Needham Market kicked off 2023 in ideal fashion following a comfortable 3-0 home win over Hitchin Town.
Manager Kevin Horlock made 3 changes to the Boxing Day last second defeat at Leiston as Kaan Bennett, Tom Fitzgerald and Seth Chambers started in place of Jacob Lay (injured) and Patrick Brothers (suspended) with Luke Ingram starting on the bench.
The Marketmen dominated proceedings with home goalkeeper Marcus Garnham rarely troubled throughout the afternoon, with the home side having the first chance after just 2 minutes. A good through-ball released Ross Crane past the fullback down the right wing only for his low dangerous cross into the six yard box in search of Jamie McGrath to be turned behind for a corner, which saw Keiran Morphew's far post header deflected wide for another set-piece.
It was a great all round team performance by all in Needham's yellow away kit, as the Suffolk side went close after 7 minutes. Tom Fitzgerald threaded Seth Chambers with a great defence splitting pass down the centre but for a brilliant recovering sliding challenge from a defender to deny the forward a shot at Charlie Horlock's goal.
More brilliant play from the Marketmen 2 minutes later saw the hosts go agonisingly close to breaking the deadlock, Jake Dye threaded Chambers through down the left-hand side of the box, whose cutback picked out Colchester United loanee Taykaan Bennett in space, at the near post from eight yards out, although his effort went just over the crossbar.
Bennett then displayed some brilliant skill in the eleventh minute, the winger kept possession well as he advanced down the left wing, beating his man a couple of times on his way into the box only for a defender to prevent him from cutting the ball back across goal at the expense of a corner.
The Marketmen continued to create the better chances as Kaan Bennett, as well as McGrath, Crane and Chambers, continued to cause problems for the visiting defence two minutes later. The winger drove through once more down the left wing, again beating his man brilliantly to break into the box only for his low ball into the danger area to be cleared away.
Needham however broke the deadlock deservedly on 17 minutes, as some good team passing resulted in a brilliant finish from Jamie McGrath for his fourth Needham goal. Ross Crane threaded Seth Chambers with a well timed pass out on the right wing, the latter then cleverly fed McGrath inside the box who turned into space well to smash home well into the bottom near corner, 1-0 Needham.
A good double save from Hitchin 'keeper Charlie Horlock meanwhile denied the Marketmen from doubling their lead on 28 minutes, Ross Crane intercepted possession well on the right-hand edge of the box, releasing Chambers through inside the box. The forward's low shot though was palmed away as far as McGrath, by the advancing Horlock diving low to his right-hand side, though the latter's shot on the rebound was also smothered from close range.
Sixty seconds later, the Marketmen had the ball in the net again, only to be ruled out for offside. Kaan Bennett was first to the ball after Kyle Hammond's attempt to latch onto a great ball across by Seth Chambers was unsuccessful, only to his low shot saved as far as the offside McGrath as he tapped home into an empty net from five yards out.
Just after the half-hour mark, McGrath latched onto a great right wing cross into the danger area only for his low close range effort to be deflected behind crucially for a corner.
While Crane dragged a shot wide when arriving into a loose ball on the edge of the box after 33 minutes, the Marketmen were awarded a penalty following a foul on Keiran Morphew three minutes later.
Up stepped Ross Crane, who duly dispatched his seventh Needham goal - and fifth in the league - from the spot, sending Horlock the wrong way as he cooly slotted home into the bottom right hand corner, 2-0 Needham.
The game died down slightly in the second half though, with not much of real note to write about, although Tom Fitzgerald's shot/clearance from 45-yards wasn't miles away from Horlock's bottom right-hand far corner after 54 minutes.
Diogo Freitas-Gouveia meanwhile slammed a good 35-yard strike comfortably wide of Marcus Garnham's near right-hand post five minutes later, before Needham wrapped up all 3 points for their seventh (having played ten so far at Bloomfields) home league wins of the season eleven minutes later.
Fittingly, Seth Chambers picked up a deserved goal and his third of the season (fifth all time for the first team), latching onto a great ball over the top before beating the two retreating defenders with some good skill to cooly slot home past the onrushing Horlock into the bottom far left-hand corner, 3-0 Needham.
Substitute Noah Collard was then threaded through smartly down the right-hand side three minutes later, the midfielder then curled a sumputous low ball across on a plate for Chambers arriving from 8-yards out, albeit the forward sliding in could only direct his shot over the bar.
The Marketmen then had the last major chance of the afternoon on 75 minutes, Kyle Hammond broke through down the right-hand side of the box only to see his smart shot towards goal blocked away as far as Ross Crane whose low quick effort was comfortably held by the diving Horlock down to his right-hand side.
A much needed confidence boosting win for 13th place Needham, who will look to build on the victory when they travel to 4th place Rushall Olympic on Saturday (3pm).
1 Marcus Garnham
2 Kyle Hammond
3 Jake Dye
14 Christian Frimpong
5 Keiran Morphew (c)
6 Daniel Morphew
7 Kaan Bennett (65' Collard)
8 Tom Fitzgerald
9 Seth Chambers
10 Jamie McGrath
11 Ross Crane
12 Luke Ingram
15 Noah Collard (85' Knights)
16 Harry Knights
1 Charlie Horlock (c)
2 Daniel Idiakhoa
3 Stanley Georgiou (83' Black)
4 Stephen Gleeson
5 Ciaren Jones
6 Toby Syme
7 Diogo Freitas-Gouveia
8 Rio Dasilva (65' Wilkinson)
9 Ashley Hay
10 Emmanuel Adeyemo
11 Jack Snelus
12 Joshua Coldicott-Stevens
14 Malaki Black
15 Finley Wilkinson
16 Layne Eadie
17 Bradley Bell
Booked: Bennett (56'), D.Morphew (83'), Gleeson (87'), Crane (87').
Goals: McGrath (17'), Crane (37'pen), Chambers (70').