By Scott Hatley
Ryman Div One North
Waltham Forest 2 v 1 Aveley
THE Millers’ run of six straight wins in league and cup came to a bumpy end as they suffered a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Waltham Forest.
A late goal from Jay Leader wasn’t enough to spur Aveley towards gaining what would have been undeserved point, as the Millers struggled to adapt to the poor playing surface at the joint home of Ilford and Waltham Forest.
In the end, a brace from Corey Whitely was enough to see the Stags take away all three points in an emotional day for the club, as earlier in the week, Waltham Forest’s former chairman, Terry Back, tragically passed away after being involved in a motorbike accident.
Before the match, members of Terry’s family joined the two sets of players in the centre circle for a minute silence with each player, official and family member each holding a white balloon, which were released into the air on the referee’s second whistle.
It was a poignant start to the proceedings at Cricklefield, but the game itself from the outset had the feeling that it was not going to be one that would live long in the memory, with both sides struggling to deal with the bobbly playing surface.
The away side were dealt a blow before even arriving at the game, when regular goalkeeper Ronnie Worster was ruled out of the match through injury. It meant that Justin Gardner was forced to hand a debut to 16-year-old Harry Cannons.
The teenager looked understandably a little nervous in the opening few minutes of the game, but there was nothing the youngster could do with Waltham’s opener that came after 19 minutes.
A long throw from the left was initially cleared by Jay Leader, but his header fell straight to Corey Whitely who was unmarked on the edge of the area. The Waltham winger took the ball under control before striking it through the crowd and in, with Cannons unsighted and rooted to the spot.
Less than a minute later, Aveley were counting themselves lucky not to be picking the ball out of the net for a second time when straight from the restart and miscommunication between Leader and Cannons resulted in Leader heading the ball past his goalkeeper, who had advanced off his line to collect the ball. The mistake allowed Tunde Adewanmi in on goal, but under pressure from Leader the Waltham striker couldn’t get his effort on target as he hit the side netting.
With the away side having no joy in the final third whatsoever, the Stags would have felt slightly unfortunate to have only gone into the break with a one goal advantage.
After 28 minutes, Manu Dagher from the left hand wing got away from Leader with ease before playing in a cross in towards the centre where Adewanmi was unmarked. The Waltham striker was unable to bring the ball under control and ended up diverting the ball towards Whitely whose side foot strike went narrowly wide of Cannons’ near post.
The best chance for Waltham to extend their lead was just after the half hour mark, however, after Leader’s miss-judged pass was intercepted just inside the Aveley half. The ball was brought forward down the left before being played low across the 18 yard line. Luke Wilson was unable to get anything on the ball at full stretch, leaving Adewanmi all alone on the edge of the area. With no Aveley defender in sight, the Waltham striker decided to take his shot early, but blazed it high over the bar to the relief of the away side.
At half time, Gardner made his second change of the afternoon by taking Rashid Kamara off and replacing him with Petrit Elbi, who scored two goals after coming off the bench on Monday night against AFC Sudbury.
The change did not provide the catalyst that Gardiner was hoping for for an improved second half performance, and it was the home side who created the first clear opening of the second period just before the hour mark, when Adewanmi was played clear of the Aveley back line. However, one on one with the goalkeeper, Adewanmi’s effort from just inside the Aveley area was brilliantly saved by the outstretched foot of Cannons who diverted the ball away for a corner.
A third and final change from Gardner, bringing on Shane Oakley for Paul Burnett, finally saw the Millers carve out a decent opportunity on the Waltham Forest goal. Oakley was played in down the left hand wing and was given space to attack the Waltham goal, but the Millers top goal-scorer dragged his effort across the face of goal and wide, with Jordan Cox in the centre not being able to provide the touch to divert it into the back of the net.
It was an opportunity that the away side were going to rue missing, as just two minutes after seeing their chance of going level spurned, the home side doubled their advantage, as Whitely got his second of the match.
Ellis Sands – who had come on in the first half for the injured Alfie Kamara – was being backed towards the corner flag deep inside the Aveley half. The Aveley defender managed to get the ball away, but his clearance came straight back and eventually fell to the feet of Whitely. From 25 yards the midfielder struck a speculative effort towards goal on the half volley which caught Cannons by surprise. The young goalkeeper reacted too late to make the save as he saw the strike hit the back of the net to make it 2-0.
It was a poor goal to concede, but Waltham were value for their two goal lead, and it wasn’t until Aveley had gone two behind that they started to cause the home side some problems at the back.
Just six minutes after going two down, the away side will feel they should have cut the deficit in half, when Elbi outmuscled his marker to get through on goal. Caught in two minds over whether to shoot or cross the ball for a team mate, Elbi finally chose to cross but some desperate defending from Waltham ensured the lead stayed at two as the ball was cleared.
However, with just over 10 minutes left of normal time remaining, Aveley finally managed to put the ball in the net and reduce the arrears, when Leader scored his first goal of the season in a move that he started.
Under pressure from Junior Appiah the ball went back towards the Waltham goal where Manny Sackey tried to bring the ball forward. Sackey, though, ran into Leader who nicked the ball off the feet of the defender before playing in Elbi. The second half sub was surrounded by three Waltham defenders, but as they tried to clear the ball fell fortuitously for Leader who had remained in an attacking position, and the centre back stroked the ball calmly passed Aaron Omand and into the net to make it 2-1 after 79 minutes.
With a ten minutes plus stoppages remaining you would have expected the away side to throw the kitchen sink at their hosts in the hope of retrieving a point, but it wasn’t to be.
In fact it was the home side who created two more glorious changes to regain their two goal lead. Firstly Dagher outmuscled Danny Hopkins just off to the left hand side. The winger found himself in space to pick out a low cross towards Adrian Retkoceri, but the substitute sliced his effort agonisingly past Cannon’s left hand post.
In stoppage time, the home side came desperately close to a third when Hopkins allowed the ball to bounce, allowing Adrian Clifton to steal the ball. Clifton powered into the area and drew Cannons off his line before playing it across to another substitute, Joel Palmer, but the former Miller lashed his effort off the underside of the bar before seeing it bounce away.
The miss wasn’t to matter though as shortly after the final whistle blew with the home side taking the spoils and ending Aveley’s winning run.
After the match, manager Gardner said “I gave the boys instructions before the game that the pitch is going to be the killer. We can’t play our normal football, our passing game, we’re going to have to play long ball. I’m not a fan of long ball but the pitch wasn’t the best and we had to do that. I don’t feel the team did that until the last 20 minutes of the game and I think that’s why we got beat.”
Gardner continued by saying “it’s disappointing. To be up there fighting for the league you’ve got to come here and get something. If we would have got a point today it wouldn’t have been a bad point, but it’s just disappointing. It’s easy to blame the pitch, but they’ve got to play on it as well.”
Gardner also had a word to say about Terry Back after the game and about the former Waltham Forest chairman’s passing, saying “he was my boss, I was working for him for a year and a half with his company, All Sports, and it’s not really sunk in what’s happened. He was a bubbly character, had a bit of banter about him, I enjoyed working for him. All our thoughts are with him and his family at this moment and I wish all his family the best.”
Aveley: Harry Cannons, Marcus Rose, Alfred Kamara (Ellis Sands 36’), Jay Leader, Luke Wilson, Danny Hopkins, Rashid Kamara (Petrit Elbi 46’), Billy Holland (c), Jordan Cox, Paul Burnett (Shane Oakley 59’), Junior Appiah