Hornchurch blog: Mixed pre-season for the Urchins but plenty of new faces

Colin McBride (L), Jamie Southon and Hornchurch manager Jim McFarlane look on during AFC Hornchurch vs Arsenal Under-23...

Colin McBride (L), Jamie Southon and Hornchurch manager Jim McFarlane look on during AFC Hornchurch vs Arsenal Under-23, Friendly Match Football at Hornchurch Stadium on 31st July 2018 - Credit: Gavin Ellis/TGS Photo

We have now concluded our pre-season build-up, most of which was played in heatwave conditions, and we now entertain Leatherhead for our first game back in the Premier Division, after overstaying our welcome in Division 1 North.

We started at Hullbridge, in the Essex Senior League, and on a baking hot afternoon, Dumebi Dumaka scored the only goal of the game shortly after half time.

We moved up a division, and played three matches against teams from the Isthmian Division 1 North - and we lost all of them.

We had the majority of the play at Cheshunt, but the only goals came at the other end of the pitch, and, perhaps predictably, they were both scored by Ricky Sappleton, who always seems to play well against us.

Next was Canvey Island, where Nathan Livings put us ahead on 19 minutes.

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We seemed to be on cruise control, but received a rude awakening when Canvey replied with two goals inside two minutes, one of which came from our ex-player, Martin Tuohy.

With the strong wind in our backs in the second half, the ball spent much of the time in the Canvey half, but there were no further goals.

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Our most recent outing was to Bury St Edmunds, and whilst the more culturally minded of our supporters visited the magnificent Abbey ruins - surely on a par with Stonehenge, and in fact better, as entry is free and the catering facilities are vastly superior - others headed for the Nutshell, claimed to be the smallest pub in the country.

Back at the Ram Meadow, George Saunders scored a spectacular goal with a curling shot from somewhere out on the left wing, but a defensive slip allowed Bury to equalise before half time.

With numerous changes in the second half, we fell behind to a penalty, awarded for handball, and conceded a third goal shortly before the end. In between, we conceded another penalty but this one came back off the post.

The referee for the Bury game was Ollie Morris-Sanders, who played for Hornchurch five times in 2010, on loan from Braintree Town, after our regular keeper, Darren Behcet, had broken his hand at Lowestoft.

Ollie is now based at Ipswich, and is a top class referee, and he recalled his most memorable match during his brief stay at Hornchurch, against Canvey Island. Canvey won 3-0 and all their goals came from penalties.

In fact, Ollie had to face four penalties that evening, as one of them had to be retaken.

Moving up a division, we played Enfield Town, with Dave Collis taking over in goal from Callum Chafer, who picked up an injury in the previous match against Cheshunt.

Sean Marks headed home from close range after two minutes, but Enfield were back on level terms by the interval.

For a time we were forced to defend in depth, but it was a different story in the second half, and eventually our pressure was rewarded with an excellent goal from Dexter Peter.

We played two teams from the National League (Conference) South, beating Concord Rangers 2-0, our goals both coming from Theo Fairweather-Johnson, and we also entertained Dulwich Hamlet, with George Saunders putting us ahead when he disposed a defender and calmly slotted the ball home.

A header from Kenzer Lee and a long range shot from Leon McKenzie completed the scoring.

Our other match was against Arsenal U23.

Arguably they could beat most teams outside the Football League, and a packed ground was treated to a stunning display of one-touch football, and three goals - all at the wrong end.

Could the result have been different had George Purcell’s penalty not rebounded off the keeper’s foot, and had we been awarded a second penalty, for what appeared a clear-cut case of handball, a few minutes later? Possibly, but unlikely, but we can always dream.

Thanks to Freddie Ljungberg for bringing his team down to Bridge Avenue, and he also spent a considerable amount of time after the game talking to our supporters and signing autographs.

And this was the first time ever that we have played a team whose colours were officially purple and peacock navy.

In fact it appeared that they had an extra player on the pitch, as their strip blended so well with the all black strip of the referee.

The pre-season is now over, and we look forward to our first match in the Isthmian Premier Division, where we entertain Leatherhead, and then travel to Wingate & Finchley on Tuesday.

Newcomers to our squad are Jordan Clark, Sean Marks, Tobi Coker, Lewwis Spence and George Saunders, with Callum Chafer returning to Hornchurch after spells at Redbridge, Romford and Bowers & Pitsea.

Jordan Clark was a regular with Thurrock last season, Tobi Coker had a short spell on loan from Barnet two seasons ago, Sean Marks has made over 300 appearances for Braintree, and then spent two seasons at Conference club Maidenhead, where he scored 28 goals in his 69 appearances, and Lewwis Spence has been a regular first teamer at Thurrock, making 163 appearances for the Ship Lane club.

Also joining us is George Saunders, who last season played for Kelvedon Hatch, four divisions lower in the Essex Olympian League.

Early indications are that he is very rapidly adjusting to the much higher standard of football.

And we welcome another from Kelvedon Hatch, as Jamie Southon has joined Colin McBride and Jim McFarlane on the management team.

Jamie is another ex-Urchin, having made over one hundred appearances between 2002 and 2006, and last season was assistant manager at Kelvedon Hatch.

We go into the new season, with a new strip - two tone red hoops - and a new captain, as Elliot Styles decided to retire from senior football at the end of last season.

Elliot played in 541 competitive matches for Hornchurch, and was captain for 399 of those games. In addition, he also played in 70 pre-season matches, making a grand total of 611 appearances for Hornchurch in twelve seasons.

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