Hornchurch beaten by Brightlingsea Regent
PUBLISHED: 18:01 01 April 2017
Brightlingsea Regent 2 Hornchurch 1
Hornchurch saw their faint hopes of the Ryman North title extinguished by leaders and champions-elect Brightlingsea Regent at North Road.
Goals either side of the break from Billy Hunt and a stunning strike from Phil Kelly put the hosts on top and Leon McKenzie’s injury-time reply was little consolation for Urchins on a frustrating day.
Sam Bantick came straight into the starting line-up after sealing his return to the club from Sudbury on Friday, having made one appearance for them in the Essex Senior Cup as a teenager.
But Regent got the first sight of goal as Kelly chased a long ball into the left channel and crossed for Russell Malton, who fouled Alex Bentley as the Hornchurch defender headed clear.
The opening few minutes were littered with stoppages for free-kicks, as the two sides battled to gain the upper hand early on.
And Ross Wall earned the visitors one such set-piece on the left of the box on seven minutes, but Bantick’s centre was headed clear and Teddy Nesbitt fired his shot through a crowd of bodies and wide of the upright.
The hosts looked to make use of Josh Gould’s long throw-ins a couple of times in the first quarter of an hour, but the Urchins defence coped with the danger comfortably enough.
And one such clearing header from Elliot Styles was seized upon by Bantick on halfway, with his pass finding Martin Tuohy running into space to fire a 25-yard half volley a foot or so over the crossbar.
Regent struck on 15 minutes, though, and there was an element of good fortune about it as Bentley saw his attempted clearance hit John Easterford and fall kindly for Hunt, whose shot was half-stopped by Sam Mott but went over the line before Malton made sure.
Urchins went close to a quick reply as Bentley’s free-kick in from the right touchline found Easterford, whose header was spilled by Sam Cowler, before the keeper recovered to smother and deny the lurking Abs Seymour.
Easterford’s strong header on halfway left Kelly flattened and saw him spoken to by referee Elliott Swallow and Regent had a chance from the resulting free-kick, which was headed across the goalmouth by Malton from the right for Aaron Condon, who saw his shot blocked behind.
A trip by Jake Gould on Bantick on 27 minutes led to another warning from the match official and gave Seymour a chance to swing a free-kick goalwards on the breeze, with Cowler pushing the ball over his crossbar.
But a bobbly pitch was not making things easy and both sides seemed happier to play the ball in the air, although Tuohy went close again as he hooked a left-footed effort narrowly over when Usman Adeniji had helped the ball on at the edge of the box.
Aaron Condon curled a free-kick just wide for the hosts, after Seymour was penalised for a challenge in a central position, and it looked increasingly likely that set-pieces were going to be the best bet for any further goals, rather than open play.
Connor Witherspoon was booked for dissent when a free-kick was awarded for a foul on Seymour, but the Regent defence held firm and Bantick then had his name taken for a nudge on George Doyle as Swallow’s patience finally ran out late in the half.
The crowd of 330 had barely settled back into position at the start of the second half when Condon’s corner from the right fell invitingly for Pip Boyland, whose shot from 12 yards was blocked.
And Easterford needed treatment soon after when caught on the side of the head by Hunt, contesting a header just inside his own half, which led to a frank exchange of opinion between the two dugouts.
Seymour was shown a yellow card for a challenge on Witherspoon, whose embellished reaction did the Hornchurch midfielder no favours on 55 minutes, as the war of attrition continued.
And when Wall and Seymour combined to play in Adeniji on the right, only to see the ball bobble behind, it summed up Hornchurch’s day to that point somewhat fittingly.
Then, with an hour gone, Kelly chased a long ball out on the right flank and cut inside Styles before curling a left-footed shot inside the far post to double Regent’s lead, celebrating with supporters and then earning a booking for doing so.
The hosts went close to a third when Hunt got to the byline on the left and found Condon at close range, but his effort was deflected behind by Mott, before Jimmy McFarlane sent McKenzie, George Purcell and Tobi Joseph on for Wall, Bantick and Adeniji in a triple substitution midway through the half.
And McKenzie almost had a sniff of goal when Joseph nodded the ball down on the edge of the box, but Cowler was alert to the danger and beat the big striker to it.
McKenzie was then booked for a challenge on Kelly behind the play, as Regent counter-attacked, while Mott had to get down and make low saves to deny Condon and Kelly as the leaders looked for a third goal.
Meanwhile, Hornchurch were continually frustrated in their attemps to try and find a way back into the match as Jed Chouman and Nesbitt combined on the left 10 minutes from time to get a good ball into the box, only for Josh Gould to clear the danger once more.
Chouman tried a speculative effort from fully 30 yards, which bounced in front of Cowler and almost caught him out as he pushed it over the crossbar in the final minutes.
But that was probably the Regent keeper’s most difficult moment of the day until stoppage time, when Bentley’s superb cross from the right found McKenzie at the far post and his header halved the deficit.
Then with time almost us Cowley held on just under his crossbar as Tuohy sent another header goalwards from a long throw-in to ensure the champions-elect took all three points and left Urchins in third place looking to now ensure their place in the play-offs with four matches remaining.
Brightlingsea Regent: Sam Cowler, Pip Boyland, Jake Gould, Connor Witherspoon, Josh Gould, Matt Cripps, Russell Malton (Rees 66), George Doyle, Billy Hunt, Phil Kelly (Hogan 75), Aaron Condon (Harvey 85).
Unused subs: Ricky Griggs, Harry McDonald.
Hornchurch: Sam Mott, Alex Bentley, Teddy Nesbitt, Abs Seymour, John Easterford, Jed Chouman, Usman Adeniji (Joseph 66), Elliott Styles, Martin Tuohy, Ross Wall (McKenzie 66), Sam Bantick (Purcell 66).
Unused subs: Taj Hussain, Gary Cohen.
Referee: Elliott Swallow.