Billericay earnt a merited point in a 2-2 draw with Slough Town. A last gasp leveller from Ronnie Henry preserved the unbeaten home record this season. Having been led twice, after Matt Lench fired home, a deflected effort from Ody Alfa restored parity at the break.
In a game of few chances, the Rebels’ George Wells made the most of his sight of goal to score at the far post. With new found confidence after a series of impressive performances, Blues pushed forward and almost won it as Alfa’s curler shaved the post in added time.
A chilly January Saturday afternoon provided the backdrop for all to see if the form shown in the stunning mid-week win at New Lodge versus table-toppers, Wealdstone, could be carried over against 4th placed, Slough. An encouraging performance on the road last week at Bath City, with the team cruelly deprived of a point by a last-minute strike, had provided every indication of better times ahead. Tough fixtures to come will demand high standards.
Jamie O’Hara made one change to his line-up from mid-week, bringing back striker, Dejon Noel-Williams, a recent acquisition from Wealdstone, who had to sit out the meeting with his former club due to the terms of his transfer. Making way, top scorer, 11 league goal Jake Robinson was surprisingly relegated to the bench. With Alan Julian still out injured, Charlton’s impressive U-23 goal-keeper, Nathan Harness, kept his place. Louis Ramsay, still recovering after a hamstring strain, was not risked but was retained on the bench.
With most recovered from a Christmas flu bug by the time of the trip to Essex, three changes were made to the Slough line-up that secured a point at home to Eastbourne. Back came virus victims Max Worsfold and Dan Roberts to the left wing and lone striker roles, respectively, in place of Manny Williams and Francis Amartey. Despite a goal from the halfway line, Scott Davies was relegated to the bench, with Sean Fraser coming in to fill a central midfield role. Slough aligned in a 4-4-1-1 formation with Matt Lench in behind.
Slough took advantage of a slow start by the home team and raised the first threat. Lench was at the source as he rounded Harry Hudson and swung in a cross. A waiting Lee Togwell on the stretch could only divert the ball well over the bar. Next a wide free-kick swung hard and low by Josh Jackman into the Billericay penalty area demanded a diving header clear from defensive midfielder, Doug Loft.
After Alfa’s successful stint in a more central striker’s role against Wealdstone, the QPR winger was once more stationed where he could increasingly affect play. Coming to the fore on 12 minutes, he swiftly gathered a through ball from the industrious Alfie Potter, neatly evaded Worsfold and rifled a spectacular 18-yard shot against the cross-bar. It would not have counted as the referee over-ruled the linesman and adjudged the move to be offside.
With seven League goals already this campaign, Slough dangerman, Lench, lived up to his billing. Having scored against Billericay in the previous fixture at Arbour Park last October, he repeated the trick with the opening goal of the game. Benefiting from a free role just behind the main striker, he drove forward from midfield to play a neat one-two with Roberts. Controlling the return on his chest, from 20 yards, he smashed it home instantly past Harness into the bottom corner on 14 minutes.
A well organised visiting side structured in two lines of four proved difficult to best. Billericay showed signs of fatigue after a Herculean effort in mid-week on a heavy pitch. Despite the efforts of Potter and Paxman in central midfield, the crisp, incisive passing exhibited on Tuesday evening proved elusive versus doughty opponents. With Paxman frustrated, the Blues schemer sought to go it alone with a remarkable jinking run past five players ending with a hurried clearance hacked away by the Slough defence.
On the half hour, Paxman’s radar began to function as a neat pass sent Noel Williams through. A precise shot lacked sting, slowed by the outstretched leg of Sam Togwell. Nonetheless, an effort on target was something of a rarity for both sides and at least it did force Jack Turner into a diving, if entirely regulation, save at the far post. It is early days for the new arrival, who performed well with a goal on debut versus Bath City. Used wider to accommodate Alfa in the centre, Noel-Williams’ influence on play was somewhat muted in the first half.
With the lessons of the Slough opening strike fresh in their minds, Billericay were quick to close down sporadic visiting attacks with Potter closing down Worsfold to block his goal-bound effort. Shortly afterwards, Lench was rapidly attended to by an alert Themis Kefalas who forced the Slough attacker to rush his effort, sending it well over the bar.
With Wizards seemingly increasingly popular in certain parts of Essex at present, Billericay could draw on their own sorcerer in Alfa who conjured a piece of magic to equalise on 41 minutes. It started with good hold-up play on the left from Femi Akinwande who fed the ball to Paxman. A perfectly weighted pass through the Slough back-line was chased by Alfa who fired a low effort towards goal. Deflecting off Sam Togwell, the ball looped up into the net. With the original shot on target, Alfa could rightfully claim his second goal of the week.
With news that Alfa’s latest loan agreement expired after the Slough match, it is clearly imperative that this impressive addition to the Billericay squad is retained. His displays have been outstanding and experience of regular first-team football at Billericay has clearly aided his professional development. QPR’s Head of Coaching, Chris Ramsay, was in attendance at New Lodge yesterday and cannot have failed to be impressed by the set-up at the Essex side. Let’s hope that manager, O’Hara, is at his most persuasive in any discussions.
The half closed as Potter pushed forward from midfield to evade two challenges as he entered the opposition penalty area. He declined a brief opportunity to shoot on the run, electing to head towards the by-line. Squaring for Alfa, who was rapidly engulfed by three Slough defenders, the chance was gone. Potter, so impressive in his central midfield role, brings much needed creativity to partly compensate for the departure of Sam Deering. The only thing missing from his game is an eye for goal with no strikes this season in the League.
