AFC HORNCHURCH 0 Hastings United 1
Reiss Noel was unable to play due to a foot injury, whilst Simon Glover was sidelined with tonsillitis. To make matters worse, Hornchurch lost Rickie Hayles after just 21 minutes with a foot injury, which forced Frankie Curley to drop back, with Tambeson Eyong coming in on the right wing.
Hornchurch forced the pace from the start and won a corner in the first minute. Jon Hunt swerved the ball over and Martin Tuohy’s header was headed off the line, back to Michael Spencer, whose first time return shot was tipped over the bar by Matt Armstrong-Ford, who had played for Bideford last season, and who was to play an important role in the ultimate result. Hunt’s second corner was pitched too low and was cleared by Matt Whitehead.
Joe Anderson then opened up the visiting defence with a long through ball for Martin Tuohy to chase, and keeper Armstrong-Ford rushed yards out of his goal to kick clear.
Hastings rarely threatened, though when Andy Tomlinson conceded a free kick, Joe Woolley was called into action to field Lee Carey’s dipping ball into the goalmouth.
Frankie Curley played a long ball up field for Leon McKenzie to chase, and out came Armstrong-Ford once again to kick clear.
Jon Hunt gave away a free kick midway inside his own half, and Cary fired the free kick high and wide.
A Spencer cross found Leon McKenzie, whose glancing header beat the keeper but also went narrowly wide of the far post.
Hornchurch then lost Rickie Hayles, and Tambeson Eyong came on to get quickly into the action, making a good run along the wing before cutting inside and promptly being brought down. Hunt took the free kick and Armstrong-Ford saved well.
Tomlinson put his defence under pressure by conceding another free kick, and this time it was Jordan Woodley and not Carey who took the free kick, but his effort had little impact and Woolley had not difficult in fielding the ball.
Hornchurch continued to force the pace, and though the ball went back and forth across goal no one could get the final touch. With half time approaching Hunt swung a corner over from the left and Martin Tuohy’s header was deflected out for another corner. Hunt again took the corner, from the left, and Leon McKenzie glanced his header over the line and into the net – but a fraction of a second earlier the referee had blown for half time. Referee’s are allowed to use discretion when blowing for half or full time, and for a referee to blow up as the ball is about to enter the net is inviting criticism.
And when just two minutes into the second half Hastings were awarded a penalty for hand ball, it became increasingly obvious that this was not going to be Hornchurch’s night. Lee Carey stepped up and hit the penalty against the cross bar, and Hornchurch swept up field and Tambeson Eyong won a corner. Hunt sent the ball over and Armstrong-Ford caught the ball under the bar.
Hastings then had to withstand some intense pressure and when Anderson sent Tuohy clear on the left wing, the resulting centre fell in front of Fola Orilonishe, whose first time shot hit Sean Ray on the line and rebounded out for a corner, which Hunt played short to Spencer whose centre was well held by Armstrong-Ford.
Jon Hunt then thought he had scored, only for Armstrong-Ford to make an excellent save, diving one way, and still getting a foot to the ball to turn it out for a corner. Hunt took the corner and Tomlinson fired inches over the bar.
As the pressure continued, Anderson made ground on the left and crossed, and Hunt’s powerful header was saved by Armstrong-Ford, who tipped the ball over the bar.
Something had to give, and give it did – but at the other end. Andy Tomlinson conceded his third free kick of the match and Carey floated the ball into the goalmouth for a delighted SEAN RAY to head home.
Tommy Black came on for Hunt, but Hastings were briefly inspired to come forward and won another corner, which came to nothing.
Hornchurch returned to the attack and a Tomlinson corner found Elliot Styles at the far post, but Elliot’s shot hit the side netting.
Fola then made ground and crossed for Tuohy, whose shot hit a defender on the line and bounced to safety.
At the other end, Frankie Curley deflected a shot wide for a corner, which Styles cleared up field for Tommy Black to chase, but he was brought down by Jack Dixon, who received a yellow card for his challenge. Black took the free kick and again the ball was cleared off the line.
A Tomlinson free kick bounced around and along the line before being scrambled out for a corner, and a further corner, this time taken by Spencer, was blasted wide by Styles.
And so Hastings held on to take the three points, leaving many wondering why the referee had chosen to blow for half time just one second before McKenzie’s header crossed the line – referees are encouraged to use discretion in order to avoid controversy – it certainly did not happen tonight.