City were made to pay for failing to capitalise on their early superiority as they allowed a battling Hornchurch side to force this FA Trophy second round tie to a Bridge Avenue replay.
Gary Roberts was able to name an unchanged side from that which crushed Maidenhead 5-1 last Saturday, with Lee Summerscales continuing to deputise for the injured Lee Chaffey at left-back.
For the visitors, whose recent financial difficulties have been well documented, the scale of their upheaval was illustrated by the fact that of the team that turned in one of the best ever performances seen at Milton Road as recently as mid-September, only right back Scott Gooding of that nights starting line-up still features, although Danny Shipp and former Margate striker Jan-Michel Sigere both came on as second-half substitutes on that occasion. Unsurprisingly recent results have been a little inconsistent and the Urchins came into this game on the back of a 1-1 draw with the leagues bottom side, St Albans.
Dale Binns turns his marker
The Lilywhites started the game with the confidence that comes from the string of impressive results they have turned in over the past few weeks and they were full of crisp passing, pace and good movement off the ball in the opening exchanges. It was the visitors however who recorded the first serious attempt on goal when David Hicks powered through the inside right channel and saw this shot deflected narrowly wide for a corner.
Despite having the lions share of possession City were unable to find a way through the well-drilled Hornchurch rearguard and the visitors came close again after some twelve minutes. Chris Carruthers swung in a left-footed free kick from wide on the visitors right and found Andy Tomlinson in space some ten yards out but the midfielder skied his effort when he would have hoped to work Duncan Roberts.
As the game progressed City began to settle into their preferred passing style and looked a much more accomplished side as a result. Some fifteen minutes in a slick move involving Rob Miller, Dale Binns and Richard Scott ended with the ball arriving at the feet of the over-lapping Lee Summerscales who slid a low shot across Micky Desborough, but his celebrations were cut short by the assistant referees offside flag.
Rob Millers industry then saw him win the ball in midfield and power forward before releasing Robbie Simpson with a sublime pass threaded through the Hornchurch back-line. Simpson lifted the ball over the advancing Desborough but the keeper had done enough to force the teenage striker to roll his effort inches wide of the post.
In the next meaningful attack, Simpson, who netted twice last Saturday, made amends by applying the finishing touch. Dave Sadler rose superbly to guide an angled header into the path of his strike partner who this time chose power over placement and blasted at goal, Desborough was still down smartly to block and send the ball ballooning goalwards, taking no chances Simpson followed-up to ensure the recovering defenders had no chance of clearing, 1-0 and City very much in the ascendancy.
To make matters worse for Hornchurch, Carruthers, who had picked up an earlier injury after coming off worst in 50-50 challenge with Carl Williams was forced to withdraw from the action, Adam Locke taking his place.
Robbie Simpson was creating all sorts of problems for the Hornchurch defence and in the immediate aftermath of the goal he turned adroitly away from Gooding and set up Rob Miller for a long range shot which faded wide of the post.
Hallelujah!! Lee Summerscales and Jean-Michel Sigere "offer one up"
Another lightening break from midfield, orchestrated by Williams and continued by Richard Scott saw the ball worked wide to Dale Binns who flashed a low centre across the six yard box but neither Sadler nor Simpson, both at full stretch could apply the necessary finish.
City then probed down the right. With Craig Pope coming forward to good effect he fed Williams who in turn played a neat one-two with Miller before flighting in a near post cross for Simpson who rose and twisted superbly to power a header towards the roof of the net only for Desborough to produce an excellent save finger-tipping the ball over the bar.
Despite their territorial dominance City almost left the back door ajar as Hornchurch twice came close to grabbing a leveller in the dying moments of the half. First, the Urchins worked the ball from left to right where Locke sent in a spiralling cross for Shipp to head goalwards, Roberts could only parry and was forced to produce a second save from the same player to keep the ball out. Then the powerful Sigere turned skilfully away from Glen Fuff before playing in Shipp through the inside left channel, Roberts again coming to the rescue as he spread himself at the feet of the former Dagenham striker.
The half time interval appeared to have come at the wrong time for City as they were painfully slow out of the blocks in the second half, defending deep and conceding midfield territory to Hornchurch, who given the space to play began to look more than useful.
In the first meaningful goalmouth action of the half former Milton Road loanee Shane Huke benefited from Sigeres lay off to warm Roberts hands from distance.
Sensing that a result was still very much achievable Garry Hill made a double change on the hour, introducing Nathan Philip and Greg Ngoye for Ahmed Deen and Andy Tomlinson respectively. Ngoye was soon in the thick of the action combining with Huke to send a low centre across the face of goal, Matt Langston averting the danger at the expense of a corner.
With the Lilywhites spirits very much in need of a lift Gary Roberts introduced talismanic striker Jon Stevenson at the expense of Dave Sadler, himself still on the comeback trail from injury.
With his first touch Stevenson produced a moment of quality the game had been crying out for. In one movement the former Leicester striker collected the ball in centre field turned and curled a measured ground pass into the path of Robbie Simpson who advanced through the inside right channel before unleashing a fierce drive only to see Desborough, the keeper who had arrived at the club the day before from Bishops Stortford, deny him once again with a diving block.
Close control - Robbie Simpson shields the ball
City were then made to pay for allowing the visitors to come onto them. Ian Cousins sent a speculative centre deep into the City box from wide on the left, it appeared to be close enough to goal for Roberts to come and collect but he chose to stay on his line leaving Matt Langston to clear. Whilst the City skipper protested that he had been pushed the ball struck his outstretched arm and after consulting his assistant Mr Artis awarded a spot kick. Visiting captain Danny Shipp stepped up and fired low to Roberts right, but whilst the giant custodian got a hand on the ball he could only help it into the back of the net.
Realising that a Tuesday night trip to Upminster was now very much on the cards City upped the tempo in the hope of keeping next week free ahead of Friday nights visit of Milton Keynes Dons in the FA Cup. Stevenson again combined with Simpson to free the Lilywhites goalscorer but the alert Desborough was again out to the edge of his area to avert the danger.
As the clock ticked through the 80 minute mark Richard Scott headed Lee Summerscales free-kick into the path of Stevenson who saw his first-time shot deflected behind for what appeared to be a corner, however the award of goal kick drew sufficient protest from Matt Langston to earn him a caution.
Richard Scotts afternoon then came to an end as he was replaced by Alex Fiddes.
As City piled forward a Carl Williams free kick from wide on the right found its way through to Robbie Simpson who seemed to have a clear sight on goal some ten yards out but he delayed a fraction too long before pulling the trigger allowing Gooding to block.
Good work between Fiddes and Binns then saw the City winger cut a low cross back from deep on the left only for Desborough to pounce and smother the ball with Stevenson homing in.
With the ninety minutes as good as up Lee Summerscales played a perfectly angled centre from left to right and into the path of Carl Williams who had ghosted in at the far post behind the Hornchurch defence but the hard working wide man was left holding his head in his hands as his scuffed shot trickled wide of the target.
There was still time for City to carve out two more half chances as first Dale Binns rose to meet Craig Popes centre and cushioned a header back across goal into the path of Simpson who fired wide and then Fiddes combined with Binns to create the space for a Rob Miller strike but as that effort too drifted wide the Lilywhites were forced to accept the inevitable Tuesday night trip to Essex.
Post match reaction
We didnt want a defeat obviously, but drawing the game complicates our situation next week with the game on the Friday. If we want to be successful, then we have to deal with these things....more