Billericay Town completed their pre-season friendly program with a 2-1 win at Isthmian Premier side, Hornchurch FC. After falling behind to a George Saunders strike, a quick-fire response within two minutes from a Jordan Clark own goal and exquisite Callum Kennedy free-kick sealed the win.
It was an evening, which saw steady drizzle accumulate pre kick-off before yielding to a brighter climate. This ensured that those that attended benefited from good conditions for playing and spectating at the Hornchurch Stadium. Both sides had something to play for with the Blues still reflecting on Saturday’s honourable 1-2 home defeat to National League side, Boreham Wood. Similarly, Hornchurch were seeking a winning performance having entertained a number of sides from higher divisions with mixed results in their preparations for the upcoming campaign.
For Billericay, the match-up with the Urchins had been billed as the chance for a potential starting line-up to establish itself for the opening match of the new campaign at home to Eastbourne Borough next Saturday. Manager, Harry Wheeler, started with a 5-3-2 formation although this was changed during the match. With Alan Julian in goal, the back three included a rare start for Josh Urquhart, Ex-Forest Green defender Gavin Gunning, and former Stevenage captain Ronnie Henry.
Starting on the flanks as wing-backs were Alfie Potter on the right and, on the opposite side, the ubiquitous Callum Kennedy. The Blues central midfield featured Danny Waldren with Jack Paxman to the left and Moses Emmanuel to the right. Striking positions were taken by new arrivals Wes Thomas and Matt Rhead. Injury ruled out Doug Loft and a mixture of holiday and an injury picked up against Southend United had seen Jordan Parkes unavailable for the game. Adam Cunnington was not selected in the squad.
Ambitious Hornchurch have rung the changes over the summer as they seek to improve upon a credible 15th place at the end of a first season back in the Isthmian Premier and appearance in the Velocity Cup Final. With eight new additions including players of the calibre of ex-Billericay Town and Dulwich Hamlet centre-back Rickie Hayles, Hendon and Tonbridge defender, Arthur Lee, the experience of former Blues and Enfield midfielder, Matty Johnson, and striking talent of ex-Hampton & Richmond and Chelmsford City player, Chris Dickson, the spine of the team looks strong.
Manager, Mark Stimson, who opted for a 4-3-3 formation set up with ex-Enfield and Billericay Town goalkeeper, Joe Wright, centre-back selections of Jordan Clark, and the return of Nathan Cooper for a full match after a recent nine month spell out with injury, reflected the unavailability of the two new signings. Lacking a left-back, after Remi Sutton’s broken hand at Canvey Island earlier in the month, midfielder Garrett Smith filled in admirably once again. At right-back, former Enfield player, Mickey Parcell was selected. Midfield had a very solid look with the hard-working trio of Johnson, Joe Christou, and Lewwis Spence on patrol. Forward options included ex-Billericay youth player, Saunders, on the right-wing, with Dickson and Charlie Stimson more centrally located.
The Match began sedately with little in the first 10 minutes to excite the crowd other than a hurried shot over the bar by the Urchins’ Dickson and a misplaced cross from Billericay’s Emmanuel well beyond the onrushing Thomas. The best chance fell to the home side after Saunders delivered a clever ball from the right side into the opposition penalty area. Cooper, lurking at the far post, slammed a 12th minute cross-shot towards goal that was pushed away by Julian for a corner. It would not be the last time that Billericay’s veteran goalkeeper was called into action with his best interventions coming later in the game.
With the Blues struggling to find their rhythm, Hornchurch’s outstanding attacking talent, Saunders, provided ample evidence of why he is rated so highly in this corner of Essex. Secured for the season by a new contract signed in January, Saunders, opened the scoring in the 24th minute. After collecting the ball from Dickson on the right flank, he advanced purposefully towards goal beating Julian with a fine, low drive into the far corner.
An ex-Billericay Town youth player, where he spent three seasons, Saunders was plucked by the Urchins from the relative obscurity of Essex Olympian League football, where he plied his trade at Kelvedon Hatch. Making the four division step up to Hornchurch in June 2018, he recorded double figure assists in his debut season at step three and looks an exciting prospect.
The visitors responded immediately, and retribution for the perceived affront of falling behind to lower league opposition was to be absolute, as two goals were fired home within minutes. The source of the equaliser was the inimitable Potter, a player re-born after an average last campaign. Driving forward down the right, he whipped in a fierce cross that, on 25 minutes, was diverted off the shin of Centre-back, Clark, who had swung wildly at the ball but succeeded only in diverting it past Wright and into the net.
