LEATHERHEAD 0 AFC HORNCHURCH 1
Congratulations to the SatNav – it got me there without sending me all over the county - but it did not get me into the large and almost empty car park, which, as the notice pointed out, was for home supporters only. Plebs and away supporters have to park in the nearby leisure centre car park.
Hornchurch had to overcome a bumpy and narrow pitch and an increasingly hostile crowd to emerge with the three points, against a Leatherhead team who are a lot better than their league position suggests. Leatherhead warmed up before the start, but where was Hornchurch? They appeared briefly on the pitch before seemingly being requested to warm up elsewhere. They certainly could not warm up on the grass banking behind the goal as this was already claimed, as children played happily before the start and throughout the first half with a football – I thought that was only allowed in parks football.
The first half was largely one where defences were on top, although Hornchurch slowly came into the match as an attacking force. Chances were few and far between, and when Lewis Smith found himself with a half chance following good work by Jon Hunt and Martin Tuohy, he was quickly crowded out. Lewis Smith returned the compliment to give Hunt an opening, but the ball was deflected out by Dan Dean for a corner, which came to nothing.
Shortly afterwards Andy Tomlinson took a short pass from Simon Glover and fired the ball deep into the goalmouth , where Rickie Hayles got in a good header which was saved by Chico Ramos. Leatherhead had little to offer up front at this stage, though Reiss Noel had to head away a dangerously dipping ball from the right wing, and it was Noel again who cleared when a similar ball came over from the other side. This time the ball ran out to Greg Andrews who hit his shot high and wide.
Hornchurch were beginning to look dangerous though a Hunt cross was wasted when no one could get on to the end of it. Best opportunity for Hornchurch came when a long Hayles throw was dropped and Frankie Curley was first to the loose ball, but, when perhaps subtlety was called for, Frankie crashed his shot inches over the bar instead from just a few yards out. A Joe Anderson centre was deflected out for a corner, and then Leatherhead came forward again, and Dan Dean’s well directed free kick was saved by Joe Woolley. Reiss Noel failed to clear a low cross from Rob Hill but reacted quickly to recover and tackle as Tommy Hutchings almost collected the rebound.
Disaster followed for Hornchurch when Rickie Hayles aggrevated a back injury after going down heavily behind the goal and close to the perimeter fencing. He played on for a short time but was then was replaced by Michael Spencer, who was soon into action with a good pass which led to a corner. Hunt however swerved the kick in too much and the ball hit the side netting. Ronnie Fletcher turned a Jack MacLeod cross out for a corner and Reiss Noel did likewise when Hutchings got in a hard shot.
Right on half time, Hornchurch had a free kick about 40 yards out. Hunt sent over a high ball towards the far post and a defender almost scored with a well directed back header, only for Ramos to dive full length to make a spectacular save to keep the ball out of goal.
Second Half saw the home side coming much more into the game as an attacking force, whilst the home crowd were becoming increasingly hostile and vocal. It was Martin Tuohy however who almost opened the score with a fine header from a Spencer – Glover – Hunt build up, but then Woolley made an excellent save from an equally excellent Greg Andrews shot. Elliott Thompson found himself in a good position to get in a shot but Woolley saved again, before Simon Glover opened up the home defence with a pass that sent Andy Tomlinson away and heading for goal – only to be chopped down by Billy Manners, who escaped with a weakly waved yellow, having prevented a certain goal.
Simon Glover was then stopped by a well timed tackle by Andrews, and Ramos saved well from Tuohy after good work by Spencer. Noel then came to the rescue with two tackled to keep out Hutchings and Andrews, and the cost of two successive corners, the second of which was headed high over the bar to ease the temporary pressure.
A third corner soon followed and Fletcher cleared, but the ball was promptly crossed back into the goalmouth where Woolley made a spectacular finger tip save from Hutchings’ header, to touch the ball over the bar. And then, with the home side totally frustrated at their failure to break through the visiting defence, after Noel had again cleared, a rash and somewhat late tackle on Frankie Curley by Elliott Thompson started an extraordinary reaction from the home side, as Frankie was immediately swarmed on by a host of green clad grasshoppers, with the irate and openly hostile home crowd urging them on. The referee surprisingly booked Frankie, and also surprisingly only showed a weakly waved yellow card to Elliott Thompson.
Curley was immediately substituted – possibly on safety grounds, though just whose safety is a moot point – and on came Tommy Black. This set up an unprecedented occurrence – when Rickie Hayles had gone off, the captaincy had been passed to Reiss Noel, but at half time, the captain’s arm band was given to Frankie Curley. And now it was Andy Tomlinson who became the Urchins’ fourth captain for the remainder of the match.
As Frankie left the pitch, the relief – or was it satisfaction - on the home players’ faces was very much in evidence, but little did they know what they had let themselves in for, because on came Tommy Black, who immediately ran on to a pass from Spencer, after Fletcher had flicked the ball on, but Black’s shot was saved. And the Purple People Eaters had decided that enough was enough, and the home side were engulfed in wave upon wave of attacks. Tuohy thought he had scored when got a touch to Black’s cross after Spencer had opened up the right side of the field, but the ball trickled wide of the post. Two corners were scrambled to apparent safety, but the inevitable was just waiting around the corner, for the ball came to Andy Tomlinson, on to Lewis Smith and back to Andy, whose neatly directed centre was calmly headed home by MARTIN TUOHY in stoppage time.