Billericay opened their League campaign with a laboured 1-0 home victory over Eastbourne Borough. Victory was secured through striker, Jake Robinson, who pounced to finish from close range in the contest’s dying seconds to break the visitors stubborn resistance.
On a sunny August Saturday afternoon, the season finally got underway and the long anticipated first test for the new look Essex side arrived. Billericay’s pre-season program had been broadly satisfactory, if not especially testing, with victories over several Isthmian League sides sandwiched between narrow home loss to a strong Southend United team and National League, Borehamwood. The visitors had completed a mixed month of preparation, with expected victories over lower league Lymington and Burgess Hill Town, spoiled by a heavy loss against Isthmian Premier outfit, Lewes.
Billericay sprang a surprise, lining up with a back four in what looked to be a 4-3-3 after using 3-5-2 extensively during pre-season. Ronnie Henry, skippering the side, and Charlie Wassmer were selected as centre-backs and were flanked by full-backs Ben Nunn on the right and Callum Kennedy. Alfie Potter benefited from a strong pre-season earning a start in midfield alongside Danny Waldren and recent arrival from Hemel, Jordan Parkes. Up front, ex-Lincoln City striker, Matt Rhead, made his full competitive debut as the focal point of the attack. On either side of him, Moses Emmanuel and Robinson completed the attack.
Eastbourne conformed strictly to manager Lee Bradbury’s preferred 3-5-2 formation. This included an impressively imposing looking back three of former Woking defenders Ian Gayle and Kiran Khinda-John, and 6ft 5 ins, Emmanuel Adebowale, complemented by speedy wing-back’s Tobi Adebayo-Rowling and Kristian Campbell. Kane Wills occupied his usual role as a holding midfielder alongside fellow midfielders, new signing, James Ferry, and the evergreen, Sergio Torres. Ex-Woking striker, Greg Luer provided the trickery up front alongside the returning centre- forward, Elliott Romain, who departed for Dagenham in 2017.
The match began with both sides showing great energy, but little end product, as players sought to shake off the rustiness of pre-season. Space in central areas remained at a premium with a well-organised ‘Boro side holding Billericay in check with little of note occurring to rouse the crowd in opening exchanges.
First action of note came from a predictable source as a flighted ball from Kennedy found the head of 6ft 3ins Rhead. Drifting in between Khinda-John and Adebowale, the big front-man angled a powerful header towards the bottom corner, forcing Tom Hadler into his first save.
Torres, 38, remained a busy presence in midfield for the visitors linking in the 17th minute with the impressive Campbell. Intelligently peeling off from his marker to receive a clever free-kick from the Argentinean, the left wing-back let loose a shot that the alert Wassmer was able to block. From the subsequent corner, it was again Campbell involved. Losing his marker, his header towards the top corner was athletically parried away by Blues goalkeeper, Alan Julian.
Having defended a succession of corners from the South Coast side, it was not until the 30th minute that the 5 to 1 shots for the title earned Kennedy the right to swing in one of their own. Sent to the far post, the waiting Wassmer and Robinson tumbled to the floor, uttering unconvincing claims for a penalty. With the game lacking rhythm, and being devoid of any meaningful passing combinations, the half meandered to a conclusion without further incident.
The second period began with renewed enthusiasm, if not any great uplift in quality levels. Billericay continued to fire high balls into Rhead who battled admirably against physical opponents but could not quite find the breakthrough. Eastbourne threatened sporadically with a lofted pass seeking out Romaine at the far post frustrated by the covering Nunn. A series of lacklustre passing from the Blues saw Wheeler lose patience and he sought to inject more energy on 57 minutes by sending on the pace and aggression of Tambeson Eyong in place of Nunn and, at the same time, switch to a back three formation.
Stung into action, the home side who were starting to assert their superiority, began to carve out chances. On 58 minutes, Emmanuel, who hitherto had delivered a quiet game, came to life. Showing determination to keep a Kennedy ball in play at the bye-line, his cut-back saw Parkes’ shot on goal blocked by Campbell. Spinning up in the air, under pressure, Rhead headed the rebound over the bar.
Eyong, clearly relishing his time on the pitch, changed the tempo of the match with several surging runs down the right flank. On 62 minutes, he burst down the right and sent in a cross that Robinson rifled against the underside of the bar. Two minutes later, he repeated the trick, serving Emmanuel in the centre who saw his shot quickly blocked by the defence.
With Paxman entering for Parkes, Billericay moved up a gear, putting together the best combination of the match as a deep cross found the head of Rhead. Nodding the ball back to Emmanuel, the ball was flighted to the far post where a Robinson header drew a fine point-blank save from Hadler, moving swiftly to his right. With Emmanuel finding his feet as the match progressed, and starting to re-ignite his partnership of last season with Robinson, there was a growing sense that this could provide the key to unlock the ‘Boro rearguard.
