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O’Hara’s Positive Start Marred by Late Dorking Leveller.


Billericay suffered added time heartbreak as visitors, Dorking, fought back with two late goals to secure a draw. In an entertaining match, strikes midway through the second half from Moses Emmanuel and Jake Robinson appeared to leave the Blues in control.

Even after missing a penalty, the visitors from Surrey refused to cede, completing a come-back through goals from David Ray and, in stoppage time, a well-placed looping header from Jason Prior.

The teams take to the field. Courtesy: @nickyhayesphoto

Whilst there may be doubts on the identity of possible new owners of Billericay Town, there is at least clarity on operational matters with Jamie O’Hara making his first step into management. Well aware that football is not just the glamour of a sky studio, or a cosy chat on the radio, O’Hara has been doing the hard yards over the past week.

Out watching academy matches, calling contacts, and spending his 33rd birthday poring over videos of Dorking Wanderers, the ex-Spurs player is showing admirable commitment to the cause.

With four signings announced last Friday, tangible progress is being made and a much-needed injection of youth and pace is being introduced into the squad. With places in the team up for grabs, three of the new acquisitions went straight into O’Hara’s starting line-up.

‘Audaces fortuna iuvat’, or ‘Fortune Favours the Bold’, said Roman poet, Virgil, in his classic work, the Aeneid. Probably a fair summation of this rookie manager for his enterprise in adhering to the courage of his convictions. He would be rewarded by performances.

In came Darren ‘DJ’ Oldaker, 20, an attacking midfielder previously at League One Gillingham. The most experienced of the new recruits, he impressed with a ‘man of the match’ performance against Dorking on his debut.

Darren Oldaker impresses on his competitive debut for Billericay against Dorking Wanderers. Courtesy: @nickyhayesphoto

A new left-back, Arjanit Krasniqi, formerly of Colchester United, replaced the injured Callum Kennedy and speedy winger, Ody Alfa, arriving on loan from QPR U-23’s, was to offer his pace and guile on the left-hand side.

Known to O’Hara from his playing spell in Kent, Oldaker was good enough to earn a contract at the Gills until summer 2021, only being off-loaded by new manager, Steve Evans, to balance the books. With a deft first touch, wide passing range, and willingness to take on his man, Oldaker, once fired the Gills into the 3rd round of the FA Cup with a 30-yard strike.

Krasniqi, 20, was discovered by renowned non-league talent spotter, Qayum Shakoor, now head of U-23’s at Crawley. He impressed at Essex Senior League side, Waltham Forest, enough to earn a contract at U-23 level with Colchester United as well as gain selection for the Kosovo U-21 squad. Released over the summer by the Essex side, at the same time as former Billericay loanee, Paul Rooney, he looks ready for a fresh challenge at the Blues.

Ody Alfa, 20, a winger that can also play in the middle, joins on an initial 28-day loan. He has recently been named on the bench for a first team fixture by the West London side, and has experience of Spanish football with a loan spell at third division side, Atletico Baleares. He brought energy and a refreshing attacking directness on debut against Dorking.

Ody Alfa breaks forward rushed by Dorking’s Isaac Philpot. Courtesy: @nickyhayesphoto

O’Hara made four changes to the Billericay team as he fielded what looked to be a 4-2-3-1 formation. Alfa, Krasniqi, and Oldaker replaced Jamie Reynolds, Acea Laurent, and Louis Ramsay, all of whom shifted to the bench. Doug Loft filled in at centre-back while Sam Deering and Jack Paxman were drafted into the midfield holding roles.

With striker Moses Emmanuel returning to the starting line-up, Craig Robson, now departed, was the final change from the side that won in the FA Cup last time out against Basildon United.

Dorking manager, Marc White, made three changes from the side beaten in the FA Cup away at Tooting & Mitcham. Selecting a 4-5-1, instead of the usual 3-5-2 wing-back formation, he brought in Lewis Taylor for extra midfield security. Also in came Samuel Beard at left-back.

Right sided full back/winger, Matt Briggs, returned after a ban but was pushed further forward than usual. Jake Gallagher was suspended while striker, Giuseppe Sole, & midfielder, Tom Richards dropped to the bench.

Billericay started strongly with the new recruits to the fore. Settling in to an attacking role behind the main striker, Oldaker was soon involved in the action.

Receiving a short pass from Paxman, he executed a series of tight twists and turns in a confined space to work sufficient room for the first shot on target. Rattling the post from an acute angle in the 5th minute, Oldaker served notice of his talent and potential to excite his new admirers.

Shortly afterwards, a resurgent Ben Nunn, energised by some promising performances of late after a shaky start to his tenure in Essex, advanced on the right to launch an attack. Moving the ball on to Emmanuel, the frontman linked with Robinson who hit an instant 20 yard shot marginally wide.

