Chelmsford City showed huge character on a bitter evening in Upminster, as they defeated AFC Hornchurch 3-2 in the Essex Senior Cup on Tuesday.
Chelmsford were on the front-foot early on, with former Leyton Orient forward Shaun Batt going on a trademark mazy run into the box before being upended inside the penalty area. Referee Anthony Pope waved away the protests from the Chelmsford management and supporters.
On 12 minutes, Hornchurch found a breakthrough against the run-of-play. A terrific final ball from George Purcell, after some good build up, opened the Chelmsford defence and left Brad Warner with the easy task of tapping home.
Three minutes later and one became two as the Urchins doubled their lead after a defensive mix-up allowed Purcell to pass the ball into an empty net to double Hornchurch’s tally.
Chelmsford were playing well below their usual standard and gave zero impression that they were two divisions above their opponents. On 36 minutes, debutant Gianni Critchlow concluded a lack-lustre performance, as he took an early knock, and made way for midfield talisman Scott Davies.
Davies’ substitution seemed to have the desired effect for the away side as an element of steeliness was injected into Chelmsford’s midfield. Despite the change, Hornchurch departed the pitch at half-time with a healthy two-goal cushion.
Rod Stringer’s half-time dressing down paid dividends for the visitors, as the Clarets began the second period with a high impetus. Christian Assombalonga, brother of Middlesbrough hitman Britt, halved the deficit two minutes after the break. A curling Tom Hitchcock strike crashed the underside of the Hornchurch crossbar, allowing Assombalonga to simply poke the ball over the line for 2-1. Game on.
With 60 minutes on the clock, Chelmsford nearly found an equaliser. A goal mouth scramble resulted in the ball being blocked off the line, however a resilient Hornchurch back four was up to the challenge.
At the other end, the Urchins were dramatically denied a third goal in a rare second-half spell, as Claret’s defender Ashley Miller blocked Ross Wall’s strike.
Twenty minutes before full-time and Chelmsford saw their persistence pay off. Quick, sharp and decisive passing allowed Matthew Johnson to evade the Hornchurch backline and slot the ball past Sam Mott in the Urchins net to make it 2-2.
Chelmsford were on the hunt as pressure mounted, forcing Urchin’s keeper Mott into two fantastic stretching saves in quick succession.
Hornchurch almost scored an audacious winner as Substitute Leon McKenzie saw his looping header kiss the crossbar before Urchin’s forward Warner failed to add a second to his tally.
The home side were made to rue their golden chance on 87 minutes, as Chelmsford capitalised. Hitchcock found himself in space and fired the ball past the reach of Mott to give the Clarets their cup winner.
A real Jekyll and Hyde performance from Chelmsford sees them over the finishing line, whereas Hornchurch may view the tie as a blessing in disguise, allowing the Urchins to focus on their promotion aspirations back to the Isthmian Premier Division.
AFC Hornchurch starting XI: Mott; Hursit, J Porter, Lee, Cooper; Styles (C), Fairweather-Johnson, Roberts (Joseph 71’), Warner; Wall (MacKenzie ‘84), Purcell.
Subs not used: Kamara, Hussain.
Chelmsford City starting XI: Jessup; Miller, Daley, Haines, Smith; Johnson, M Porter (C) (Stevenson 89’), Critchlow (Davies 36’); Assombalonga, Hitchcock, Batt (Green 69’).
Subs not used: Spillane, Dickson.