tommy Smith and Reece Harris all made their competitive Needham debuts from the start, while former Academy graduate Callum Page started on the bench on his permanent return to Needham, following a two year spell at Ipswich Town.

The Marketmen started brightly as an early Reece Harris right wing free-kick flashed narrowly wide of the bottom far corner in the second minute.

Stratford though broke the deadlock a minute later, Callum Ebanks broke through down the left hand side of the box before finishing smartly into the bottom far corner, 1-0 Stratford.

At the other end, Needham forced a good save from Stratford goalkeeper Liam O'Brien in the sixth minute, Luke Ingram broke through cleverly one on one with the 'keeper, whose shot was smothered behind the bottom near left corner by O'Brien.

The resulting corner, a minute later, meanwhile saw Keiran Morphew shoot just over onto the roof of the net from close range.

The Marketmen responded quickly though to level proceedings in the 9th minute, Tommy Smith broke into space before feeding Jacob Lay driving through the hosts half.

The winger in turn set Reece Harris one on one into the box, drawing O'Brien sliding off his line to clear the ball away as far as Kyle Hammond whose ferocious low long range strike was denied by the recovering goalkeeper, with Reece Harris on hand to tap home is maiden Needham goal from point blank range, 1-1.

The Marketmen then created a good chance on 15 minutes, Dylan Williams' cross in fell to Luke Ingram in space from 8-yards out at the far, left-hand, post whose half-volleyed shot went narrowly over the crossbar.

Some alert goalkeeping denied the Marketmen a tap in six minutes later, good play saw Reece Harris latch onto a great through-ball, onto the right hand side of the box, whose ball whipped across to the far post is cushioned back across the six yard box by Lay, although O'Brien dived down off his line to gather.

A great save from O'Brien thwarted the Marketmen from taking the lead on 23 minutes, Kyle Hammond was threaded through into space only for his powerful strike from 18-yards to tipped just over well by the keeper at his right hand post.

More great play from the visitors, sporting their yellow away kit, saw Luke Ingram break away smartly with possession prior to threading a good ball through to Tevan Allen.

The latter then cleverly switched the play with a great crossfield pass to Jacob Lay, out on the right wing, who exploited space to drive onto the byline although his cross in was half volleyed over by Smith at the far post after 32 minutes.

Four minutes later, Jacob Lay released Luke Ingram into space on the right-hand side of the box with a good ball past the defence, albeit the latter's shot went narrowly over the crossbar.

The Bards however went into the interval 2-1 ahead, after being awarded a penalty two minutes into added time. After a two minute delay, Callum Ebanks duly dispatched the spot-kick confidently into the top right-hand corner.

The home side quickly extended their lead 4 minutes after the restart, Riley O'Sullivan pounced on a mistake from the left-hand side to chip Garnham and find the empty net from distance, 3-1 Stratford.

At the other end, Luke Ingram saw a low shot, from 8-yards out on right-hand side, blocked by a diving defender on 62 minutes, while Garnham was on hand to deny Stratford ten minutes later, who had to be alert to smother a close range shot from the left-hand byline.

Stratford then shot over the bar a minute later, while Callum Page went close to pulling a goal back for Needham on 76 minutes.

The substitute was fed into space before weaving onto the edge of the box, where Lewis Ludford-Ison was well placed to crucially deflect it a centimetre wide of the bottom left-hand corner, for a Needham corner.

It was then 4-1 to the Bards after 84 minutes, as a low shot from the right-hand side cannoned back into play off the face of the front of the post, falling for the onrushing Riley O'Sullivan to seep into the roof of the net from the left hand side.

Ingram meanwhile saw a 12-yard shot blocked two minutes later, before Stratford added a fifth goal moments later on the counter attack.

Goalscorer Riley O'Sullivan broke through down the right-hand side before smartly finishing from close range into the top near corner.

That soon became six on 90 minutes as Lafferty smashed home from the left hand edge of the box, into the bottom near corner.

The Marketmen return to Bloomfields on Tuesday, where they will wear their new Red and White home kit as they start their quest for a fourth straight Suffolk Premier Cup triumph at home to Isthmian North side Bury Town (7:45pm).


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