Dereham Town 3, Brantham Athletic 4
Dereham Town manager Matty Henman refused to blame individual errors for his side's defeat to Brantham Athletic on Saturday.
The Magpies deserved at least a point for their determination and commitment in an enthralling seven-goal thriller, but were punished for making costly mistakes against title-chasing Brantham.
Goalkeeper Shaun Marshall was at fault for the visitors' opener, and defender Jay Eastoe-Smith was caught in possession leading to Simon Mann making it 4-2 early in the second period.
A first-half treble from striker Dan Pryke had sent the Imps on their way to victory, despite the best efforts of Dereham's set piece specialist Gary Starling, with two excellent free-kicks.
Substitute Nathan Howard's strike eight minutes from time proved no more than a consolation for the Magpies and Henman said: 'Our performance was as good as we have played for a long time. We paid the penalty for giving some sloppy goals away, but I can't fault the players for their application and effort.
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'Shaun (Marshall) has proved himself over a number of years, and I don't need to question his quality. He's big enough and experienced enough to cope. The most critical person of Shaun is himself and I don't need to tell him he's made a mistake – we all know that and I'm sure he will bounce back.'
Former Cambridge United shot stopper Marshall allowed Pryke's ninth-minute header through his palms as he failed to get a strong hand behind the ball.
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Pryke doubled his and Brantham's advantage with a close range finish after latching onto Dave Grimwood's through ball.
Dereham responded immediately as defender Starling stepped up with a trademark free-kick from 22 yards. Six minutes later Dereham were level thanks to another Starling special as the ball skidded off the greasy Aldiss Park surface and straight past Imps goalkeeper Ryan Bedingfield from 25 yards.
Pryke claimed a 33rd minute hat-trick following a sweeping Brantham counter attack, and three minutes into the second half captain Mann fired low past Marshall to restore his team's two-goal lead.
Mann's goal gave Brantham the confidence to assert their authority on the game with some fine passing football
Striker Howard combined with fellow sub Taylor Hastings to give Dereham hope, but Brantham held on to all three points.
Brantham boss Tony Hall said: 'I didn't feel we were in control of the game – especially not in the first half. Second half we were more in control. I know Dereham hadn't played for a couple of weeks and their legs went a bit in the second half, but first half they gave us a good game.'
• Dereham Town: Marshall, Willis, Cross, Gusterson (Smith, 58), Starling, Eastoe-Smith, Howell (Howard, 66), Borrer, Rocastle, Roberts (Hastings, 82), Hawkins. Sub not used: Burt.
Booked: Willis, Eastoe-Smith.
Goals: Starling (15, 21), Howard (82)
• Brantham Athletic: Bedingfield, Drennan, Spencer, Wray, Sibbons, Bloss, Lowe, D Grimwood, Pryke, L Grimwood (Middlebrook, 86), Mann (Mayhew, 80). Sub not used: Blanchett.
Goals: Pryke (9, 13, 33), Mann (48)
• Referee: Neil Guest
• Attendance: 112