Apart from some splendid runs down the right flank from a resurgent Ben Nunn, little width was in evidence from the Blues during the first period. With Slough comfortable defending, a change at the break was made to rectify. Feeling the effects of a tight hamstring, no chances were taken with Potter who came off. Re-organising to 4-4-2, Alfa switched to the left wing. On came substitute Robinson who was partnered up front by Noel-Williams.
The changes had a positive impact as the home side began to pummel the Rebels penalty area with crosses., especially from the left-side. A centre was soon latched upon by Henry who had advanced to join an attack and fire off an opportunist strike. With the ball returned to him after an initial block, the Blues skipper’s header was pouched by the goalkeeper. With Nunn clearly feeling secure enough to push forward, he fired a volley over the bar.
Noting the pick-up in service from wide, Henry took every opportunity to sneak into the box and managed to send several headed efforts towards goal as Slough tried to defend the high ball. With central defenders Mark Nisbet out injured or, in the case of Guy Hollis, suspended, resources had been stretched. 6ft 4 ins striker, Ryan Bird, was moved from his usual perch to lend a hand at the back, flying to the rescue on several occasions.
On 63 minutes, a Paxman corner was flicked on by Noel-Williams to Henry who hooked a cross in towards a waiting Robinson. With the ball behind him, the striker managed to divert an effort on goal. Easily held by Turner, the Blues pressure was building. Noel-Williams, more comfortable as a centrally positioned striker, was an important aerial presence. He should provide a much-needed physical threat, which is something Blues lacked previously.
With Slough second best after the break, joint managers, Neil Baker and Jon Underwood sought to weather the Billericay onslaught with a change in shape. Bringing on striker Amartey for Worsfold, the Rebels matched the Blues with a 4-4-2 formation. Despite defending resolutely, the Berkshire side found it difficult with a vicious wind against them after the break.
With Alfa on form in his left-wing berth, he cut in on 68 minutes to fire a curling shot towards the top corner. Producing the stop of the match, Turner dived full-length to save. Next, Paxman, with a more direct approach after the break fired over after beating his man to fashion the opening. An increased willingness to shoot on sight, rather than seek to beat the extra man, was a welcome development from the ex-Maidstone man. Like Potter, a nil goal return in the League for an attacking midfield player of his talent needs addressing.
Against the run of play, Slough took the lead on 72 minutes through George Wells. A Lench free-kick was initially headed clear but sent back into the danger zone via the head of Sam Togwell. With Kefalas missing his attempted clearance, the ball travelled through to the far post. With a clear sight of goal, Wells smashed home a left-footed drive for his third strike of the season. Interestingly, all those goal contributions were registered away from home.
Slough sought understandably to protect their lead and brought on Davies to steady the ship in midfield in place of the more attack-minded Lench. Endeavouring to keep play in the corners and run down the clock, Billericay kept control and pressed hard for an equaliser. On 82 minutes, a Noel-Williams effort was blocked. With the rebound diverted via Akinwande back to a waiting Paxman, the ball was well struck but flew over the bar.
As added time began, Billericay would make their breakthrough as Loft chipped a pass into the Slough penalty area for one last time. Nodded on by Noel-Williams towards the predatory Robinson, the striker headed across goal for Henry to bundle in with his chest at the far post for a fully merited late equaliser. It could have been worse for Slough as with virtually the last kick of the game, an Alfa curling shot from range hit the outside of the post.
In a proverbial game of two halves, somewhat influenced by the direction of the wind, Slough proved themselves to be the better side in the opening period. After the interval, it was a different story as Billericay went on the offensive. The Rebels are worthy play-off contenders and exhibited sufficient resilience to weather the storm. Taking the lead with a clinical finish from their only second half chance, the Blues had to pull out all the stops but finally managed to salvage the point that their performance deserved.
What a difference a week makes! After a disappointing run, especially away from home, that had seen the Blues plunge to 17th and a worrying three points away from the relegation places, prospects have improved with four points in two games. Memories of the Boxing Day surrender at Concord look to be consigned to history now.
Another tough test away from home in the League comes next against 5th placed Dorking Wanderers on Saturday. This will test the quality of the revival but, now in better form, the Billericay team can approach the trip to Surrey with renewed confidence.
@beakster99 Billericay Town Man of the Match: Ody Alfa
“Hugely influential either up top or played wide, Alfa was a constant menace to the Slough defence. Scored the opening Blues goal, drew a fantastic save from Turner, and almost won the game with a stunning strike late on that struck the post”.
1Nathan Harness; 2. Ben Nunn; 3. Harry Hudson; 5. Ronnie Henry; 6. Alfie Potter (9. Jake Robinson, ’46); 7. Odysseus Alfa; 8. Doug Loft; 11. Femi Akinwande; 12. Themis Kefalas; 15. Dejon Noel-Williams. Subs Not Used: 19. Brian Galach; 16. Louis Ramsay; 17. Josh Urquhart 18. Jacob Cook.
Goals: ’42 Alfa; ‘90+2 Henry.
1Jack Turner; 2. Josh Jackman; 3. George Wells; 4. Sam Togwell; 6. Lee Togwell; 7. Matt Worsfold (19. Francis Amartey, ’64); 8. Matt Lench (14. Scott Davies, ’78) 11. Warren Harris; 16. Sean Fraser; 17. Dan Roberts; 18. Ryan Bird Subs Not Used: 10. Manny Williams; 12. Joe Grant.
Goals: ’14 Lench; ’72 Wells.