Soham Town Rangers match-winner Lloyd Groves: 'It has been difficult, but we always believed we could stay up'
PUBLISHED: 13:11 25 April 2017 | UPDATED: 14:02 25 April 2017
Saturday April 22, 2017 is a date that will be etched into the memories of everyone at Soham Town Rangers for years to come - none more so than player-assistant manager and centre-back, Lloyd Groves.
The 26-year-old has seen it all at Julius Martin Lane this season – the departure of managerial duo Robbie Nightingale and Dave Theobald, along with handful of first-team players and seemingly the club’s form; a run of 14 games without a win saw them plummet into the Ryman Division One North relegation zone just two months ago.
Soham were, by all accounts, dead and buried, but stuck together and embarked on an end-of-season unbeaten run which culminated in a dramatic 4-3 victory over Maldon & Tiptree on Saturday, in which Groves netted twice.
“We were banging our heads against a wall,” Groves admits.
“Between myself and Robbie (Mason) we knew that we had the technical ability in the squad but the morale was low.
“Something changed in the win over Thurrock last month and from then on we changed things tactically.
“The whole team just started to really tick over and the confidence came back.”
And that confidence was there for all to see last weekend as doubles from Groves and star striker Sam Mulready sealed Soham’s safety in the most dramatic of fashions.
Robbie Mason’s men went into their final fixture of the season knowing they had to match or better Heybridge Swifts’ result to ensure Step Four football for another season.
And, for all the pre-match hype, it seemed as though Soham were to secure their safety relatively easily with Mulready’s strike taking them into the break at 1-1 and Heybridge two down to Pheonix Sports.
But a hectic opening 20 minutes in the second half saw Maldon take a 3-2 lead and, in Essex, saw Heybridge net three unanswered goals, dropping Soham into the relegation places.
This meant that Ware, who were 2-0 down to VCD Athletic, were now the side that Soham had to chase down, with just one goal needed to mathematically secure safety.
And that goal arrived five minutes from time through Mulready, whose volley proved too hot to handle and crept over the line.
But Soham were not finished there and rounded off a remarkable afternoon thanks to Groves, who powered in a late header.
“We decided that we didn’t want to scores to be relayed to us and that we wanted to focus on our game,” Groves said.
“I could see all the supporters checking their phones and the secretary told me when we came off for half-time that Heybridge were two down, so we thought we were safe as they had no chance of getting three.
“In the second half they scored, I got the equaliser but then they scored again and you could just see the energy had gone from the players.”
“Endo (Lewis Endacott) came off and mouthed to me that Heybridge had scored three so I thought ‘we’re going down here, something has to be done’.
“We changed it up a bit, Muzza (Sam Mulready) got his second and then I went up from centre-half and headed in a corner which was a great moment.
“We always believed that we could do it and if I’m honest I don’t think people really appreciate what we did – we beat some of the sides in the top six or seven and had the hardest run out of all the sides fighting to stay up.
“It’s been a difficult time taking into account the position we were in, losing the experience of Robbie and Dave and it being Rob’s first job in management but for us to come back and survive is a fantastic achievement.”