BILLERICAY TOWN 0 AFC HORNCHURCH 1
Never has such an important match been played on such an awful pitch. On-the-ground football was very much a lottery. Hornchurch made two enforced changes, as Lewis Smith and Andy Tomlinson were suspended, and Tommy Black and Michael Spencer came into the starting line up. Hornchurch played in their purple and were greeted by a sea of purple and white when they came onto the pitch – on at least they would have been had the supplier supplied any. Instead it was a sea of red and white with the occasional purple intermixed.
Billericay, probably used to playing on such a surface, started well, and a Dave Collis pass led to Reiss Noel deciding to play the ball out for a throw rather then risk passing it back to Joe Woolley on the bumps, troughs and undulations which masqueraded as a level pitch. Collis took the first throw and Rickie Hayles played it out to the other side. Enter Sam Berry, whose incredibly long throw caused some consternation before Jerome Sobers placed his shot into the side netting.
Hornchurch began to settle down, and a Frankie Curley pass out to Joe Anderson saw Joe’s first time shot from outside the area well saved by Dale Brightly. Billericay made the early running, seeming to anticipate better where the bobbles were on the pitch, and Collis played in Glen Poole whose cross was headed out by Noel for a corner. Berry sent the ball over and Woolley, under heavy pressure from the massed home heavies, palmed the ball away. A scramble ensued before the whistle eventually went for a free kick.
Sobers conceded a corner which Hunt played short to Tommy Black, took the return pass and his first time shot was well saved by Brightly.. Simon Glover and Martin Tuohy combined well to set up Michael Spencer, but quick thinking by Berry prevented Michael getting in his shot.
With the home side taking full advantage of the unpredictable pitch, Woolley reacted instantly to keep out a goal bound shot by Glen Poole, and Richard Halle played a pass out to Berry who turned it back into the middle to Jay May, and Woolley made another excellent save to turn the ball over the bar. Up strode the massed home ranks, crowding around Woolley, Berry swerved the ball inwards, and Woolley rose up among a sea of blue to punch away. But by now the referee was beginning to get a grip on the shoving and pushing and many Billericay corners ended with a free kick to Hornchurch.
Anderson to Spencer, and again Berry tackled to concede a corner. Hunt sent the ball over and Tuohy headed wide/ Martin Tuohy almost broke through, but was tripped, got up quickly, only to be tripped again. The free kick was outside the area and Hunt floated the ball over to the far post, where Elliot Styles headed inches wide. Shortly before the interval, Hunt again sent Tuohy away on the wing, but his cross went begging in front of goal.
Billericay started the second half kicking down the slope, and a long kick from Brightly almost created an opening for Emeka Onwubiko, the home side’s most dangerous forward, and he ran on, but under pressure from Styles, and with Woolley rapidly narrowing the angle, he put his shot over the bar and into the trees, where it narrowly missed a squirrel and nestled with other balls happily in the higher branches.
Hornchurch, roared on by the massed away following, began to dictate the play, and the best move of the day began with Michael Spencer, who was brought down by Collis, just outside the area. Collis escaped with a yellow card, and Jon Hunt and Tommy Black both lurked around the ball. Eventually it was Hunt who took the kick, and the ball rebounded off the bar, landed in front of Tuohy and Black and eventually was scrambled off the line, before being cleared, but only as far as Anderson, whose return cross into the goalmouth was deflected inches wide of the post by Sobers for a corner, which Hunt sent over and Sobers headed away.
But the home side were now struggling in the face of continuous waves of purple, and the home goal still remained intact – until Anderson gathered the ball in midfield, sent Spencer away on the left, and Michael’s cross found TOMMY BLACK, whose first shot was scrambled off the line, but Tommy’s follow up went firmly into the net, to the delight of the 500 Hornchurch supporters behind the goal. In the celebrations that followed, Elliot somehow almost ended up the wrong side of the pitch perimeter wall, but the referee missed it.
Then it was Curley to Black, and over to Tuohy whose header went just wide. Billericay replied with a series of long throws from Sam Berry, and corners from Sam Berry, which in turn led to the inevitable free kick awarded as Joe Woolley was bundled over by the home forwards. In between free kicks, Woolley made two excellent saves to keep the ball out, and Neil Cousins headed wide from another Berry corner, which was conceded following another long Berry throw – Billericay had no other tactic left.
Jay May blazed the ball over from another Berry corner after Woolley had made the save of the match from Onwubiko. Styles conceded a further corner but by now Woolley simply ignored the blue army all around him and rose well to gather.
Styles went close from a Hunt free kick, and Tambeson Eyong, on for Tommy Black, missed a great chance to make the match safe when he chose to shoot rather then square the ball to the unmarked Martin Tuohy, waiting right in front of goal. Aaron Gayle came on for Tuohy, and was close to gliding the ball home after Hunt and Spencer had opened up the left wing, but just failed to get a touch.
In desperation Billericay played ‘rush goalie’ and up came Dale Brightly to add to the chaos at the other end, as Berry pumped over a succession of long throws and corners, and the match ended sensationally when Woolley punched the ball to Noel, who played it out to Hunt on the right side of the field. With Brightly still inside the Hornchurch half, Hunt made to play the ball home from all of sixty yards, only to the brought down by James Hawes, who escaped with a yellow card – despite there being no home player in the home half of the pitch. It mattered little, as the free kick was pumped deep up field and the final whistle went, to the obvious delight of the 500 away following.