Emmanuel would have an effort himself, cutting in from the left on the 15 minute mark, testing Dorking goal-keeper, Slavomir Huk with an angled drive.

With Dorking seemingly discomfited by their change in formation, which seemed to pay Billericay excessive respect, the Blues took advantage to dominate the opening twenty minutes.

Robinson was next to threaten as he turned a hopeful pass into a half chance. Seeing Huk stray from his line, his ambitious lob on 19 minutes from just inside the penalty area cleared both the goalkeeper and the crossbar.

In recent weeks, Billericay’s player departures have rivalled that of a prime time reality show. With centre-back cover from Robson and Charlie Wassmer no longer available after seemingly being voted off by the judges, it was time for Loft to audition for the role.

Having survived boot camp during the week, the latest contestant took his place in the defence alongside viewers favourite, Ronnie Henry, who could console himself that his commanding performances at the back would easily win any impromptu phone vote on best summer signing.

Loft set about his new task well but sent a frisson of anxiety through New Lodge as he sought to tackle Briggs in the penalty area. Taking evasive action to stop the speedy winger, he went to ground and for a moment it looked like a penalty could be awarded. Thankfully, for the Blues, no meaningful connection with the attacker was made and danger passed.

Although exhibiting a tendency on occasion to compete for the same ball as his defensive partner, Henry, Loft can satisfy himself on a job well done on the whole in the circumstances.

Dorking went very close on 32 minutes, and probably should have opened the scoring, through Prior. A floated free kick from adjacent to the corner flag eluded the Billericay defence, offering the visiting striker a free header. Prior sought to direct his effort back across the goal into the far corner and took very deliberate aim. Making a good connection, but slightly misdirecting the strike, the ball crept the wrong side of the post.

An almighty let off for the home side and a reminder that the lack of height at the back would be a source of anxiety throughout the match once Dorking focused on finding their target man.

To the delight of the crowd, the Essex side were turning on the style with crisp passing, ambition, positive forward movement and, good heavens, regular shots on goal.

Nunn and Henry soon combined to set up Robinson with a tempting cross that prompted the striker to go for a glory with an ambitious stooping header that flew too high. Next, Deering, scrupulous in covering his defensive duties all afternoon, surged forward to send a shot straight at Huk.

Keen to join in the fun, Alfa cut inside from his berth on the left to fire an effort just wide. In the final action of the half, another new recruit, Krasniqi, sought to fill in for Kennedy in more ways than one.

Showing calm authority to assume responsibility for taking a free kick just outside the penalty area, his curling effort drifted narrowly wide of the post. It was an effort that merited his promotion to set piece duty ahead of more senior players that had cast covetous eyes at the opportunity.

Billericay’s Arjanit Krasniqi curls a free-kick towards the Dorking goal. Courtesy: @nickyhayesphoto

Despite an encouraging first period, the final curtain call was still to come and Dorking reacted impressively. Re-thinking tactics, the visitors switched back to their 3-5-2 formation and looked a lot more at ease with the more familiar set-up.

Previously a little on the timid side offensively, the Surrey outfit started the second half well with Samuel Beard firing home from the left only to be denied by a linesman’s flag on 47 minutes.

Billericay composed themselves and set about Dorking once more with Oldaker spurning a golden chance to score on 54 minutes.

With Sole and Ray inexplicably colliding in the penalty area, a Deering cross found the former Colchester player in space on the left. With the whole of the goal to aim at, Oldaker went for the precise finish but drove just wide.

As the Blues surged forward in a fashion not seen previously this season, the Wanderers were visibly rattled as McManus, Philpott, and Harris were all booked in the space of five frantic minutes.

A foul on Sam Deering earns McManus a yellow card. Courtesy: @nickyhayesphoto

Revelling in the Blues new found creativity, Robinson darted to the left regularly to link with Oldaker & cleverly combined to send a shot that demanded a Huk save.

Reward would come to match the skill and endeavour shown by the home side as a Loft clearance was seized upon by the busy Robinson.

Liberated from the often fruitless task of feeding on the scraps of Rhead’s flick-on’s, the striker set off once again to turn a lost cause in his favour. He should not have stood a chance with two Dorking sentries on patrol.

Somehow he reached the ball first, twisted and turned away from Briggs and Beard, and sent a pass to the opposite side of the penalty area where Emmanuel was speeding through.

Still with plenty to do, his strike partner carried on where he has left off all season. Taking the ball on the run, he cut inside a defender, and, on 66 minutes, dispatched the ball into the net beyond Huk.