Celebrations had hardly subsided when Kennedy made the most of a foul on Emmanuel and, on 26 minutes, curled a trade-mark free-kick into the top corner on the goalkeeper’s side to hand the Blues the lead. Impressive during pre-season, the wing-back clearly relishes the relative freedom provided by Wheeler’s tactical system that allows him to burst forward.
The Blues formation was, however, to change as a 4-3-3 was adopted, matching up with the Hornchurch line-up. Potter shifted forward into midfield while Urquhart moved across to right-back. Finally, Emmanuel was placed a little further forward on the right side to complete the switch. Thereafter, Wheeler’s side appeared more comfortable and, after early pressure, started to look more authoritative in exchanges.
Hornchurch still threatened notably through Dickson who made light of his 34 years, offering a sharp turn of pace to create chances. A surging run from the player that once represented Ghana as a full international and, back in 2012, competed in the Champions League at AEL Limassol, saw him evade several challenges before being illegally stopped by Waldren as he raced towards goal. On 36 minutes, Dickson tested Julian with a 30 yard strike of some velocity that had to be dealt with at full stretch.
Billericay finished the half strongly with Paxman shooting on the turn into the side netting, Emmanuel hitting an acrobatic volley over the bar, and a Kennedy free-kick whizzing the wrong side of the post as he sought to whip the ball over the wall into the opposite side to his first goal.
The second half brought the usual wave of changes as Billericay made five substitutions on 51 minutes bringing on right-back Ben Nunn, centre-backs Tambeson Eyong and Charlie Wassmer, midfielder Archie Tamplin, and striker Jake Robinson. Kennedy, Gunning, Henry, Potter and Rhead made way. Hornchurch made a single change as attacker Daniel Uchechi entered as half time replacement for Stimson.
With the Isthmian Premier side taking some encouragement from the visitors re-organisation, a series of quick passes were fed through the midfield into the final third forcing the Billericay back-line to turn and defend their goal. Wassmer was immediately involved in the action as Dickson latched on to an Uchechi pass to bear down on goal. With the Billericay defender back-pedalling, the Hornchurch striker placed his 55th minute effort just wide of the target.
Robinson replied for the Blues on the hour mark with a good run and shot from the left that brought a save from Wright. Moments later a Saunders through ball for Dickson saw the striker quickly closed down by the alert Julian, racing from his area to pull off a block tackle.
On 70 minutes, the Billericay goalkeeper would pull off his best save inevitably from Dickson who profited from excellent approach play from Christou. His determination to win a midfield battle made another opportunity that saw Dickson let loose a vicious shot. Julian, diving full length to his right, diverted the strike away from its planned top corner destination for the save of the match.
Entering the last 20 minutes a further three substitutions were made by Billericay as a number of trialists were given their time to shine. Trialist 15 caught the eye with his electric pace down the right wing, which brought an illegal challenge and the first yellow card of the game for home substitute, James Goode. Both Hornchurch’s Wright and Blues’ Thomas ended up with yellow cards in the closing stages as a disagreement escalated before being sensibly handled by the officials.
Billericay’s performance was less than fluent in the final rehearsal before the real action starts on Saturday. The search for a clean sheet continues although defensive reinforcements are highly experienced and are a clear upgrade on the end of last season. Midfield looks to be the strongest area with an embarrassment of riches in defensive and creative areas. Strikers are a mixture of the tried and tested, who have scored heavily at this level, and those with higher level backgrounds that will need more time to fully integrate into the team and acclimatise to Step Two football.
Billericay Town Live Radio Star Man @btfcliveradio
**ALAN JULIAN** – Two outstanding saves from Dickson and secure throughout the match.
1 Alan Julian; 3. Callum Kennedy (2. Ben Nunn, ’51); 4. Josh Urquhart-McLeod (12. Samuel Egole, ’72); 5. Ronnie Henry (14. Tambeson Eyong, ’51);; 6. Alfie Potter (Archie Tamplin,, ’51); 7. Moses Emmanuel (Trialist 15, ’72);; 8. Danny Waldren; 9. Matt Rhead (16. Jake Robinson, ’51);; 10. Jack Paxman (Trialist 18, ’72); 11. Wes Thomas 17. Gavin Gunning (19. Charlie Wassmer, ’51).
Goals: ’25 Clark, OG; ’26 Kennedy
1 Joe Wright; 2. Mickey Parcell; 3. Garrett Kelly; 4. Matt Johnson; 5. Nathan Cooper; 6. Jordan Clark (14. James Goode, ’63); 7. George Saunders; 8. Lewwis Spence; 9. Charlie Stimson (16. Daniel Uchechi, ’46); 10. Chris Dickson; 11. Joe Christou; Sib not Used: 18. Jack Glanster.
Goal: ’23 Saunders