SPALDING UNITED 1 AFC HORNCHURCH 4: Spalding were clinically dumped out of the FA Cup on Saturday against a side who were just too good for them in the final third.
Although the Tulips matched their opposition from two rungs higher on the non-league ladder for most of the game, Hornchurch’s ability to step up a gear when it mattered ultimately told.
And in three-goal striker Carl Rook they had a player so much better than the opponents Spalding are used to.
The three-goal margin of victory certainly flattered the Urchins but Tulips manager Pat Rayment will take heart in the fact that – perhaps with the exception of AFC Rushden and Diamonds – there is no team in the UCL Premier Division who is going to give them a test like this.
A reflective Rayment said: “To lose 4-1 was perhaps a little harsh on us, but we have to accept that the better team won. They are the biggest side I’ve ever seen at non-league level and I’d expect them to go on and do very well in their league.
“It’s certainly no disgrace to go out of the FA Cup to them. For a club like us, the FA Cup is all about going as far as you can and picking up as much prize money as you can.
“I’d say we have exceeded all expectations in the competition – and we now return our focus back to our main aim, which is to win the league and gain promotion.
“What I will say is that we missed a lot of chances – which really has been our Achilles heel this season. For all of the goals we’ve scored, we’ve missed many more chances.”
Spalding had started well against the Isthmian Premier League high-flyers, with Sam Mullarkey and the impressive Lewis Webb getting in shots.
But visiting striker Rook quickly showed he was the man to watch, beating Nathan Stainfield in the air to head just over, and then just failing to convert Tambeson Eyong’s cross from the right.
Tricky and fast, Eyong was giving Spalding left back Adam Jackson a torrid time, and he soon skinned Webb and powered into the box, only to poke his shot wide.
At the other end Andrew Tidswell set up Dan Cotton, whose shot was saved, before Mullarkey fired just over.
But Hornchurch’s attacks had more weight to them and when Stefan Payne skinned Jackson on the edge of the area his pass left Rook with the simple chance of tapping in the opener.
Spalding responded impressivley and Mullarkey should have levelled within minutes, but team mate Tidswell took the ball off his foot in front of goal as both went for glory. Just before the break, the inventive Tidswell then combined with Webb to set up Cotton, whose stinging effort was well saved.
Spalding started the second half on the front foot, with Webb and Tidswell showing they would be quite at home at Hornchurch’s level.
Jonny Allen left the pitch in agony after a collision with Chris Bourne, but Rayment had a like-for-like substitute in Lee Canoville. It later emerged that Allen suffered a dislocated knee cap.
Then came the killer blow. A fluent move down the left ended with Bourne’s superb cross headed expertly past Spalding keeper Michael Duggan by the imperious Rook.
Minutes later and the ref gave a very weak penalty decision for handball against Cotton. Rook gobbled up the gift and slotted home his hat-trick from the spot before being immediately subbed.
But rather than lick their wounds, the Tulips gave it a go and scoredthe goal of the game when Tidswell whipped a superb effort into the top corner from the edge of the box after a corner had evaded all of his team mates.
Hornchurch were too good to allow Spalding a comeback, however, and scored a fourth late on when sub Ade Yusuff’s tame effort somehow beat Duggan, hit both posts and trickled in.
Proof that luck had deserted Spalding came with the last kick of the game when new striker Mark Jones, introduced late on, expertly latched on to a loose ball and lobbed visiting keeper Inigo Echepare – only for his effort to hit the base of the post.
Tulips: Duggan, Allen (Canoville 54), Jackson, Stevens, Stainfield, Webb, Beeson, Hall, Mullarkey (Jones 82), Tidswell, Cotton (Battersby 76).