Lowestoft Town 2, AFC Hornchurch 1
Lowestoft showed the business-like side of their nature as they battled their way up to second place in the Rymans League Premier Division thanks to a goal right at the very death.
Lubo Guentchev’s close-range effort was the last kick of a game which the purists would have turned their noses up at, but which left Craig Fleming rubbing his hands at the Blues’ ability to adapt to any situation.
Lowestoft were fresh from a 4-1 win at Margate on Saturday, but if that was an afternoon for turning on the style, Monday was one for rolling up the sleeves.
Town went ahead through Matt Nolan just after the hour mark, but were pegged back 15 minutes later and it wasn’t Guentchev struck that there was any guarantee of where the points would end up.
The fact that it was two of the substitutes that were on the scoresheet reinforces the belief that while Town don’t have big numbers in their squad, they do have more strength.
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“We have a good squad here now,” said Fleming. “There are a couple of people for most positions and it’s touch and go who plays.
“It can be difficult keeping everyone happy, but while we haven’t got huge numbers we have a lot of quality.
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“While it wasn’t pretty, we battled it out and things that didn’t necessarily go our way last year went our way – we got a scrappy goal at the end and three points. We are not going to play every game like we want to – and when we don’t it is important we win those games. That’s the bottom line.”
It was hard work from the first whistle, and Lowestoft could have been fighting an uphill battle from the 26th minute, when Aaron Gayle skipped around a couple of defenders and was upended by Stuart Ainsley, giving Hornchurch the perfect chance to take the lead. Jonathan Hunt stepped up, but keeper Andy Reynolds dived to his left and palmed the ball away. The danger wasn’t over because the ball fell kindly for Gayle – but he somehow missed an open goal from five yards, and Lowestoft breathed a huge sigh of relief.
The game began to swing in Lowestoft’s favour, although Reynolds had to turn away a Joe Anderson effort from distance just before half-time. Tambeson Eyong stung Reynolds’ fingers early in the second half, and then flicked a header from Hunt’s free-kick just over.
Town had seen enough – on 57 minutes on came Guentchev and Nolan and off went Jamie Forshaw and Adrian Forbes.
The change almost paid off immediately; Michael Frew headed against a post, although Reynolds came to Lowestoft’s rescue when he tipped over Gayle’s pile-driver. But it was his opposite number Kelvin Jack who was to blame for Lowestoft’s goal.
Nolan had hardly had time to warm to the occasion when, on 64 minutes, he let rip from distance – Jack, diving to his left, could have done better, but the pace of the shot beat him and Town were ahead.
The lead lasted just 15 minutes, Hornchurch levelling when the dangerous Eyong, a thorn in Lowestoft’s side all afternoon, swung in a cross from the left and sub Martin Tuohy glanced a header from 10 yards out into the far corner.
There was an escape when Frankie Curley headed wide from a free-kick as Hornchurch finished the stronger, but then came the biggest drama of the day.
With just seconds left and Lowestoft desperate for a winner, Reynolds appeared on the half way line to take a free-kick into a packed penalty area.
The ball was headed out to Adam Smith who clipped it in to the left of the area. Sam Gaughran pulled away from a defender to find a yard of space and then sent in a hard and low shot which Guentchev turned in from a couple of yards.
• Lowestoft Town: Reynolds, Okay, Gaughran, Mitchell, Smith, Frew, Fisk, Ainsley, Forbes (Nolan 57), Francis (Henderson 80), Forshaw (Guentchev 57). Subs not used: Cave-Brown, Godbold.
• Hornchurch: Jack, McSweeney, Anderson, Styles, Noel, Glover, Eyong, Curley, Flack (Tuohy 69), Gayle (Fletcher 89), Hunt (Smith 61). Subs not used: Taylor-Forbes, Collis.
• Attendance: 727.