Billericay Town cruised to a 7-2 friendly win against Isthmian North side, Grays Athletic FC, at Aveley last night. An impressive performance saw striker Jake Robinson hit the goal trail with a predatory hat-trick, while strike partner, Adam Cunnington, and attacking midfielder, Alfie Potter, both bagged braces. The home side, which showed character and commitment to their style of play, replied through left-winger Joao Carlos and substitute striker, Emmanuel Ogunrinde.
Aveley holds a place in the affection of Billericay fans as a “second home” after inclement weather secured a series of trips to the ground as an alternative home venue during the 2017/18 treble season. Happy memories abide with the team undefeated on the artificial pitch, including memorable victory in the 2018 Velocity Trophy final versus Metropolitan Police. Exactly a year and a day since the last visit for a preparation friendly against Aveley, the Blues returned to the fantastic state-of-the-art £4.8m stadium to play their third fixture of pre-season. Parkside has served as home for the Gravelmen since it was constructed in 2017.
With an excellent second “Talk of the Town” podcast this week by the @btfcliveradio team on the club app featuring an exclusive interview with owner, Glenn Tamplin, disclosing a firm commitment to seeking promotion and signings to back this, lofty ambitions are back on the agenda again at Town. The confirmed additions of ex-Port Vale central midfielder Doug Loft , 32, from Dagenham increases midfield options. It is, however, the recruitment of ex-Forest Green Rovers centre-back and skipper, Gavin Gunning, 28, and former Barnet and Dagenham central defender/midfielder, Craig Robson, 27, that capture the imagination and provide required depth of cover for the back-line.
Back after time away, new father, Harry Wheeler made a welcome return to the dug-out, selecting a strong starting line-up. With Wheeler revealing that he favours using two tactical systems this season, he began by aligning 3-5-2 against Grays – a set-up he has regularly gone to in the past. Featuring new recruit Gunning in the centre, the back three had a solid aura supplemented by the warrior Charlie Wassmer and experience and know-how of ex-Stevenage right back and skipper, Ronnie Henry, who once again bore the arm-band. Dagenham arrival, right-back, Ben Nunn, and left-sided, Callum Kennedy, played wing-backs.
Billericay’s midfield looked well balanced with the right amount of silk and steel with the inventive Jack Paxman providing plenty of the former and Danny Waldren the latter. Alfie Potter, a revelation in this pre-season and almost unrecognisable from the more peripheral figure of the last campaign, was a ready provider of both and is playing like a new signing with League pedigree. The front two comprised the well-known combination of Robinson and Cunnington. These are two players that combine magnificently and bring different but equally useful attributes in the final third. Both enjoyed productive evenings.
With Jim Cooper, installed as the manager of Grays in February 2019, the former boss of Metropolitan Police, had 10 games last season to assess his playing squad. Despite a credible 7thplace finish, ambitions are higher and a real desire for a promotion year has driven a renewal of the playing staff particularly in defensive areas where reinforcements have been sought to lower the goals against count. With a testing pre-season program of nine matches, of which 7 against higher level opposition, the intention is to fully test the team versus the best they can find. With narrow 1-2 defeats so far at home to Hornchurch and National South side, Dartford, the new look Grays side has performed credibly in early tests
A newly strengthened Billericay were to prove a tough obstacle to negotiate, as Robinson opened the scoring on 5 minutes to give the visiting Blues the lead. With Grays seeking to adopt a more attractive, passing style of football, efforts to bring the ball out of defence back-fired as Paxman gained possession. Advancing on the left of midfield, Blues most creative midfielder soon weaved a magical web of intrigue into the opposition box. Reaching the bye-line, he had time and space to pick out Robinson with a square pass that was so precise the application of a simple, side-footed finish was enough to secure the break-through.
