All photos: Nicky Hayes
Billericay Town maintained their run of victories under Harry Wheeler with a dramatic 3-2 away win at Oxford City. After a poor start saw the visitors fall two goals behind at half-time, an improved performance after the break saw the Blues hit back with a 12 minute, three goal salvo. Strikes from Moses Emmanuel, Jamar Loza, and Joe Kizzi restored the advantage lost to a brace from home marksman, Kabongo Tshimanga. Under severe pressure for the last twenty minutes, following the expulsion of Kizzi, the Essex side rode their luck to complete the win as the Hoops struck the frame of the goal three times in the final minute of normal time.
On a beautiful, sunny day, the crowd were treated to the perfect weather for watching football on Oxford’s 3G artificial pitch. Installed in just 11 weeks during the summer of 2017, the playing surface is also used by a multitude of local teams in the community. Representing some of the latest technology available, the 3G setting provided a good alternative to the traditional grass pitch and complemented the tidy, compact, well-presented, Court Farm Place ground. As regular visitors to Aveley last season, 3G pitches present no inhibitions for Billericay and players were able to adapt well to the demands of the true, but slightly slower, surface.
Billericay’s team remained unchanged from the side that had triumphed versus Eastbourne the previous weekend at the AGP. With a 100% League record since his return, Wheeler kept his preferred line-up of 4-2-3-1. Oxford City switched back to their usual 4-2-3-1 formation after flirtation with a 4-4-2 in the last match at Truro. Two changes were made to personnel, including the return of regular goalkeeper, Craig King, for the academy product, Steven Caro. The 16 year old had made his full debut due to a suspension being served by King. Into midfield came, Jack Self, who replaced injured defensive midfielder, Reece Fleet. Missing once again from the home side was the influential attacking midfielder, Zac MacEachran, troubled by a knee problem, and left back Ben Jefford, out for the season with an ankle injury.
The Blues started strongly immediately pinning the home side back in their own half of the field. With pressure yielding an early corner, Sam Deering’s delivery from the right hand side was missed by goalkeeper, King, and fell to Danny Waldren. His 3rd minute effort was accurate but lacked power and was hacked off the line by Self. With hesitation evident in the home defence to the first set piece, encouragement was provided that this could be an area of promise for the visitors. City replied with their first shot on goal on 9 minutes as Josh Ashby burst forward to curl a shot from 20 yards that was comfortably pouched by Billericay goalkeeper, Alan Julian.
Danny Waldren shoots from range
Clear-cut chances were at a premium as both sides began cautiously. Billericay pressed on the left hand side with Michee Efete driving forward and linking effectively with Loza. One such combination saw Deering deliver the ball to Waldren who on 21 minutes fired a warning shot over the bar from 25 yards. With neither side excelling, Billericay at least signalled further signs of intent with a wayward shot from Efete on 22 minutes after he was found in the Oxford City penalty box by a superb Waldren right to left cross field pass from just inside his own half.
Moments later, Loza once more was involved in play as he set up Emmanuel with a pass but his shot was blocked by an alert home defence. In response, Self fired over for City on 34 minutes from range after finding his way to goal blocked by the Blues defensive midfield axis of Waldren and Howells. Oxford City were dangerous on the right hand side with Bobson Bawling moving forward and linking with striker, Brandon Thomas-Asante, recently arrived on loan from MK Dons. Another ex-MK Don, the hard-working, Tshimanga, also showed willingness to move wide from central areas to support. Tshimanga would soon make a telling contribution to the match.
Conversely, as the visitors’ confidence began to grow, Oxford City would benefit from an inexplicable mix-up in the Billericay defence to take the lead. It all started with Blues defender, Charlie Wassmer, heading back towards goal. With his centre-back partner, Lloyd Doyley, keen to shepherd the ball back to his goalkeeper, Tshimanga saw his opportunity as the pace on the back-pass was insufficient. With Doyley dawdling, and neglecting to take the safe option of clearing the danger, Oxford City’s top scorer nipped in to collect the ball and round Julian. After almost over-running the chance, Tshimanga regained composure to open the scoring for City via the far post.
Stung by conceding an avoidable opener, Billericay moved onto the attack but came up against a home side tightly marshalled by skipper, Joe Oastler, at the back that kept space to a minimum. The Blues had to content themselves with a Coombes free-kick that could only hit the defensive wall and another Waldren shot from range that flew narrowly wide on 42 minutes.
Oxford City made the most of their newly found confidence with Thomas-Asante and Tshimanga upping the attacking threat with clever inter-play. On 43 minutes, the two combined on the edge of the penalty area to allow the former to unleash a curling effort that brought a scrambling, diving save from Julian. Not heeding the warning provided, two minutes later, it got worse for Billericay as Tshimanga scored his and City’s second goal. The frontman broke free on the right hand side, evaded a challenge from Efete, and, rounding the Blues goalkeeper, slotted home from an acute angle to register his 27th strike for the Hoops in all competitions this season.
With the Blues staring defeat in the face at the break, the half-time team talk focused on putting things right rather than dwelling on the misfortunes of the first half. With manager, Wheeler, emphasizing that the team had the ability to score the three goals required to obtain victory, only one change was made. On came striker, Ross Lafayette, to provide greater presence up front in place of Deering. Recovering from a troublesome hernia complaint, the creative midfielder was less present than usual and may have found the pitch tough going. With the need for more commitment to attack to break down a well-organised home side, Efete was also moved further forward to play as a quasi left-winger and, in tandem, Loza, was switched to the right side and encouraged to cut inside and shoot.
