Ryman League Premier Division,
Ashford visited their Essex rivals without the services of striker Scott Harris and central defender Billy Jeffreys through suspension with fellow central defender Guy Hollis and influential midfielder Paul Johnson missing through injury. 17 year old Danny Byron continued his education filling in for club skipper Johnson while Adam Logie and Vinnie O’Sullivan filled the central defending roles.
More than a little credit must be given to AFC Hornchurch members for clearing the water off the pitch in time to get the game on following the amount of snow and rain dumped there in the last week or so and it was clear from the start that the players would have to take care to put extra weight on their passes just to get the ball to carry once the pitch started to cut up.
Ashford had the better of the early exchanges with Ricky Wellard (pictured, left) chipping into Jason Willis’ hands after a cutting through ball from Gavin Smith then Danny Byron fed Wellard who spread the play out to Warren Harris on the left. Harris cut inside and saw his shot deflected narrowly wide for the first corner of the game.
A foul on Byron Harrison meant Elliot Styles was the first of several names entered in referee Mr Hatzidakis’ book but Willis dealt with the subsequent free kick with ease.
A break down field from the Urchins’ midfield gave Simon Parker a golden opportunity to open the scoring for the home side, but he slid the ball wide of Paul Burgess’ far post when one on one with the Ashford keeper, then skilful work on the right by Byron was rewarded by being unceremoniously dumped on the turf by Billy Coyne. From the resulting free kick, Wellard found Smith whose looping header cleared Willis to put the visitors a goal up.
Shortly after, Dean Green was cautioned for simulation, executing an extravagant dive then, the same player shot wide after combining with Parker as the home side looked for the equaliser. The lively Parker himself was foiled by excellent defending by O’Sullivan before Burgess was obliged to pull off a good save to keep out a shot from Kris Lee. Parker, again, managed to wriggle free of the Ashford defence but great covering and a timely tackle from Ricardo Joseph snuffed out the danger.
The Middlesex side increased their lead a minute before the break when Wellard’s threaded pass was helped on into the path of Harrison and he wasted no time in burying his first time shot past a statue-like Willis and into the corner of the net.
A brave decision by the Hornchurch management, one of whom had been dismissed from the dug-out earlier in the game by Mr Hatzidakis, to chance all three substitutions at half time in an attempt to claw back the deficit, looked to have paid dividends when Mark Janney seized on a rebound to score from close range, four minutes into the second half then, after Willis had saved from Wellard, a second member of the Hornchurch management was sent to sit in the stand by the referee.
As Wellard continued to orchestrate the flow of the game from the centre of midfield, ably assisted by Byron, one of seven teenagers in Mark Butler’s squad, chances were created for Smith, Harrison (pictured, right) and a rare right footed curler from Joseph all of which went wide.
John Purdie was the next Urchin to find himself incurring the wrath of the referee and in doing so gaining entry into his book before a calf injury to Adam Logie forced him off to be replaced by Jon Palmer who took his position along side Harrison in attack while Smith moved back into the centre of defence in place of Logie.
A sweeping move involving O’Sullivan, Smith, Palmer and Harris was ended when Wellard put a right footed shot just wide. Smith’s seamless induction into the back four continued as he used his considerable aerial ability to cut out crosses from Mark Goodfellow and substitute Dave Sadler as Lee and Parker threatened. Sadler, though, had his involvement in the match terminated by Mr Hatzidakis shortly after for a dangerously high and late challenge on Scott Weight. Then Ashford suffered their first caution of the game when Purdie childishly kicked the ball at the retreating Harrison, who was just 5 yards away.
Harrison soon got over the trauma of being cautioned by running on to a good ball from midfield and touching the ball past Willis only to hit the bar with the goal beckoning. The rangy striker was not to be denied though, and in the 81st minute he latched on to another exquisite defence-splitting pass from Wellard to slot a crisp shot past Willis from the edge of the Hornchurch penalty box.
It was a happy coach that made its way back to Short Lane with the three well deserved and much needed points earned against tricky opponents who fought all the way but the Essex side had no one to match the midfield artistry of Wellard or the uncanny defensive instincts of O’Sullivan as well as the opportunist poaching of Harrison.