With the visiting side living up to their billing and enjoying periods of dominance, the only surprise was that it took until the 17thminute for the second Billericay goal to arrive. So impressive with his energetic runs forward from midfield, ability to beat his man, and willingness to tackle back, Potter added the one ingredient that had been hitherto missing from his game – goals. A second assist from Paxman was the source as the ball was again picked up on the right side of midfield after Grays had been loose in possession. Shifting the ball left to Potter, the ex-Mansfield man evaded a challenge and from just outside the penalty area expertly curled the ball around the covering defender and past goalkeeper, Connor Pearce, into the bottom far corner of the net.
As the match progressed, Gunning caught the eye in the Blues defence both in terms of the level of security provided by his commanding presence and his willingness to make long forays forward carrying the ball to start attacks. With Henry equally proficient and able to thread clever passes into a willing midfield, Blues were starting to show the potential within the team to keep possession. With Nunn and Kennedy revelling in advanced wing-back roles, it would be the latter from the left-side who would provide the pinpoint cross for Cunnington to power home a short-range header to put the Blues three up on 20 minutes.
Grays refused to be cowed by the dominant Blues and their faith in the passing game reaped dividends as a 14 pass move shifting the ball across defence and forward saw them pull a goal back through Carlos on 30 minutes with a fantastic left footed strike from just outside the area that flew unerringly past Alan Julian and nestled into the bottom corner. A veteran of 373 competitive appearances for Grays since June 2011, with a near one in four goal record, the Portuguese national had already got on the end of an even better 25 pass move to register in the previous match versus Dartford. After all the years there, he still looks a key player for the step four outfit.
Billericay responded through the resurgent Potter, with a remarkable 38thminute strike. Receiving the ball on the right from Nunn, the blonde haired dynamo sprang forward, evading two initial despairing challenges to enter the penalty area. Having dribbled around another pair of Grays defenders, and faced with the goalkeeper, a shimmy sent him to the floor while Potter was left to walk the ball into the net. To say it’s the sort of thing Messi does is not hyperbole, it was a truly a sight to behold and one of the best goals ever seen by this writer. Unfortunately, the match was not filmed.
Alfie Potter bursts through to score his outstanding individual goal. Courtesy: @nickyhayesphoto
Half-time changes were minimal – that would all occur later – with only Tambeson Eyong entering the back three for Billericay in place of Gunner and Grays switching to their first choice goalkeeper, Danny Sambridge, formerly of Coggleshall Town. Highly experienced, with 400 league games under his belt at step four level, the normally secure keeper would make two uncharacteristic errors that would lead to the Blues extending their lead in the 48thand 68thminutes as first Cunnington drilled home from 12 yards after a Nunn cross was palmed into his path and, 20 minutes later, Robinson made the most of a missed kick to walk the ball round Sambridge, and “pirouette” the ball into the net for his second goal of the game.
With a raft of substitutes for both sides entering after the hour mark, it was Grays youngster, Emmanuel Ogurinde, entering on 61 minutes who pulled a goal back for the home side 10 minutes later with a powerful finish from the right side after latching onto a through ball. Aged 18, and formerly playing at Salford City U-18’s, Ogurinde is a player of some promise with electrifying pace, achieving national recognition with a regular place last year in the England U-18 team. With the experience of Dennis Oli departing the club, the arrival of established non-league hit-man, Anthony Stokes, 32, formerly of Bowers & Pitsea and Concord Rangers, will be vital in guiding young strikers such as Ogurinde, Callum Taylor, 18, and Warren Kayembe, 18. Stokes continually looked to be involved but was limited by a lack of service as the Blues midfield held firm against Grays counter-attacks.
With the game losing momentum after a series of substitutions, there was still time for Billericay to have the final word with the completion of a Robinson hat-trick on 86 minutes. The goal was made by Trialist Number 19, who also featured on the left wing against the All-Stars and versus the Southend X1. Stationed in central midfield, 19 won the ball well from an opponent and strode forward to the edge of the area. Cutting inside his man, a pinpoint pass to Robinson was delivered who chipped home past the goalkeeper to finish the scoring.
