Billericay’s poor start to the season continued against Havant & Waterlooville as they went down to a stoppage time winner. An improved performance had seen the Essex side create a number of chances before securing a first half advantage through Josh Hutchinson.
It was a familiar story for the Blues as a series of substitutions from the Hampshire club wrestled back the initiative in the final quarter of an hour. Equalising through Sam Magri’s header, striker, Tommy Wright, pounced on a defensive error to win it for the visitors.
After a pointless start to the season in two matches, including one of the worst home performances in living memory in the season opener at home to Tonbridge, manager, Jamie O’Hara was ruthless in his selections. In came wingers, Kyel Reid, and, after injury, Luke Wanadio. After rolling his ankle in training, right-back, Lawrie Wilson made his first start.
There was no place in the squad for left back, Chevron McClean, with assistant manager, Paul Konchesky preferred. Warming the bench, Jai Reason and Shamir Fenelon made way. Whilst the Blues had undoubtedly improved against Bath City, dominating possession for long spells of the game, chances created had been few and far between. Title favourites, Havant, presented formidable opposition and Billericay expected to undergo a stern test.
The weather brought cause for optimism as bright sun swathed New Lodge. With supporters still not admitted to the ground, some would take the safer options of going to a restaurant, the cinema, crowding into a pub or bar, or, perhaps, taking the underground. For those that watched the live stream of the match, a strong start from Havant was witnessed as Josh Taylor’s long throws were catapulted into the Billericay penalty area.
Taylor, returning after suspension, had impressed during his stint in the club’s media department as the Hawks’ co-commentator. His return to his day job, which should see him unavailable for future mike duties, created the first chance for Wright.
Latching onto Taylor’s long throw, the ex-Sutton United striker lashed a volley into ex-Blue Craig Robson. Unable to avoid the goal bound effort, the centre-back did his former employers one last service.
Another former Billericay player, Billy Clifford, proved to be more problematic as his fine long-range passing proved to be one of Havant’s main weapons of the afternoon. An early diagonal into the penalty area found Wright.
Taking the ball down expertly, his fierce drive rasped past home goalkeeper Dion-Curtis Henry but could only clip the top of the crossbar.
Hutchinson preferred up front for his aerial play to fan favourite, Jake Robinson, had the first two chances. With midfielder Frankie Sutherland centring quickly after winning possession, the centre-forward’s close-range shot was blocked by goalkeeper, Ross Worner.
Soon after, Reid, twisting and turning to work an opening, sent a cross from the left speeding across the six-yard box. Hutchinson, securing sufficient space in front of his marker, could not connect as he wanted, diverting the ball over the bar with his thigh.
The pace and trickery of Reid on the left flank troubled the Hampshire side’s structured defensive lines as he waltzed past defenders on forays forward. Linking well with the energetic, Joe Felix, who supplied him regularly, and broke forward to offer support, the brightness of Billericay’s play was, in no small part, due to their endeavours.
The two combined on the half hour as a Reid advance found Felix on the left side of the Havant penalty area. Felix’s powerful side-footed effort forced Worner into action for Havant as he tipped the ball over the bar.
Competing well, with Doug Loft and Sutherland maintaining a good degree of control in midfield, Billericay enjoyed the upper hand.
With chances beginning to accumulate, the Blues gained the lead that they deserved as Hutchinson opened his account at the end of the first half. Konchesky, advancing on the left, curled an inviting cross that demanded a finish. This time, Hutchinson, who had shown clever movement to get beyond Robson, was on hand to divert home from close-range.
The home side nearly made it worse for Havant just after the break as more good work from the Reid and Felix combination saw the latter’s drive blocked by centre-back, Magri. Picking up the loose ball on the edge of the penalty area, Sutherland missed by inches with a drive.
Billericay had Loft to thank for ensuring the advantage was preserved as he cleared Taylor’s low strike off the line after Diarra won the initial header from a corner. Standing firm at his post, the midfielder’s bravery, which earned a clattering from onrushing striker, Joe Iaciofano, epitomised Loft’s character in a commanding performance for the Blues.
With hindsight, Billericay may well rue the fact that chances created were not converted into goals. Just past the hour, Hutchinson was played through but could only find Worner as he tried to lift the ball over him. Wanadio’s driven follow-up was blocked by defender Diarra at the expense of a corner.
Needing to change his options, Havant manager, Paul Doswell brought on extra fire power in the shape of right-sided striker, Daniel Ajakaiye, and left winger, Lucas Sinclair. Observant Blues fans will have recognised the latter as a goal scorer two years previously for step five side Burnham in an FA Cup tie at New Lodge back in September 2018.
Taking off Iaciofano and Robson, the visitors also changed formation to 4-3-3 from the previous 3-5-2 line-up.
If Billericay can be questioned, and there are some prepared to do that in certain areas, there is the nagging concern that changes made by opposition coaches in the latter stages of matches are frequently turning into winning strategies.
Within five minutes of the substitutions, Havant equalised as a Clifford corner found Magri. Escaping his marker, who completely mistimed the trajectory of the ball, the centre-back steered a powerful header past Henry from close range to put the Hampshire side on level terms.
Soon after, visiting right-back, Read fired over after a run forward into the Billericay box.
With five minutes remaining, Doswell played his final card. On came Theo Widdrington for Clifford. Impressive as a starter against Maidstone, the substitute’s long passing range is particularly strong, with one of his calling cards being the right-footed diagonal down the left side.
With the clock ticking down, Widdrington’s long pass behind the Billericay defence was missed by Michael Chambers. Wright stole in and despite Ronnie Henry’s best efforts to block his passage, the striker rolled the ball into the net at the far post for the late winner.
Another defeat is a bitter pill to swallow leaving Billericay among the basement sides. There are positives to take amongst the gloom of another defeat.
The performance against fancied Havant was good as the Blues coped well with a top side. The midfield looked strong and newcomer, Reid, brings added quality and offensive capacity.
From the depths of despair after an abject display against Tonbridge, Billericay at last showed that they can go head-to-head with any side at home in this division. The visit of Ebbsfleet is not a match to fear but an opportunity to get the season up and running.
With a track record of late collapses now all too apparent, the demands are clear. It is up to the management team to restore confidence and make the right decisions at the right time.
For players, perfectly capable of winning football matches, costly mistakes late in games need to be eliminated. one positive result can make all the difference. No one said it would be easy.
Result: Billericay Town 1 Havant & Waterlooville FC 2
Billericay Town: ’42 Hutchinson
Havant & Waterlooville: ’79 Magri; ‘90+2 Wright.
1 Dion-Curtis henry; 2. Lawrie Wilson; 3. Paul Konchesky; 4. Joe felix; 5. Ronnie henry; 6. Michael Chambers; 7. Frankie Sutherland (12. Jake Robinson (‘90+4); 8. Doug loft; 9. Josh Hutchinson (14. Shamir Fenelon, ’85); 10. Luke Wanadio (15. Toyoshi Olusanya, ’79); 11 Kyel Reid. Subs Not Used: 17. Jai Reason; 19. Lewis Knight.
Havant & Waterlooville FC
1 Ross Worner; 2. Benny Read; 3. Anthony Straker; 5. Moussa Diarra; 6. Sam Magri; 7. Josh Taylor; 8. Billy Clifford (Theo Widdrington, ’86); 10 Joe Iaciofano (17. Lucas Sinclair, ’74); 15. Craig Robson (16. Daniel Ajakaiye, ’74); 20. Tommy Wright; 21. Roarie Deacon. Subs Not Used: 14. Simon Walton; 23. Matthew Luce.