New Lodge, Billericay
Isthmian League Premier Division
Match Rating: 3
With no FA Vase game easily accessible by public transport at a ground I hadn’t been to previously putting an end to my run of watching a game in every round this season, I decided to head into Essex to visit a ground that many times over the years I had planned to visit but failed to do so.
The New Lodge is about a 20 minute walk from Billericay train station, and spectators enter through a brick turnstile block in one corner of the ground. Once inside, one looks over a ground that is rather tired looking and in desperate need of some TLC and a lick of paint. On the plus side though, there are no modern identikit facilities here, and so has some individuality about the place. Straddling the halfway line is a small old fashioned all-seater stand, offering good elevated views. To the right of the stand is flat standing in front of the brick clubhouse and the changing rooms, with a wooden refreshments hut in the corner, whilst stretching to the other corner flag from the stand is a few steps of covered terracing. A similar structure lines virtually the whole of the opposite length, with about a third of it covering seats, the remainder terrace steps. Behind both goals there are black metallic stands covering steps. The programme, printed in black and white inside a colour cover, was a good effort, covering all of the important stats and facts and with some interesting reading material.
A glance at the league table suggested that Billericay would be favourites today, in sixth place with 38 points from 25 games, including ten wins and eight draws, and were only outside the play off positions on goal difference and were four points off the top. They came into this game in great league form, unbeaten in their last seven league games, winning four of those. After finishing last season as runners up and losing in the promotion play-off final, Hendon were in 20th place in the 24 team league, with six wins and six draws from their 25 games.
On dank, gloomy afternoon with a strong wind making conditions difficult on a damp pitch that cut up, the game started quite evenly, but it was the home side who had the first real sight of goal on 12 minutes, when the Hendon keeper tipped a powerful shot over the bar. From the resulting corner, Billericay took the lead in somewhat fortunate circumstances. A goal bound shot was cleared off the line, but straight into Billericay's Joe Ellul and the ball ricocheted off back into the net. Billericay went on to dominate the rest of the half, although forcing another fingertip save was the only time they really came close to doubling their lead.
Into the second half and Billericay doubled their lead on 53 minutes with a great goal. Teddy Nesbitt drove to the edge of the area stumbling through a foul tackle before placing his shot into the top left corner beyond the keeper’s dive. An excellently composed strike despite being under pressure. That seemed to have sealed the points as they forced some more smart saves from the visiting keeper. Out of nothing though, Hendon pulled a goal back with 5 minutes remaining when a long throw in resulted in the ball landing at the feet of substiute Tony Taggart, who turned and fired the ball into the roof of the net. Suddenly it was game on, as Hendon looked an invigorated outfit, so it was slightly disappointing that Billericay reopened their two goal lead four minutes later. Again fortune favoured them, as Onome Sodje drove the ball low into the box and a defender stuck a foot out to guide the ball into his own net inside his keeper’s near post. That killed the game and Billericay held out comfortably for the three points.
In truth, there was never really much doubt where the points were heading throughout this match, save for a couple of minutes after Hendon pulled a goal back. But Billericay rose into the play-offs following this result, into fourth place, just a point behind the top three level on points, while Hendon remain four point clear of the relegation zone, but have played at least four games more than the two clubs immediately below them and certainly have plenty of work to do to ensure they remain in the same division they have competed in for the last 53 seasons.