AFC HORNCHURCH 2 LEATHERHEAD 1
It was an unusual starting line up, with four first team regulars missing, with only one – Reiss Noel – through injury. After over a week of heavy rain, the pitch was heavy but in surprisingly good condition. Hornchurch kicked towards the windmill end in the first half, and played into the teeth of a near gale force wind.
A good start for Hornchurch, when Joe Anderson crossed from the left for Carl Rook to power in a header which Leatherhead’s player of the year Chico Ramos, turned around the post for the first corner of the match, taken by Jon Hunt and comfortably cleared.
Hunt dictated the play from midfield and almost gave Urchins the lead with a first time shot from midway inside the half, which Ramos held well.
But when James Love missed a clearance this allowed Harry Ottaway to move in from the left and his low cross was well held by Joe Woolley at the foot of the post.
Hornchurch continued to press and several crosses from both wings went close, before Simon Glover and Jon Hunt combined to play the ball out to the left for Fola Orilonishe to cross dangerously into the middle, where it deflected out for a corner on the left. Hunt floated the ball over, and Ramos failed to hold the ball, which was punted away up field. Simon Glover immediately played it back towards goal for CARL ROOK to run on and neatly glide it home.
Leatherhead were confined to breakaways, and three times had chances, when Vernon Francis fired over, and Greg Andrews had a good shot saved by Woolley, whilst the ever dangerous Tommy Hutchings sent a first time shot very high and very wide.
Andrews was fortunate to escape a card when he appeared to direct some verbal abuse at the referee, Chris Pollard, who was at the Bridge for his first time. But after a lengthy lecture Andrews was let off.
Michael Spencer, playing out on the right, sent the overlapping James Love clear, and from the first time cross, Rook went close with a diving header which skimmed the post.
A Spencer cross went for a corner which Hunt took, but which was cleared, and this was followed by another Hunt corner which met the same fate.
A moment of danger at the other end when Hutchings, looking a few yards offside, was allowed to run through, and Elliot Styles came across to get in a timely tackle, conceding a corner which Andrews took and Rickie Hayles cleared.
Leon McKenzie then played a good ball through to Joe Anderson who fired inches wide of the post, and a minute later it was Anderson again, this time running on to a pass from Orilonishe, and again shooting narrowly wide, as Hornchurch piled on the pressure in the increasing rain.
Almost on half time a long clearance from defence found GREG ANDREWS who was able to run forward and prod the ball past Woolley to level the score.
At half time there were mixed messages from Billericay – the BBC gave it as 2-1 to the home side, another report gave it as 1-1, whilst a third report gave the score as 2-1 to Lowestoft.
And within two minutes of the second half, the players gave their own answer to whatever the score was – Hunt played an inch perfect pass to Rook who ran on, only for Ramos to fingertip the ball around the post. Hunt swerved the corner into a packed goalmouth where it was cleared off the line and LEON McKENZIE reacted quickly to place the loose ball firmly into the net.
Leatherhead rarely put any pressure on the home defence, though Styles had to head away a dangerous corner from Andrews, who appeared determined to get his name into the referee’s book, and he finally succeeded with the only yellow card of the game, apparently for dissent.
Rickie Hayles got in a good tackle to prevent Hutchings from shooting, conceding a corner in the process, taken by Andrews, and cleared by Styles, whilst another Andrews corner was held by Woolley under pressure from a host of Leatherhead players.
Spencer then sent a good pass towards McKenzie whose shot was wide, whilst Elliot Styles headed close from a Hunt free kick.
Andy Tomlinson came on for Orilonishe, and took up the unusual position, for Andy, on the left wing. And this almost paid dividends when Andy slotted the ball through to Hunt who sent Rook away, for Ramos to make an excellent save.
A Tomlinson cross went for a corner, which was taken by Tomlinson, and Styles almost found away through before being pulled down. Hunt’s free kick beat the wall and was saved by Ramos. Elliot then found himself out on the right wing, and touched back to Love whose cross was held by Ramos, as McKenzie homed in.
Rook hit a good shot narrowly wide, and Tambeson Eyong came on for Michael Spencer for the final minutes. Although both sides exchanged corners in stoppage time, Leatherhead did not look like pulling back the deficit, and Hornchurch finish second in the league in a season where they were badly let down by the form at home.