It has been an eventful week at the Steel Stadium with renewed ambition and headline signings capped off by a compelling performance on the pitch. Whilst there is the caveat of a two division difference between the sides, the speed and depth of passing, technical quality, defensive solidity, and attacking prowess of the Blues was there for all to see. With such a promising performance, and another striker to be announced on Saturday, expectations of a strong season rest on real foundations. It’s never been more exciting to be a Billericay fan than right now!
Billericay Player Ratings vs Grays Athletic FC
Alan Julian, 7, Goalkeeper– Good early distribution. Beaten twice but not at fault & had little else to do. Almost reached the well-placed Carlos strike.
Ben Nunn, 8, Right Wing-Back – Maintained a high line, getting forward regularly, and cleared one off line. Delivered assist for Potter’s wonder goal and deep cross forced the goal-keeping error that led to Cunnington’s finish for 5-1.
Callum Kennedy, 8, Left Wing-Back – Operated very advanced, driving home the advantage in midfield. Good set piece delivery and yet another assist with a precise cross for Cunnington to head home. Another commanding outing.
Ronnie Henry, 7, Centre-Back – Secure on the right side of the back three, used the ball well with composed passes supplied into midfield, snuffed out threats.
Charlie Wassmer, 7, Centre-Back – The “immovable object”, a constant barrier to the Grays attackers, powerful aerial game, and vital tackling cover on breaks.
Gavin Gunning, 8, Centre-Back – Highly impressive, commanding physical presence, and quality on the ball with runs forward reminiscent of Harry Maguire. Big gun signing, big gun performance.
Alfie Potter, 9, *STAR MAN* Midfield – Most impressive performance in a Billericay shirt. A man inspired, constant threat picking up the ball and running forward, linked impressively with Paxman, and two goals – one very good, the second simply magical. Playing like a new signing.
Jack Paxman , 8, Midfield – Frequently burst forward and combined very well with Potter. Comfortable on the ball and retained possession in tight spaces under pressure. Dangerous in the final third, regularly picking up the loose ball and showing good individual skill to create chances. Two more assists to set up Robinson and Potter.
Danny Waldren, 7, Midfield – Patrolled central midfield areas, ensuring Billericay dominance of the pitch, unlucky as several good passes ended with marginal offside decisions.
Jake Robinson, 8, Striker – Building sharpness with pre-season and showed several instinctive touches with impressive instant control. Good work-rate and on the spot to secure an opportunist hat-trick. Finding his best form.
Adam Cunnington, 8 , Striker – Two well-taken goals with a trademark header and drilled finish past covering defender and goal-keeper that demanded a cool head. Involved aerially but participated well in hold-up within a team that kept long balls to a minimum in this fixture.
Tambeson Eyong, 7, Centre-Back – Impressed in his 45 minutes with his speed and tenacity in the tackle. Clearly inspired by Gunning, he set off on several 30 yard runs forward with the ball to launch danger. Best when in defensive role.
Moses Emmanuel, Striker (Not enough time to mark) – Looked lively and competed well after a spell out with injury. No lingering concerns as he settled well into the attack and remained a threat to the Grays defence in his 23 minutes.
Grays Athletic FC
1Connor Pearce (’45, Danny Sambridge); 2. Nathan Fox (’70, 18. Denzil Adebiyi); 3. Macaulay Joynes; 4. Ashley Miller; 5. Steve King (’61, 12. Jack McQueen); 6. Connor Martin 7. Frankie Hession-Harris (’61, 15. George Doyle); 8. Stanley Muguo (’78, Carl Kayembe); 9. Callum Taylor (’61, Emmanuel Ogurinde); 10. Anthony Stokes (’78, Warren Kayembe) 11. Joao Carlos
1Alan Julian (’70, Trialist No. 13); 2. Ben Nunn; 3. Callum Kennedy (’70, Trialist No. 15) ; 4. Ronnie Henry (’61, Trialist No. 17); 5. Charlie Wassmer; 6. Alfie Potter (’70, Trialist No. 19); 7. Jack Paxman; 8. Gavin Gunning (’45, 12. Tambeson Eyong); 9. Jake Robinson; 10. Danny Waldren; 14. Adam Cunnington (’67, 18. Moses Emmanuel).