Lowestoft Town 3 AFC Hornchurch 0
By Terry Bullen
After suffering heartache in three successive play-off final defeats, Lowestoft Town put in an accomplished performance to beat AFC Hornchurch 3-0.
Lowestoft Town: Jones, Jack Ainsley, Gleeson, Gaughran, Haynes-Brown, Henderson (Frew 17 mins), Jarvis, Fisk, Eagle (Smith 90 mins), Bammant, Reed (Okay 72 mins)
Subs; Smith, Stuart Ainsley, Frew, Okay, Jessup
AFC Hornchurch: Echepare, Coyne (Tuohy 54 mins), Spencer (Rook 60 mins), Rainford, Hayles, Starkey, Eyong, May (Phillips 61 mins), Bremner, Purcell, Bourne
Subs; Tuohy, Rook, Phillips, Styles, Varnier
After suffering heartache in three successive play-off final defeats, Lowestoft Town put in an accomplished performance to beat AFC Hornchurch 3-0 and secure Conference football for the blues next season.
Hornchurch came into the game missing both Payne and Curley through suspension but still fielded a big and strong side. For Lowestoft; Williams was still missing with a shoulder injury but Okay had returned from suspension and replaced Bailey on the bench. Team captain Gleeson had also recovered from his back problems picked up in the semi-final at Bognor and continued his solid partnership in the centre of defence with Gaughran.
There was an electric atmosphere that had been building since the gates opened at midday and as the game kicked off the atmosphere had reached fever pitch.
Lowestoft came close to making the perfect of starts as a huge kick forward by Jones was headed down in the box by Reed to find Bammant but with the striker just having the keeper to beat from a few yards out, he scuffed his shot and made it easy for Echepare to claim.
Lowestoft looked settled and were having the best of the opening exchanges, as Reed laid a nice ball back to Jarvis on the edge of the box and with the midfielder connecting with it really well, his driven effort flashed inches wide on the ten minute mark.
Eagle, Reed and Bammant were looking sharp and showing plenty of good touches as their movement started to cause Hornchurch issues at the back. Henderson was also starting to get involved down the right but on eighteen minutes Henderson and Lowestoft were dealt a blow as Hayles sent him crashing to the ground, with the heavy fall leaving him groggy and unable to continue. Hayles was booked for his troubles as one of Lowestoft’s in-form players was replaced by Frew.
The change had clearly ruffled Lowestoft and as a result the away side were now sending a number of crosses into the Lowestoft area, with one of them seeing Bremner latch onto a ball in the box, forcing Jones to grapple his goal bound effort from just under the crossbar.
It was a chance for the opposition that seemed to jolt Lowestoft back into action again, as they adjusted to the forced change out on the right, started to impose themselves again and deservedly opened the scoring. Jarvis was somewhat fortunate that the officials missed the ball striking his arm when controlling it on the edge of the box and with him slipping Eagle in to his left, the keeper should have done better with the weakly hit shot but it got beyond him and into the net for 1-0 to the blues (29 mins). It was nothing more than Lowestoft deserved as they had looked the stronger of the two sides and were playing well.
Hornchurch were unable to put any sustained moves together but were regularly putting balls into the Lowestoft area and with a swirling wind it was making it tricky for the Lowestoft defence but they were coping admirable as halftime approached. Since coming on Frew was also playing his part by getting stuck in and winning plenty of challenges in the air and on the deck for the blues. As the half time whistle sounded it had been a good half for Lowestoft and even though Hornchurch had forced more corners, they hadn’t caused any issues for a comfortable and confident looking home side.
Doubling their lead early on in the second half is exactly what Lowestoft were looking for and with just four minutes of the second half gone, that’s exactly what they did. A long throw was sent in from the left by Haynes-Brown and with Bammant knocking it down to Reed, the striker controlled it brilliantly before shaking off Rainford, turning in the box and firing his twentieth goal of the season home to send Lowestoft 2-0 up (49 mins).
It was already looking like there was no way back for Hornchurch, who had now introduced Tuohy in place of Coyne and moved to three up top. This had little effect though as Lowestoft continued to hold the upper hand and after great work by Frew, a great save denied Eagle from making it three. Lowestoft were not to be denied their moment of glory though and from the resulting corner, Fisk headed the ball back to Haynes-Brown and from just inside the box he unleashed a sweet, low hit volley that flew past the keeper and into the net for 3-0 (59 mins).
It was pretty much game over for the away side now and with their two remaining changes being made, Hornchurch had nothing to lose and went gung-ho, hoping to perform a miracle.
A cross from the left saw Eagle find Reed but with the striker at full stretch his effort went wide of the target. Lowestoft looked comfortable and even though they were getting a little deep and Hornchurch were throwing numbers forward now, the Lowestoft defence, not for the first time this season, were showing their metal and dealing with everything. Jones was also commanding his area well and with Reed taking a knock, Lowestoft reacted by brining on Okay to switch to a 4-5-1 and see the game out. Lowestoft now had a central midfield trio of Jarvis, Fisk and Okay and it was looking like a case of just running the time down now, with Hornchurch looking decidedly disorganised.
Even with Lowestoft now defensively standing their ground, they nearly added to their goal tally with only a block stopping Haynes-Brown from getting his second goal of the game.
Ten minutes were now remaining and a sense of having finally done it was starting to work its way around the ground with the touchlines and stand in full voice, cheering the blues home.
Hornchurch heads were now down and a flurry of bookings were adding to a miserable day for the Urchins.
A final Lowestoft change was made and it was an apt change with Smith having been involved in all three of the previous play-off final defeats, as he replaced Eagle with four minutes of stoppage time remaining.
The final whistle felt like it was never going to come but when it finally arrived the scenes that followed were emotional and unforgettable. Supporters spilled onto the pitch and with a massive huddle in the centre circle containing supporters, players and management, the chants of 'We are going up' rang out around the Crown Meadow.
It was a remarkable achievement and the dreams of reaching the conference were now a reality.
The performance in the semi-final at Bognor was the teams greatest performance of the season but in many ways this performance even topped that, as it was a controlled and professional performance with the away side being swept aside. Even before kick-off there was a different feel about the place and an almost unspoken realisation that this was our time.
Yet again every player stood tall and yet again every player deserves the label of Man of the Match. If I had to pick one out then I would go for Reed who was simply untouchable all day but yet again the Man of the Match honours have to go to each and every one of them.
This day will live in our memories forever and a new dawn now awaits at the highest level of football the club has ever seen. It's exciting and we hope those that came to show their support throughout the season and during this play-off final, share with us in the exciting times that lay ahead next season.
To all of our supporters, thank you!! WE DID IT!!!