Moses Emmanuel celebrates giving Billericay the lead on 66 minutes. Courtesy: @nickyhayesphoto

Almost proving the old adage that a team is never more vulnerable than when it has just scored, Dorking stormed up the other end of the pitch. A wonderful Briggs cross, flighted as well as any aerospace engineering graduate could fashion, zeroed in on Prior’s head forcing Billericay’s Julian into a scrambled save at his far post.

Despite visibly tiring, debutant Oldaker was instrumental in creating the Blues second goal. With Emmanuel making another of the runs down the flank that have become his trademark, one such incursion sowed panic in the visiting defence. Rolling the ball across to Oldaker, an instant shot was deflected into the path of the predatory Robinson, loitering in the six yard area for just such an opportunity.

An easy finish followed for the second on 71 minutes. As any striker will attest, the true skill is knowing where the ball will land and the wily front man had once again come up with the right answer to the question.

Jake Robinson celebrates as he puts Billericay 2-0 up. Courtesy: @nickyhayesphoto

If Billericay thought that the visitors would admit defeat and play out the closing quarter of an hour, they were mistaken. Back came Dorking with Briggs starting to gain more of an influence on the game. Bursting forward, he nipped past two players and bounced off Jordan Parkes to earn his side a penalty.

With half the ground waiting for Prior to smash the ball to Julian’s right as per his usual spot-kick routine, the striker sought to compensate with a different style of kick. Getting it all wrong, the ball sailed over the bar in a 77th minute let off for the Blues.

Jason Prior fires his penalty over the bar for Dorking Wanderers. Courtesy: @nickyhayesphoto

Still they came, with Henry marshalling the defence and shouting out instructions worthy of Stanley Baker battening down the hatches at Rorke’s Drift as the wave of Dorking attacks mounted. With White throwing the dice to send on the extra fire-power of centre-forward Elliott Buchanan and attacking midfielder Tom Richards to add to the threat of Briggs, Prior and Sole, Billericay came under increased pressure.

With O’Hara short on resources, the much needed tall centre-back on the bench was a luxury that he would have wished for at that moment to help Billericay see out those final minutes. That he could not call upon such an asset proved to be significant.

At 6ft 3 ins, Prior was involved in both Dorking goals with the first on 85 minutes the result of his initial header tipped onto the cross bar by Julian. Dropping down besides the line, captain Ray was on hand at the back post to scramble home for a vital life-line.

With Dorking pushing for the important equaliser, Billericay had a last chance to finish the game in their favour but Emmanuel could not find the right pass on the break to serve Oldaker.

As the clock ticked down, Dorking emphasised the route one approach as they scented weakness at the heart of the home defence. With moments left, Philpot sent in an inviting cross towards Prior who angled a well-judged looping header up above Julian and into the top corner.

 

Having missed a penalty and a good first half chance, Prior had turned around his, and his team’s, fortunes in the final five minutes to leave Billericay reflecting on two points dropped.

In a game that had an unfortunate sting in the tail, the overwhelming mood was one of positivity as a vastly improved performance, and commitment to playing entertaining football, took precedence over the result.

O’Hara has worked a minor miracle to source new players, all of a good standard, and his acknowledgement that a commanding centre-back is required should see him find one from somewhere over the next week or so.

If the finances can be sorted, and there are indications that talks are ongoing with a local consortium, there is every reason to be hopeful. Bringing in young, talented players hungry to forge reputations at an upwardly mobile club of national profile will support the path to sustainability and ensure the club has a long and healthy future.

There may be a few more bumps along the road as some players will inevitably have to depart. However, with O’Hara on board and committed to the cause, there are grounds for optimism.

Line Up’s

Billericay Town (4-2-3-1)
1 Alan Julian; 2. Ben Nunn; 3. Arjanit Krasniqi; 5. Ronnie Henry; 6. Sam Deering; 7. Moses Emmanuel; 8. Doug Loft; 9. Jake Robinson (15. Louis Ramsay, ’86); 10. Darren Oldaker; 11.Odysseus Alfa (16. Jamie Reynolds, ’90); 12. Jack Paxman (10. Jordan Parkes, ’60). Subs Not Used: 14. Acea Laurent; 20. Tom Anderson.

Goals: ’66 Emmanuel; ’71 Robinson.

Dorking Wanderers (4-5-1)
1Slavomir Huk; 2. Isaac Philpot; 3. Samuel Beard (20. Tom Richards, ’78); 4.Ed Harris; 5. David Ray; 6. Daniel Gallagher (19. Giuseppe Sole, ’46); 8. Niall McManus; 9. Jason Prior; 11. James McShane; 15. Matthew Briggs; 17. Lewis Taylor (10. Elliott Buchanan, ’70). Subs Not Used: 7. Jerome Beckles; 12. Jerry O’Sullivan.

Goals: ’86 Ray; ‘90+3 Prior

Attendance: 811

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