BATTLING BLUES EARN POINT AT HORNCHURCH
A much improved performance see the Blues earn a point at high flying AFC Hornchurch
AFC HORNCHURCH 2-2 GRAYS ATHLETIC - MATCH REPORT BY CHARLIE SKINNER
Following a 1-0 home defeat to Brentwood Town on Saturday, the blues travelled to league leaders AFC Hornchurch whose perfect seven game winning streak was tarnished by the resilient Blues. Grays boss Jamie Stuart made just two changes to his starting eleven by bringing in Ade Cole and Joao Carlos for Jamie Slabber and the unavailable Callum Ibe to face a strong Hornchurch side.
After an opening spell of fairly even play and multiple long balls, Grays started to gain an upper hand on their opponents. The Blues enjoyed a period of possession which resulted in crosses flooding into the Hornchurch box but nothing was to come of this with limited headers being won. The style of football that the Blues were playing was much more aesthetically appealing to the eye with quick passing and one-two’s with Cole, Kai Brown, Kieran Bishop and Suley Zuhdu all linking up well.
Despite Grays’ sustained pressure, Hornchurch had an excellent chance of taking the lead after 26 minutes where in-form striker, Bradley Warner, found himself through one-on-one with Lamar Johnson in goal for the Blues, but a heavy touch allowed the ball to escape his control and Johnson was quick to react and collect the ball. Following this, action up the opposite end continued with a lovely floated ball from Sam Cross punched away from Brown’s head and Brown himself also had a series of threatening crosses cleared by defenders with nothing sticking at striker Bishop’s feet.
An excellent Athletic chance was to follow as the dominant Ade Cole crossed invitingly for Bishop who could only steer his glancing header marginally wide of the post from ten yards out. Just minutes after, Grays took the lead which they thoroughly deserved. After a neat offload from Bishop, Ade Cole was fouled around 22 yards out. The ever-present Blues left back, Sam Cross, who has enjoyed a spell of solid performances recently, curled a beautifully struck free kick over the wall and into the despairing Sam Mott’s top left postage stamp.
Grays looked to build on their lead as Cole had a left-footed shot blocked from the edge of the box with Kai Brown, who is increasingly becoming an important figure in Stuart’s squad despite only being 16 years old, firing a well-struck shot over the bar from the corner of the box. The first half ended without a fight from a disappointing Hornchurch as a neat succession of passes subsequently resulted in Carlos’ right-footed shot from the edge of the box being well saved by the keeper down to his bottom right.
The Urchins had clearly received a strong message from manager, Jimmy McFarlane, at the break as they came out for the second 45 minutes a much better side. Consequently, a neat through ball from left back Jay Porter found Jed Chouman in the Blues box but Johnson was quick off his line to make an excellent save from the shot just 8 yards from his goal line. Despite Athletic’s resistance, Hornchurch did equalise just before the hour mark after an in-swinging cross from Porter was met by the head of former Blues striker, Leon McKenzie. His unchallenged header from 10 yards hit the inside of the post and found its way into Johnson’s goal.
Another good Urchins chance was to follow almost immediately after. Bradley Warner slid the ball through to Jed Chouman in the Grays box. Chouman squared the ball to teammate Ross Wall, but Lamar Johnson in goal for the Blues made an excellent save from Wall’s shot on the 6 yard box. After this chance, Grays got themselves back into the game following a period without the ball. Ade Cole, who had been pulling the strings in the Blues midfield all evening, made an excellent solo run, dribbling through many helpless Hornchurch defenders but his curled shot from the edge of the box was saved comfortably by the keeper.
With just a quarter of an hour to be played, Hornchurch took the lead for the first time. A long free kick from goalkeeper Sam Mott was headed on in the midfield, splitting the two Grays centre halves and falling to striker Theo Fairweather-Johnson. The substitute found himself through one-on-one and slotted a neat finish past Johnson and into the bottom right corner.
At this stage of proceedings, it looked like Grays had put up a good fight and that Hornchurch’s quality was just going to get the better of them. But this was wrong. With 10 minutes left on the clock, a foul was committed on Cole around 25 yards out on the left of the pitch. Substitute, 16 year old Callum Thompson who had come on for Carlos just minutes beforehand, delivered a glorious ball towards the back post where Jack Fowler, who’d had a superb performance winning everything aerially all evening, rose above his marker and fired a towering header across the keeper and into the bottom right corner; this sent the nearby Grays fans into complete delirium.
Consequently, a gripping final 10 minutes were to follow. Almost immediately from kick off, Hornchurch’s Ross Wall evaded the Blues defence and found himself one-on-one but his shot from 18 yards was saved comfortably by Johnson. Shortly after, Grays had possibly the best chance to pull off what would’ve been the biggest shock of the season so far. An electric break at pace from a corner found Brown and Bishop running at just two Urchins defenders. After a classy one-two between the two forwards, Brown found himself in space just 12 yards out but unfortunately for the youngster, he got underneath the ball too much and fired a great opportunity over the bar.
A final chance for Hornchurch saw substitute Matthias Fanimo, cutting in from his left wing position and firing a fierce right-footed shot. The former West Ham youngster must have thought he’d won it momentarily but Lamar Johnson saved stunningly, denying Hornchurch the three points.
Ultimately, the referee’s whistle signalled the end to a thrilling game in which the all-round high quality team performance of Grays Ath earned a thoroughly deserved point from the 2-2 draw. Hopefully, this will inspire a much needed good run of form for the Blues who host fellow Bostik North opponents, Norwich United, in the FA Trophy preliminary round on Saturday. This fixture falls on Non-League Day 2017 and without any Premier League action that day due to the international break make sure you bring a mate and improve the gate to inspire the Blues to a victory.