Lafayette, who was to produce one of his best games for the Essex side, sparkled from the start, winning a number of headers in front of the home defence. Waldren continued where he had left off in the first period, shooting once again from range in the 53rd minute and forcing a diving save from Oxford City’s, King. With Loza enjoying additional space on the right, the Jamaican winger provided an assist for the first Billericay goal on 57 minutes. Sending over a delicate, floated cross, the ball was watched carefully by the waiting Emmanuel in the centre who sent a perfectly placed volley into the bottom left hand corner for his 18th goal of the campaign.
It did not take Billericay long to restore parity with the equaliser arriving on the hour mark on the hour. Latching onto a neat through ball from Coombes, Loza beat his marker, Joel Dielna, as he collected the pass and drove forward towards goal. With King advancing out of his goal well beyond the penalty area in an unsuccessful attempt to intercept the fleet footed winger, Loza shot early from 30 yards into an unguarded net to register his second strike in consecutive games.
Jamar Loza fires home the equaliser
The wind was now firmly in the sails of the Essex side that includes the ship “The Mayflower” in its club crest. Used by settlers to travel to New England back in 1620, which included a number from the town for the curious of the connection, the vital third goal for Billericay soon arrived from a re-taken 68th minute corner. After a short discussion between the referee and King, for which the goalkeeper was booked, Howells delivered another precise centre. For the Blues, Kizzi was on hand with a near post run to get in front of his marker to glance home.
Joe Kizzi heads home the winner
Charlie Wassmer leads celebrations for the third goal
With the comeback seemingly completed, wild celebrations ensued for which the goal scorer received what would prove to be a costly caution. Within three minutes, Kizzi illegally stopped a run on goal from Bawling and was rightly awarded a second yellow, which saw the right back depart leaving Billericay down to ten men for the final twenty minutes.
The balance of the match swiftly altered as Oxford sought to salvage at least a point from a game that had almost been won at half-time. Driving forward as the home side sought to force home their numerical advantage, on 72 minutes, Thomas-Asante went close with a curling free-kick. At first sight, it looked like a quick equaliser but actually only rippled the side netting. With Billericay re-trenched in defensive pose, and resorting to leaving Coombes alone up front to chase clearances, the Hoops were very much in the ascendancy.
On 79 minutes, Bawling broke free to feed a ball to Self in the penalty area. With the goal at his mercy, Emmanuel arrived from nowhere with a last ditch, sliding tackle to clear danger and deny the Oxford midfielder the chance to level. Tshimanga became increasingly active on the right and caused no end of problems for Billericay centre-back Paul Rooney. Arrived as a substitute for Loza on 74 minutes, to strengthen the back-line after Kizzi’s dismissal, Rooney’s entry allowed Doyley to switch to right back.
The Blues only real chance in the last 15 minutes came via good work from Lafayette. Receiving the ball wide on the left, the frontman showed good skill to ward off the attention of two defenders to preserve possession and serve Efete who had temporarily ventured forward from a more withdrawn role since the third Blues strike. Serving Coombes 15 yards out, the Billericay striker could not maintain his fine goal scoring run firing over the bar when well placed.
The final ten minutes belonged to Oxford City as Thomas-Asante hit an 84th minute, vicious, 20 yard effort that swerved and brought a good save from Julian. Another strike from the same player moment later was deflected narrowly wide as the Billericay defence tired and the Hoops tried their luck from range. Sometimes it is just not your day and there was no better illustration for Oxford than a mad moment in the final minute. It started with an Ashby strike feathered onto the cross bar by Julian. Rebounding back into play, Tshimanga lashed two shots in succession against the same left hand post as lady luck smiled for Billericay. By the third minute of extra time, the distributor of good fortune was positively grinning widely for the Essex side as a Thomas-Asante goal was disallowed for offside after a clever chipped pass from Tshimanga.
Skipper, Jake Howells, and Jamie O’Hara celebrate victory
With the final whistle sounding the end of a thoroughly thrilling match, Billericay had somehow managed to cling on to victory. Moving to equal fourth in the table, and now level on points with local rivals Chelmsford City, the season under Wheeler has now been fully ignited after threatening to peter out over Christmas. Town face a tough match on Monday night in the re-scheduled fixture with Wealdstone, who warmed up at the weekend with a 3-0 away win at Eastbourne. For Oxford City, the bad run continues and the team remain in 14th but can take encouragement from a good performance and should be safe situated 12 points clear of the relegation places.
Harry Wheeler celebrates his perfect League start
Oxford City FC
1.Craig King 2. Eddie Jones 3. Joel Dielna 4. Josh Ashby 5. TArik Moore-Azille 6. Joe Oastler 7. Kyran Wiltshire 8. Jack Self (14. Craig Fasanmade, ’88) 9. Kabongo Tshimanga 10. Brandon Thomas-Asante 11. Bobson Bawling
Subs Not Used 13. Steven Caro, GK 16. Ryan Case 17. John O’Donoghue 18. Ben Barrett
Goals: ’36 and ‘45 Tshimanga
Red Card: Craig King (awarded after match finished).
1. Alan Julian 2. Joe Kizzi 3. Michee Efete 4. Charlie Wassmer 5. Lloyd Doyley 6. Sam Deering (9. Ross Lafyette, ’45) 7. Moses Emmanuel (14. Alfie Potter, ’81) 8. Danny Waldren 10. Adam Coombes 14. Jake Howells 19. Jamar Loza (15. Paul Rooney, ’74)
Subs Not Used: 13. Mark Smith, GK 16. Jamie O’Hara
Goals: ’57 Emmanuel, ’60 Loza, ’69 Kizzi
Red Card: ’72 Kizzi