Party- pooped!

By Ian Townsend

The Hornchurch celebration falls as flat as their performance as Wingate take the points

Three points from the title.

From before a ball had been kicked this season, Hornchurch had been our title favourites. More than that, apart from- perhaps- amongst their local rivals, there was an acceptance that the Urchins deserved their promotion this season. Football fans at our level tend to be fair minded despite their grudges, and after the pain of two Play Off Final defeats in a row, particularly two finals which had been played on their own patch and with the Urchins as clear favourites, all but the extremely partizan felt some sympathy. After all, we all know the pain and joy that football can bring, and the fans at Bridge Avenue have had more than their share of the former over the last two years. After the defeat against Aveley last season the glories of the FA Trophy Final in 2021 seemed light years away.

This seasons batch of Urchins, however, haven’t needed our sympathy. From the moment the season started, with new boss Steve Morison in the dugout, they have marched inexorably towards the title. Even a change of manager mid season hadn’t derailed them, Daryl McMahon simply continuing what Morison had started. A draw for second place Chatham Town yesterday left Hornchurch with a thirteen point lead at the top despite seven more fixtures to play. Those marching towards The Hornchurch Stadium this afternoon were buoyed by the fact that three more points would be enough. Victory over Wingate and Finchley would mean that the Urchins would be March champions- title winners before Easter, title winners six games before the end of the season. That would be some achievement- and if it didn’t happen today, the title would surely be wrapped up on Monday, or next week. Only a catastrophe of biblical proportions- a plague of previously undiscovered Chatham locusts- was likely to stop them, surely?

Welcome to Hornchurch

Welcome to Hornchurch

Having said all of that, the visiting Blues weren’t likely to roll over; indeed, the hosts could hardly have faced more difficult opponents. Wingate and Finchley have been a surprise package this season, but the longer the season has gone on, the less surprised we have been. The football has been regularly sublime, the victories deserved, and they started the day in fifth place and looking for a victory of their own to ensure they stayed there, Dulwich Hamlet looking to pounce on any slip ups. There was an argument that boss Ahmet Rifat should be a primary contender for Manager of the Season, given what he has created with limited resources. One defeat in nine- including a four-two win over the second place Chats- told its own story; although the Urchins did win four-one in North London in early September.

The sun was shining brightly as the two teams crossed the athletic track and emerged onto the pitch just before three o’clock. Finally, a football match without rain- about as rare as hens teeth during this Isthmian season. The Urchins were in their blue and white quartered centenary shirts, the visitors in a shade of luminous yellow which made them look like they were highway maintenance workers on a day off. The visitors kicked off. The ball was immediately hoofed forward, Anointed Chukwu headed it down, and Elliott Long put it in the net. The stopwatch said nine seconds. The crowd were silent, in disbelief, apart from the Wingate contingent, who couldn’t believe it either.

Hornchurch 0 Wingate and Finchley 1, Elliot Long, 9 seconds!

The home fans quickly found their voices. After all, there were eighty nine minutes and fifty one seconds to go, they didn’t need to panic! It was the visitors, however, who remained in the ascendency in the opening stages, Chukwu and Ruben Carvalho particularly lively. The first Urchins chance arrived in the tenth minute, but Liam Nash’s effort from the edge of the box cleared the bar and the running track.

“I just can’t get enough,” sang the home fans, as the visitors attacked once more- but we suspect they’d had more than enough of the ball being at the wrong end. It could easily have been two- nil on fourteen minutes, Chukwu doing everything right apart from his finish, which was the wrong side of Joe Wright’s left hand post. The hi-vis number nine held his head, but at this rate he’d get more chances.

Here come the teams

Here come the teams

On seventeen minutes we had a five minute stoppage after a young fan was taken ill- get well soon, and thanks to both physios for their fine work- but it didn’t seem to interrupt the visitors rhythm and they remained on top. Hornchurch probed, but there was a lack of fluency about their attacking play, and the ball, when it reached the forward areas, wouldn’t stick. The passing was neat in midfield, but they weren’t likely to score from there.

