Jack Ball reports on Basildon United’s terrific comeback as Ilford buckle at the Cricklefield Stadium
Basildon United stole the show against Ilford with a superb last gasp comeback, leaving Allan Fenn’s Foxes to reflect on a 3-2 defeat.
An Ilford upset looked to be on the cards when Ashley Skeggs put the home team ahead. Basildon, however, finished emphatically to keep their title hopes alive as Lindisipho Mtyanda equalised before Callum Leahy sealed the deal with a terrific goal in the final moments.
Despite the disappointing result, Fenn was pleased with his side’s far from mediocre performance.
“It’s a tough result to take, there really wasn’t much in it between the two sides – we matched them in almost every area of the pitch,” the manager said.
“It’s a shame, too, because we started to play our best stuff when we had the lead. We had plenty of chances to put the game to bed though, and we paid for wasting them in the end.”
Whilst the season is drawing to a close, the Essex Senior League trophy is by no means secured for the club who have previously won it a record five times. Despite the Bees being top of the table, 3rd place Bowers and Pitsea remain firmly in the title race with a total of three games in hand.
And, Craig Gillam’s side made the trip to East London fully aware of the circumstances. Any slip up from his team over their last couple of games is sure to further strengthen their local rival’s chances of snatching the trophy from under their noses.
Ilford, on the other hand, went into the game with their respectable 5th place league position all but confirmed – only Clapton, should they win their remaining three fixtures, can overtake them and Barking, 4th, have been out of their reach for some time.
Nevertheless, Fenn and his players would have undoubtedly taken satisfaction in causing any disruption to Basildon’s ultimate goal, offering the fans a memorable highlight to close out another tough campaign.
“Credit to Basildon – they showed why they are top of the league with the way they fought back and put us under pressure,” Fenn added.
“We expected them to finish strongly with all that was riding on the game for them. They made the most of the few chances they created at the end, whereas we failed to capitalise on our opportunities.”
Put to the sword
The Bees opened the scoring after ten minutes when Bradley Warner broke free of Ilford’s back line, stretching them as he was fed down the right flank. The striker then picked out Lindisipho Mtyanda with a low cross who made no mistake in beating goal keeper Chris Clark from close range.
The Essex side have wasted little time in putting many teams to the sword this season – most notably against league strugglers Newham last month where they lead 4-0 at half time.
Ilford, though, appeared undeterred from the early set back and levelled the scores through Glen Warwick, capitalising on an opportunity after Basildon failed to deal with a set piece delivery.
Basildon were quick to attempt to regain their authority on the match, with Callum Leahy going closest before the break. The eventual match winner found space in a tight area, only to be denied by Clark who did well to deny his shot.
After the break, Basildon’s first opportunity was almost identical to that which brought their opener. This time, however, centre back Isaac Nkosi was on hand to cut out the cross with a last ditch clearance.
With the Bees’ keeper off his line, Ilford’s Carl Mullings was left frustrated after he failed to make the most of a great opportunity. The striker carelessly blasted his shot over the cross bar.
While Mullings should have scored, he was let off for his sloppy shooting a minute later after a long throw into the box appeared to unsettle Basildon. After a number of ricochets and failed clearances, Skeggs could not miss as he poked the ball into the Basildon net from a yard out.
Ilford could have built on their lead, with Mullings going close again on two occasions.
But with just over ten minutes to go, Ilford had no answer when stand out performer Mtyanda found the bottom corner with a beautifully placed shot.
Spurred on by an animated bench, the league leaders pushed for a winner. Ilford found themselves penned back as they desperately tried to save a point by seeing the game out. But the pressure proved too much as Leahy finally made the breakthrough with a powerfully hit shot from just outside the box to win the game.
After managing to keep their dream season on track, Basildon face Greenhouse Sports tonight in another must win affair. They will then begin their preparations to host Barking on the final day (28/04).
There’s no denying that a tough psychological battle lies ahead of the league leaders. It could not be more imperative for them to win both of their remaining games if they are to have any chance of winning the league title – after that their fate will be in the hands of Bowers and Pitsea who, as it stands, have three games in hand and a favourable goal difference of +10.
They face Sporting Bengal tonight at home, followed by the more gruelling task of playing out their remaining fixtures with no more than three days of rest between each game.
It would help Basildon if they are able to win their games in convincing fashion and score a few goals, whilst Pitsea, as it stands, can afford to lose one of their games and still remain in the driving seat.
“We know what we have to do now, likewise, they’ll know what they have to do in order to win the league,” said Basildon coach Nick Morgan following their recent victory.
“I’m really not sure who has the advantage. It’s going to be extremely difficult for them, playing so many games in a short space of time and trying to keep their players sharp. It’s bound to test their fitness whereas we have just two games.”
It remains to be seen whether either side can cope with the two very different scenarios that lay ahead of them. One thing that is for sure is that come the final day, one side will be Essex Senior League Champions.