Bostik North: Hornchurch 2 Grays Athletic 2
PUBLISHED: 08:05 04 October 2017
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Hornchurch lost their 100 per cent record in the league but remain unbeaten after a hard-fought draw with Grays at Bridge Avenue.
In a game of two halves, goals from Leon McKenzie and Theo Fairweather-Johnson after a Sam Cross opener gave the Urchins something to hang on to, but an equaliser from defender Jack Fowler rescued a deserved point for the visitors.
Following Saturday’s FA Cup defeat to Hereford at Edgar Street, Jimmy McFarlane made one change as Ross Wall came into the starting line-up for Fairweather-Johnson, who dropped to the bench.
Grays made two changes from their defeat at home to Brentwood as Joao Carlos and Ade Cole were drafted into the side with veteran Jamie Slabber dropping to the bench and Callum Ibe not involved at all.
Hornchurch had won the reverse fixture in August with a 2-0 scoreline, with Brad Warner and George Purcell netting at Parkside.
But it was Grays who began the return match on the front foot and their intricate play in the final third almost paid off if it wasn’t for the defending of Nathan Cooper and Kenzer Lee keeping Athletic top-scorer Kieran Bishop and birthday-boy Cole at bay.
When the centre-back pairing was breached, Sam Mott was comfortable in the Urchins net as Cole’s deflected shot from the apex of the penalty box was gathered with ease from the ever-present stopper.
The game took a while to get going as a spectacle but Grays kept knocking on the door and Cole’s cross from the left wing found Bishop, but his header fell just wide of Mott’s goal.
Hornchurch struggled to keep the ball out of their own half during the first period and the inevitable finally mustered.
Sean Roberts was penalised for a foul on Cole 25 yards out and left-back Cross curled a fierce free-kick into the top corner, away from Mott’s outstretched left arm, giving the away side the lead that their passing play deserved.
It was a sublime way to open his account for the season, but the goal was the only highlight of a physical first half which saw Bishop cautioned after a late tackle on Cooper during stoppage time.
Hornchurch improved after the break and almost equalised within five minutes after McKenzie’s flick from Jay Porter’s crisp pass found its way to the feet of Warner but his strike could only find the feet of onrushing keeper Lamar Johnson.
The Grays skipper did not cover himself in glory nine minutes later however as Hornchurch equalised in calamitous style.
Porter’s floated cross was met by a powerful header from McKenzie and the ball crashed off the inside of the post, hit Johnson and nestled in the back of the net.
McKenzie credited with his fourth goal of the season but may have easily been given as a Johnson own goal.
The Urchins pushed on to try and find another but Johnson made amends as he saved Wall’s shot from point-blank range following Jed Chouman’s square ball.
The introduction of substitutes from both teams ultimately impacted on the game.
Fairweather-Johnson replaced Warner for the Urchins whilst Grays replaced Portuguese winger Carlos with Callum Thompson.
Ten minutes later, it was the Hornchurch substitute who struck first as Wall’s headed flick was neatly tucked away by Fairweather-Johnson with a right-footed finish from a one-on-one situation, giving Hornchurch the lead.
However, it only took four minutes to the game to be level again as a Thompson delivery from a free-kick was met by defender Fowler with a free header at the far post for his first of the season for Grays.
The scoreline remained unchanged but it could have been different.
Straight from kick-off Hornchurch nearly retook the lead through McKenzie, who had room on the edge of the penalty area but his effort could only find Johnson’s grateful gloves.
Hornchurch played better in the second half but would be disappointed to lose their perfect league record to two goals from defenders following set-pieces.
Grays would be the happier of the two teams in gaining a point but, based on their first-half performance, could have taken all three for themselves.
The result leaves Hornchurch in second place after eight games as Canvey Island’s result at Tilbury sees them top of the table having played three games more.
Hornchurch travel to Bostik South side Thamesmead Town for an FA Trophy tie on Sunday.
Hornchurch: Mott, Hursit, Lee, Cooper, Porter, Chouman, Roberts (Fanimo 55), Styles, Warner (Fairweather-Johnson 65), Wall, McKenzie.
Unused Subs: Lambert, Kamara, Tuohy.