By Scott Hatley
Two goals in the final 20 minutes from Luke Callandar and Michael Cheek finally broke down the resilient Aveley, who had been down to 10 men since the 27th minute after Luke Wilson had been adjudged to have been the last man when bringing down Callandar.
Despite being a man light, a goal from Jordan Cox just after the Wilson sending off gave the Millers something to hold onto, but it wasn’t enough as a 25 yard thunderbolt from Callandar and a penalty from Meek saw Heybridge take away all three points from Mill Field.
With the sides sitting in 4th and 5th in the league respectively at kick off, the match at Mill Field was always going to be a hotly contested affair, and with the visitors boasting three of the top six goal-scorers in the league so far this season, the Millers would have been expecting to spend a lot of time defending.
However, it was the home side that had the first chance of the afternoon after just eight minutes when Jordan Cox hit the woodwork.
Rashid Kamara carried the ball off to the right after picking it up just outside the area. The little midfielder clipped a cross towards the centre which found the head of Cox, whose glancing header came off the top of the cross bar.
With the referee blowing his whistle seemingly at every possible opportunity the match was very stop-start, and as a result chances were few and far between, with Cox’s effort the only real chance created in the first 20 minutes of the game.
Up front for the Swifts were the pairing of Luke Callander and Michael Cheek, who between them have scored 17 goals already this season, and it was the latter of that pairing that had by far the best chance of opening the scoring in the 26th minute.
A long throw from the right from Terence Amass had already caused problems moments earlier, and his second attempt was not dealt with by the Millers defence, with the ball bouncing to the feet of Cheek. In an onside position and with very little time to think, Cheek scuffed his effort towards goal and against the legs of Ronnie Worster from six yards out, with the goalkeeper turning the ball away for a corner.
The game though was to be sparked into life in a four minute spell either side of the half hour mark, when Aveley found themselves down to 10 men, but also with a surprise lead.
With 27 minutes on the clock, Callandar had stole a march on Luke Wilson, getting the wrong side of the Aveley defender and through on goal. What appeared to be minimal contact from Wilson outside the penalty area sent Callandar tumbling, with the referee having no hesitation in showing a straight red card to Wilson for being, in the referee’s eyes, the last man.
Down to 10 men and facing up against one of the hottest strike pairings in the league, Aveley’s defensive task looked even more intimidating, but the Millers defied the logic and went up the other end to take the lead through Cox.
Some neat footwork by the Aveley front-man saw him get away from two Heybridge defenders and facing goal. With Nick Eyre hurting off his line, Cox stabbed his shot with the outside of the right foot past Eyre and in to give the home side the lead after 31 minutes.
Being a man down, but with a lead to hold onto it was imperative that the home side got to the break still with their lead intact, and they just about managed that thanks to Marcus Rose clearing the ball off the line just moments after Aveley had taken the lead, allowing the home side to go into half time 1-0 up.
Into the second half and the Millers, despite the man disadvantage, almost saw their lead doubled inside the first minute of the second half when a Sheldon Sellears free kick wide on the left was headed down and against the feet of Eyre by Cox. The goalkeepers save only went as far as Jay Leader who played in Billy Holland inside the area, but the Aveley captain connected with nothing but thin air as the chance went begging.
From that point on it was a backs-against-the-wall exercise for the home side who continued to defend heroically and keep the away side at arms-length, but after being down to 10 men for over half an hour the Millers resistance was finally broken after a period of sustained Heybridge pressure resulted in the equaliser.
Heybridge began to turn the screw just past the hour mark and Reece Morgan’s speculative effort on the volley from 40 plus yards forced Worster into tipping the ball over with an excellent save.
Just two minutes later and Worster made an even better save when a corner from the Heybridge left was dummied at the near post, resulting in the ball deflecting towards goal off Leader. The deflection almost caught out Worster who did remarkably well to claw the ball away before seeing it cleared to safety.
For Heybridge, though, it was a case of third time lucky and Worster could do nothing about the goal that brought the sides level, as Callander picked up the ball 25 yards from goal, before flashing a blockbuster of an effort past the motionless Worster to make it 1-1 after 70 minutes.
The goal was like a dagger to the heart of the Millers who had defended manfully as a team for so long, but with 20 minutes still to play and the away side in the ascendency, Heybridge continued to test the Millers back line in search of a winner – a winner that for a brief moment looked like going the way of the home side.
A corner from the left from Sellears was over hit and came out the other side where Ellis Sands picked up the ball. The defender clipped in a cross towards the far post which was headed only as far as Sellears who lashed a shot towards goal that was turned in my Petrit Elbi on the line.
The lineman though had adjudged Elbi to have been in an offside position when the ball was played and the goal did not stand to the clear frustration of the Aveley bench, that was without manager Justin Gardner as he was serving the first game of a four game touchline ban.
The disallowed goal was be the final opportunity created by the home side, and they were left to curse their luck when two minutes after thinking they had taken a priceless lead, the away side were awarded a penalty and a chance to take the three points themselves.
Callander again picked up the ball on the edge of the area before stabbing a shot towards goal. The low strike was saved well by Worster diving to his left, but the Aveley ‘keeper couldn’t gather the ball at the first time of asking, and with Callander continuing his run into the area, Worster brought down the Heybridge striker when trying to retrieve the ball resulting in the referee pointing to the spot.
Cheek – who had missed a glorious chance in the first half – made no mistake with the spot kick, crashing the ball into the top right hand corner off the underside of the bar, giving the away side all three points that saw them leapfrog Aveley up into 3rd.
After the match a dejected Marcus Rose said “we’ve been robbed.” He continued by saying, “the boys tried hard for 90 minutes, we’d gone down to nine men with Junior Dadson getting injured, the sending off I think it was all clear to see that Luke Wilson wasn’t the last man, but things like that happen in football.”
Manager, Justin Gardner, though said that he was “proud of the boys” before saying “if we had 11 men I thought it would have been a more even game. To play with 10 men for 70 minutes at this level of football it’s going to be hard and the boys have done me proud. They’ve been honest, they’ve put in a shift, they’ve worked hard – for the work rate and the commitment I couldn’t ask anymore.”
Aveley: Ronnie Worster, Marcus Rose, Ellis Sands, Jay Leader, Luke Wilson, Danny Hopkins, Rashid Kamara (Sheldon Sellears 33′), Billy Holland (c), Jordan Cox (Petrit Elbi 71′), Shane Oakley (Junior Dadson 71′), Junior Appiah