Outclassed Bury left to suffer the play-off blues

PROBING PLAY: Lee Reed tries to find a way through the Hornchurch defence
PROBING PLAY: Lee Reed tries to find a way through the Hornchurch defence
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AFC Hornchurch 3 Bury Town 1

PREMIER DIVISION

AFC Hornchurch 3 Bury Town 1

by Derek Bish at Bridge Avenue

BURY Town were outclassed by AFC Hornchurch as the Blues’ promotion hopes were ended in the Ryman League Premier Division play-off semi-finals for the second consecutive season.

Goalkeeper Marcus Garnham kept the Suffolk side in with a shout with three excellent saves in the first half, but his error of judgement led to man-of-the-match Lewis Smith firing the Urchins in front.

Prolific striker Martin Tuohy doubled Hornchurch’s advantage and although Billy Clark curled Bury back into contention with the goal of the game, Carl Rook settled the tie 18 minutes from time.

Richard Wilkins’ charges – who ended the season having scored the most goals of anyone in the Ryman Premier – made two changes to the side that visited Tooting and Mitcham United on Saturday, with the taller Connor Hall favoured over Mark Coulson, while John Kennedy returned from a minor hamstring injury in place of Kieran Leabon.

Hornchurch – the league’s stingiest defence – also made changes having rested players on Saturday in their win over Leatherhead, recalling Frankie Curley, Lewis Smith, Andy Tomlinson and top scorer Tuohy in place of Jonathan Hunt, Michael Spencer, Leon McKenzie and Fola Orilonishe.

The Blues started marginally the brighter of the two sides, with John Sands glancing Lee Reed’s free-kick over the crossbar with his head before Sands crossed for Sam Reed to miscue a volley wide of the left-hand post.

From then on though, the Urchins got on top and Garnham was called upon to make three excellent saves – all from Smith.

Garnham clawed away a long-range strike, saved one-on-one and then stretched high to make another stop from the dangerous Hornchurch attacker as the home side piled on the pressure.

All Bury could muster in response was a shot from Lee Reed that was dragged wide of the post.

Rickie Hayles acrobatically fired a shot at Garnham after Elliot Stykes had nodded down Andy Tomlinson’s free-kick.

The Blues ended the half the better side without creating much, the closest they went to a goal was when Clark could not quite get a proper touch to turn home Russell Short’s low cross at the near post.

After a goalless opening period, the match was ultimately decided with one quick end-to-end exchange at the beginning of the second half.

Lee Smith released Sam Reed at one end and he saw his low drive touched on to the foot of the post by home goalkeeper Joe Woolley.

Bury failed to make the most of the corner and AFC cleared, with a long ball over the top being misjudged by goalkeeper Garnham before Short tracked back to out-muscle Lewis Smith as the home forward bore down on an empty goal.

While the Urchins were still crying for a penalty against Short, they took a 49th-minute lead when Lewis Smith smashed home a low drive through a crowd of players and right through the back of the net after the Blues had failed to clear.

Bury were stunned, the home side jubilant, and it was no surprise when Hornchurch doubled their advantage five minutes later, despite a hint of offside.

A ball down the right released Lewis Smith, who crossed for Martin Tuohy to tuck home his 28th league goal of the campaign, but his first since April 6.

There appeared to be little hope of a Bury revival, but great endeavour by an otherwise subdued Lee Smith saw the ball break for Clark, who hit a wonderful curling shot home from outside the penalty area.

However, there would be no grandstand finish as Hornchurch cut Bury apart again, Lewis Smith whipping the ball in behind Hall and Tuohy crossing for Carl Rook to tuck home from close range.

The visitors sent on the more attack-minded Kieran Leabon in place of defensive midfielder Kennedy, but it was Hornchurch who went close to scoring again with Garnham saving one-on-one from Lewis Smith before Hall cleared Tuohy’s follow-up off the line.

Apart from two injury-time corners, Bury showed little sign of dramatically forcing extra-time as their league season ended with a whimper.