Last-gasp Spencer sends Hornchurch up
Extra-time delight for Urchins
Ryman Premier Division Play-off
Hornchurch 2 Lowestoft 1 (after extra time)
Michael Spencer was the late matchwinner as Urchins earned promotion to Conference South at a tense Bridge Avenue yesterday.
Substitute Spencer struck with barely a minute of extra time remaining to seal victory in front of a crowd of 1,411.
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And manager Jimmy McFarlane was delighted for the 26-year-old Spencer, saying: “Michael is the model semi-professional. He never misses training, he’s never late and is as brave as they come.
“He never moans and got his just rewards. You get what you put in and this is as good as anything I’ve ever done.”
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After a tense opening, Lewis Smith snatched at a decent chance and saw his effort scrambled behind.
Joe Francis headed wide at the far post for Lowestoft, who had lost last year’s final at Tonbridge, before James Love joined an attack and drifted his shot beyond the far post.
Martin Tuohy lifted a good chance over early in the second half, before Dale Cockrill headed over for the visitors.
Carl Rook scuffed two attempts through to Andrew Reynolds around the hour mark before Lowestoft came closest to breaking the deadlock when Lubomir Guentchev hit a speculative shot on the turn against the crossbar.
Rook was denied at point-blank range by a double save from Reynolds, before Guentchev flashed a left-foot volley just over with five minutes of normal time remaining.
But Urchins might have won it in the final seconds of injury time when a long throw-in from Rickie Hayles was headed goalwards by Frankie Curley, captaining the side in the absence of suspended Elliot Styles, for Reynolds to tip over the crossbar.
Hornchurch got their noses in front four minutes into the extra period when substitute Leon McKenzie escaped the attentions of Adam Smith on the right and found Tuohy.
And when his low centre was cut out by Greg Crane, McKenzie reacted quickest to steer the loose ball home from six yards.
Joe Woolley produced a stunning diving save to tip Scott Mitchell’s low drive around a post as Lowestoft looked for a quick reply, but was beaten before the break when Curley was adjudged to have fouled Andrew Fisk and Dean Sinclair converted coolly from the penalty spot.
Urchins might have regained the lead before the turnaround as McKenzie escaped on the right and found Smith, who poked the ball past Reynolds only to see Sinclair get back to clear off the line as Tuohy looked to force it home.
But Lowestoft went close with five minutes remaining when Mitchell’s header was pushed out by Woolley and Michael Frew hooked over from the corner.
Cockrill headed onto the roof of the net from Frew’s cross as Lowestoft looked more likely to win it.
Then, with a dreaded penalty shoot-out looming, Jonathan Hunt found Smith just inside his own half and he spun away from one tackle and advanced upfield before threading a pass inside the full-back for Spencer to angle his shot into the far corner in a dramatic finale.
There was still one minute of extra time and another two minutes of stoppage time to negotiate, but Urchins, with Reiss Noel and Rickie Hayles proving towers of strength in the heart of their defence, held on for an historic and memorable victory.
Hornchurch: Woolley, Love, Anderson, Noel, Hayles, Glover, Rook (McKenzie 90), Curley, Tuohy (Hunt 113), Smith, Tomlinson (Spencer 105).