2013's Essex theme continued on Saturday with a rare trip to Hornchurch. With the prospect of a game viewed from afar behind a running track this wasn't exactly something I was looking forward to, the Urchins' location in sleepy Upminster coupled with their struggle to cope with life in a higher division following promotion meant it was one that could be enjoyed.
The perils of weekend engineering works led to a lunchtime rendezvous at Liverpool St with what turned into a five a side team of Magpies as one by one we struggled across central London. In contrast a brisk train journey east followed by a short walk to the ground meant any earlier delays were inconsequential, so we wandered out onto a balcony wedged between the dressing rooms and bar behind the goal, the elevation provided meaning this was the best vantage point to watch the whole game.
Before kick off there was time to reflect on the last Saturday visit to Bridge Avenue when the previous incarnation of Hornchurch funded by what turned out to be the equivalent of magic beans, comfortably beat current Preston North End manager John Dreyer's Magpies who were battling hard to qualify for the brave new world of the Conference South. As is the custom this last away game of the season led to some United fans attending in fancy dress which created a wonderfully surreal moment when the priest (pictured bottom left) took such exception to one of the linesman's decisions that he vaulted the barrier and pursued him up and down the running track waving a bible.
Since then after a few ups and downs Maidenhead remain in the Conference South whilst Hornchurch opted within twelve months for bankruptcy and a restart in the Essex Senior League. Their climb back to this level is thus admirable under former Thurrock duo Colin McBride and Jimmy McFarlane, but its clear that like last week's opponents Billericay they may not stay very long.
The game passed remotely, watched in an Amstel induced blur, with Maidenhead eventually looking fairly comfortable in what was an open entertaining game. The man fast becoming one of non league's hottest properties, Alex Wall, again stepped up and converted a free kick from outside the penalty are, this time low and hard through the wall. His strike rate is up there with Gareth Bale at the moment and I have never seen a Maidenhead player with such a scoring record from set pieces as Wall. Perhaps the best comparison lies with Stuart Pearce whose pugnacious approach is a good comparison with the power Wall applies to the ball.
However Wall's goal came after Hornchurch missed a sitter and they went onto hit the post before Harry Pritchard ended the half by drawing a great save from the Urchins' goalkeeper.
The second half turned into a tale of two penalties as firstly Bobby Behzadi scored at the deserted far end of the ground to double United's lead,
and then Billy Lumley made sure there was no way back into the game for Hornchurch by diving low to his right to save the home team's spot kick.
Pritchard again went close late on when his shot was tipped over the bar before the final whistle signalled another three points to lift Maidenhead up into tenth position but still only five points ahead of Hornchurch who lie third from bottom.