As we reached the half hour mark the ground was rather quiet, and that reflected the football we were watching. There was lots of industry, but little excitement- and most of the attacking endeavour came from the visitors, who were both direct and dangerous. When the hosts earned a free kick in a dangerous position on thirty six minutes, the dreadful ball into the box rather summed up their match so far.

On forty one minutes the hosts had their best chance of the half. A free kick awarded- perhaps fortunately- for a foul on Michael O’Donoghue was sent into the box, and up went Ryan Scott. Scott has been deadly from that sort of situation this season, but not this time, his header clearing the bar.

Christian Frimpong became the first player into the book as seven added minutes were announced, and those seven minutes brought little of note- although, in truth, you could have said very much the same about the previous fifty one.

An Urchins hokey-cokey

An Urchins hokey-cokey

Half time: Hornchurch 0 Wingate and Finchley 1

As per the first half, it was the visitors who started best. The difference was that it took Long two minutes to get a shot on target, an effort which saw Wright save but fail to hold- however the follow up was offside. Within five minutes, however, Long had done better, finding the corner beautifully from the edge of the box- and it was two-nil, a scoreline which was entirely deserved.

Hornchurch 0 Wingate and Finchley 2, Elliot Long, 53 minutes

The ground was deathly quiet. The party atmosphere which had been evident prior to kick off had departed, the home team giving their fans nothing to sing about. Even their red balloons had gone flat.

The preliminaries

The preliminaries

Finally, on the hour, an Urchins chance, a header wide. Perhaps it looked closer than it was, Wingate keeper Ben Goode didn’t move and didn’t look concerned, but it was a start, perhaps? Sadly for the hosts the pattern of the game didn’t change, and Liam Nash shouted loudly at his teammates to “liven up.” He wasn’t wrong. It could have been three as Long beat his man and fired in a cross that, somehow, nobody got on the end of- and a moment later Chukwu fired over when he should have done better.

With seventeen minutes to go the hosts had their best chance of the match so far. Thomas Avgoustidis received the ball to the right of the box, twelve yards out, and the home fans held their breath, but the shot was both high and wide. It was the Urchins best move of the match so far, but it had ended with no reward.

Into the last ten minutes we went, Long forcing another save from Wright. And then, finally, a reply. A long throw in, Ollie Muldoon unmarked, and Hornchurch were back in the game. The header left Goode no chance. Could the Urchins get something from the game after all?

Hornchurch 1 Wingate and Finchley 2- Ollie Muldoon, 84 minutes

A Hornchurch huddle

A Hornchurch huddle

The visitors didn’t sit back, and came close to increasing their advantage, Long and Zack Newton somehow kept out- and then, as we entered added time, the hosts were reduced to ten men. Muldoon’s challenge on Rahmar Garrett-Douglas was poorly timed and over the ball, and the card, unsurprisingly, was red. The ten men pressed, the visitors pulled everybody back, but again it was Wingate who had the next chance, Chukwu unable to direct the ball on target.

That turned out to be that, the whistle blowing as a young home fan let the air out of his inflatable trophy. The Urchins were similarly deflated, but they’ll have another chance on Monday- and then, if required, quite a few more.

Wingate climb to fourth- and the gap between them and the chasing pack is now five points. They deserved the victory, and will be a handful if, as expected, they make the play offs.

Full time: Hornchurch 1 Wingate and Finchley 2

Kick off

Kick off


Where next?

Long makes sure the Urchins remain a short distance from the title Wingate ruin the Hornchurch party, Towners win in Bognor, Billericay win late at Hamlet, Tags hit five, and Canvey return to winning ways
Late Cray leveller leaves the Urchins one win from the title Chatham draw leaves Hornchurch poised to take the title- Hastings hit Haringey for five, Invicta undermine the Rooks play off hopes, whilst the Robins leave it late- but win

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