DIVISION ONE NORTH
AFC Sudbury 1
AFC Hornchurch 1
A point gained as opposed to two dropped and a step closer to a coveted league title was AFC Sudbury defender Ryan Henshaw’s view of this draw against promotion-chasing AFC Hornchurch.
The home team went into the match on the back of a 10-match winning streak and five points clear at the top of the Ryman One North table.
They ended it unable to extend the sequence to 11 maximums in a row but, with results elsewhere going their way, stretching their advantage to six points.
Dubbed Super Saturday, as eight of the leading nine clubs were in direct opposition, it was certainly a super afternoon’s work for Sudbury.
Missing two key players – striker Luke Callander and centre back James Baker – a point against a strong visiting side was not to be sniffed at.
Man-of-the-match Henshaw enthused: “At the end of the day we are now 11 games unbeaten and with Cray and Thurrock both losing, it is a point gained rather than two points lost, so it is a massive point for us.
“Credit where credit is due, Hornchurch were a good side and it was a fair result.
“We had a couple of players out, but the boys that came in did well and George Clarke (who was deputising for Callender) scored our goal.”
Henshaw and his fellow defenders were put to the test by the visitors, who created the lion’s share of the chances but only had George Purcell’s 68th minute equaliser to show for their efforts.
The stalwart centre back was playing alongside his third different partner in as many games, with Stefano Mallardo given the nod ahead of Kyran Clements, who partnered Henshaw in the 1-0 midweek win at Romford.
Henshaw said: “Since James Baker dropped back into defence he has been unbelievable and a dream to play alongside, but I feel for the manager as both Kyran Clements and Stefano Mallardo are so alike in terms of their quality and it is hard to choose between them.
“Me and James now have a really good understanding and the boys have both done well when called upon and are easy to play with.
“At the start of the season we were struggling to keep a clean sheet, but now it has come together and it is easy to defend when we are playing football in the opposition’s half as it gives us time to relax.”
With 17 matches remaining, Henshaw, a member of the side that lost to Maidstone in the 2013-14 Ryman League Cup final, has set his sights on lifting the league title.
“I have been here six or seven seasons now and I just want to win something. What we have recently achieved – 10 wins in a row and now 11 matches unbeaten and sitting top of the table – has given me a taste for it, and I would love to now go on and win the league.
“Not many players can say they have won a league, and I would like to be able to say that I have done so.
“When you look at this club and its facilities we should be in the league above or even the league above that,” he said.
After a minute’s silence for long-time supporter Marion Nicholls was impeccably observed prior to kick-off, The Urchins went close in the second minute, Purcell rolling his shot wide of the far post.
Visiting skipper Elliot Styles hooked over the crossbar, before following home captain Sam Clarke, who was prominent in the opening period, into the book for illegally stopping Craig Parker’s surging run.
Those two were the first of six bookings – three for each side, with Henshaw and Mallardo cautioned in the second period for fouls.
Ben Robinson made a second timely tackle on Purcell as he was about to shoot and the half ended with Marcus Garnham diving bravely at the feet of Leon McKenzie as the visitors threatened again.
George Clarke glanced his header wide from Jack Newman’s 53rd minute free kick and Nathan Cooper cleared off the line after Liam Wales beat goalkeeper Sam Mott to the ball and poked goalwards.
Sudbury took the lead in the 65th minute, Robinson making good ground down the right and his pin-point cross was met by George Clarke who headed back across Mott and into the net.
The lead lasted just three minutes, Garnham failing to get any height and distance on his punch and although Henshaw headed Joey May’s powerful drive off the line, Purcell rifled home the rebound.
Junior Luke and May both flashed shots across the face of Sudbury’s goal in time added on, but Henshaw and his fellow defenders held firm for an invaluable point.
AFC Sudbury: Garnham, Robinson, Wilkinson, Berquez (sub Bailey, 85), Henshaw, Mallardo, Newman (sub Blackwell 74), S Clarke, G Clarke, Parker, Wales (sub Maybanks 74). Unused subs: Baughurst, Clements.
Referee: Alistair Wilson.
Man of the Match: Ryan Henshaw – Solid display at the heart of the defence against a good visiting forward line.