For a brief moment, it looked like Rhead would earn a reward for his hard work up up front as his fine header from a Kennedy set-piece nestled in the net on 82 minutes. Wheeling around to celebrate with his new team-mates, his elation was soon curtailed by the dreaded linesman’s flag, which disallowed the effort for offside.
With all in the ground anxiously hoping that the familiar Billericay fault of conceding last minute goals would not be carried over from last season, Robinson slotted home a very late winner in the third minute of added time. Served by the unselfish Emmanuel, the prolific striker found space at the far post beyond his marker to send the crowd into wild celebration. There would be no response as the match ended swiftly afterwards and Eastbourne were left to reflect on an encouraging performance away from home that would yield no reward.
It was not the most fluent, or indeed impressive, performance that the Blues have delivered and, for long periods, the match was scrappy and lacking in creativity. Eastbourne proved to be stubborn opposition and played their part in a tight, competitive game. There is much to work on but, with games coming thick and fast, plenty of chance to hone what functions best. In recent years, the Blues have not had a more creative midfield or such a variety of striking options available within the squad. With three points in the bag, we can’t ask for more and it is onto Braintree on Tuesday night for the first examination away from home.
Billericay Town Player Ratings (starting X1 only)
Alan Julian, 8, Goalkeeper – Rarely employed after a spate of early corners but pulled off an outstanding 17th minute diving save from Campbell’s header to keep his clean sheet.
Ben Nunn, 6.5, Right-Back – Dealt well enough with his defensive duties preventing Romaine from scoring at the far post but did not get forward as he has in pre-season. Made several poor passes in the second half and was replaced by Eyong to facilitate a change in formation.
Callum Kennedy, 7, Left-Back – Sent in several excellent crosses finding Rhead and Emmanuel and defensively sound when tested, shutting the door on Adebayo-Rowling when he got clear. Not as influential as he can be as he concentrated on defensive work to nullify the opposition wing-back.
Charlie Wassmer, 7, Centre-Back – Made his usual covering tackles and a much-needed aerial presence at the back to face Eastbourne’s giant defenders on set plays. Passing at times a little wayward.
Ronnie Henry, 8.5, Centre-Back – ***STAR MAN*** An established leader, clearly sending out instructions to the rest of the backline and midfield. Authoritative, won his aerial battles, and rarely gave the ball away.
Alfie Potter, 7, Midfield – Toiled hard to break through a congested midfield without his usual success Kept the ball well, always available as a passing option, and showed ambition to break forward, winning the free kick from which Rhead’s goal was ruled out.
Moses Emmanuel, 7, Striker – Very subdued on the right wing in the first half but came to life after the break benefiting from the change of formation. Linked superbly with Robinson to carve out his first chance and ultimately record an assist for the late winner.
Danny Waldren, 6.5, Midfield – Provided a competitive presence in central areas but found the going tough against a midfield three and passes were misdirected on several occasions.
Jake Robinson, 8, Striker – Not as involved on the wing but by plugging away till the end to net the late, late, winner, he justifies his rating. Linked well with Emmanuel in the later stages but the partnership with Rhead is understandably still a work in progress.
Jordan Parkes, 7, Midfield – Industrious and dropped inside from the left to increase his involvement. Got forward regularly, tracked back, and had a powerful shot blocked after collecting an Emmanuel pull-back.
Matthew Rhead, 7, Striker, – Provided a powerful presence up front and a willing target for lofted aerial ball. Courageous performance despite a physical buffeting. Almost got the opening goal with a fine header but ruled offside.
1 Alan Julian ; 2. Ben Nunn (17. Tambeson Eyong, ’57); 3. Callum Kennedy; 4. Charlie Wassmer; 5. Ronnie Henry; 6. Alfie Potter; 7. Moses Emmanuel 8. Danny Waldren (18. Craig Robson, ’75); 9. Jake Robinson; 10 Jordan Parkes (Jack Paxman, ’67); 11. Matthew Rhead. Subs Not Used: 16. Louis Ramsay; 15. Archie Tamplin.
Goal: ‘90+3 Jake Robinson.
Eastbourne Borough FC
1 Tom Hadler; 2. Olutobi Adebayo-Rowling; 3. Kristian Campbell; 4. Kane Wills; 5. Kiran Khinda-John; 6. Emmanuel Adebowale; 8. Sergio Torres; 9. Greg Luer (18. Nicky Wheeler, ’75); 10. Elliot Romain (14. Charlie Walker, ’79); 15. James Ferry (7. Dean Cox, ’75); 20. Ian Gayle. Subs Not Used: 11. Michael West; 17. Ayman Gharbaoui.