Saturday, June 22, 2024

Football: Aveley make history as they clinch promotion for second straight year

Hornchurch 0 v 1 Aveley

Report from The Isthmian league

A GOAL from Ryan Scott clinched an Isthmian League Premier Division win for Aveley at Hornchurch this afternoon (Monday, 1 May).

His goal came in the 31st minute in front of a crowd of 2,040.

Hornchurch’s cause was not helped in the third minute of the second half when Lewwis Spence was sent off.

The match could be billed as a clash of the great entertainers versus a defensive colossus – although that would be a little unfair to the Millers attacking talent.

The Urchins scored 98 goals during the regular league season, and took that tally to 101 on Tuesday night – whilst the Millers have kept 13 clean sheets this season, and only champions Bishop’s Stortford conceded fewer goals.

The team from Parkside had delivered a remarkable season. It seemed as if they’d been a Premier Division force forever; but of course this time last year they were still celebrating North Division promotion. They certainly weren’t predicted to return to Step Four, but there were few who would have stuck their necks out and predicted a title challenge – yet for most of the campaign, that’s what Millers did and, of course, they also lifted the Velocity Isthmian League Cup.

Hornchurch, in contrast, had simply been the force they were expected to be. Quickly picking themselves up from the disappointment of losing in the play-off final last season, they had driven almost all before them since August, only for a difficult period between mid March and the start of April to ultimately cost them.

A mistakenly disallowed goal at Horsham on 1 April has been spoken about as a turning point, but the truth was they’d taken only two points from three matches prior to that – and they were ahead against the Hornets when that poor decision occurred, yet went on to concede two goals in the last seven minutes to lose the game.

Since then, however, they had once again been their imperious selves, but Bishops Stortford’s ability to continually grind out results had kept them ahead, and they took the title by four points.

The Millers got us underway, kicking towards the pole vault end. The Urchins faced the hammer cage. Within two minutes we had our first booking, Sam Higgins seeing yellow for hitting a prone Joe Christou with the ball. Higgins is a good shot, as his thirty five goals so far this season testify, but this appeared to be an accident!

Within two minutes Jason Ring joined him in the book after a foul, and it looked like we were in for an interesting afternoon. The meeting here in January had been a stormy affair, and there appeared to be little love lost between the sides. From the free kick, Higgins tested Jonathan North in the Millers goal despite being a full thirty yards out. A moment later a similar free kick at the other end saw Oli Coker find only the wall.

In the tenth minute the Millers had a golden opportunity. Kenny Aileru found George Sykes in the box, and the Millers number nine did everything right initially, before firing straight at Joe Wright. A foot (30.48 centimetres if you only understand metric measurements) either side of the Urchins keeper and the visitors would have been ahead.

Aveley had another chance eight minutes later, and it took a desperate block from Micky Parcell to deny Coker after a neat passing move.

The visitors were having the best of the game at this point, although the ball had spent an inordinate amount of time amongst the clouds, It was full blooded, not short of excitement, but certainly not a game for the purist.

Another Millers chance saw Scott denied at the back post by a strong defensive header, and from the corner the same player saw a shot blocked as the visitors piled on the pressure. Another chance arrived after a fluffed clearance from Wright, but the keeper was able to atone by clearing for a throw.

Finally, on 27 minutes, a spell of home pressure earned them a corner and gave their fans something to sing about. The ball ran loose in the box for a moment and both sets of supporters held their breath, but the first touch was from a defender and it was cleared. The ball was soon at the other end once more, another Millers corner, and this time, when it was sent back in by Coker, the visitors got the lead they deserved. Scott apparently got the final touch (although there was also reason to believe it came off a defender), and took the plaudits.

The hosts then showed some attacking intent. Good work from Ade Yusuff and Lewwis Spence saw a ball delivered into the box, the visitors defence standing strong, and a spell of Hornchurch possession followed, but it turned over regularly as a final pass always seemed to be short or simply misdirected. When they got a free kick and the chance to deliver a dangerous ball, it was far too close to North, who jumped and held under no pressure. He had more work to do a moment later, however, an effort from Parcell forcing a save.

Three minutes were added, and the hosts finally came to life, a header cleared off the line by Jason Ring. The whistle went on the Urchins’ best spell of the game, but with the visitors ahead.

The hosts started the second half energetically, and had a shout for hand ball after two minutes – but then Spence lunged in on Connor Witherspoon, and the referee had no hesitation. The card was red, and there were few dissenting voices.

The hosts made a change. Jamie Mascoll went off, and Ellis Brown entered the fray. The game entered a period of the doldrums, only enliven by a yellow card for Tom Wraight, Garrett Kelly receiving a blow to the face – which Wraight came back to remonstrate that he was taking too long to recover from.

The Millers should have had a second just before the hour. The ball broke to Coker on the edge of the box, and the whole ground went quiet, waiting for the net to bulge. It went wide of the upright. Then, at the other end, Yusuff surged into the box and looked to be fouled, Penalty? No, the referee thought otherwise, enraging the home fans. It began to drizzle, and the fourth official shouted for the floodlights to be turned on. Perhaps he’d seen the weather forecast, but a fan behind him asked whether he’d be paying the electricity bill.

We had 21 minutes to go when the next opportunity presented itself to Hornchurch, and Parcell’s shot brought a decent save from North. The ten men continued to apply pressure, shots from Joe Christou and Higgins blocked, but the Aveley defence stood firm. Sykes went down with cramp, home supporters yelling about time wasting.

A foul on Yusuff led to a free kick to the right of the box. It was headed away, but a resulting shot from Brown was deflected for a corner. This time, the clearance was strong, and the ball ended up at the other end, with Wright. We moved into the last 15 minutes, Chris Dickson and Charlie Stimson entering the fray for the hosts.

With six minutes remaining the visitors played keep ball near the corner flag, until it broke to Sykes, whose shot actually hit the far corner flag. Jamie Dicks went into the book for a late tackle, and the hosts had almost all the possession, but struggled to get past the edge of the Aveley box.

The fourth official fiddled with the numbers on his board until the number seven was displayed, and there was still time for the hosts. Sykes went down again, this time hit by the ball as Wright tried to release it. That would probably stretch seven into eight.

Hornchurch needed urgency, but there seemed little of it. The ball was in their half, and Aveley were happy to keep it there without threatening. And then, with two minutes to go, a chance for the hosts, and Stimson came close to forcing an equaliser, the ball cleared off the line. The referee signalled two more minutes to the fourth official, and we’d already played six. A foul on the edge of the Millers box, given the way of the visitors, ate up more of what remained. 

The away fans began to celebrate, and there were only seconds. And then it was over, and the Millers had done it.

Two promotions in a row for Aveley, who had reached unheard of heights. The Urchins were left with their thoughts of what might have been, for a second year in succession.


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