Millers blow play-off opportunity

Aveley 0, Heybridge Swifts 2

AVELEY’S Bostik North promotion hopes were shattered in Wednesday’s fractious encounter at Parkside.

The Millers went into the game as hot favourites, having finished second in the table on the back of a string of fine performances but on the night they failed to live up to expectations.

Home fans could justifiably point to a dreadful performance by ref Michael Begley, who dismissed three players on the night and whose lack of control frustrated players, officials and supporters from both sides, but at the end of the night it was the lack of competitiveness from Aveley that was decisive.

The opening exchanges were even, with Heybridge suffering an early blow on ten minutes when experienced midfielder Nick Brown had to be replaced by Odei Martin-Sorondo, who was to go on to play a leading role in the match drama.

Six minutes after the substitution Swifts took the lead when Evans Kouassi broke down the right and drilled a low cross into the box which was met by Dan Walker who steered it past keeper Lamar Joseph-Johnson from close range.

The goal was the highlight of a lack-lustre first half in which Aveley failed to trouble visiting keeper Chris Haigh.

The second half saw Aveley improve and they began to threaten, most notably when Sam Cross’s ball into the box fell invitingly for Sam Bantick but he failed to make a decent contact with his header and the chance was lost.

Martin-Sorondo, who had been booked in the opening moments of the half after a clash with Joseph-Johnson – who was also cautioned – should have picked up a second yellow for another poor challenge but Mr Begley bottled it.

Moments later Aveley had the ball in the back of the net when a low ball from a cross was deflected into the net by a Swifts defender but inexplicably assistant ref Mario Stetakovic raised his flag for offside and the referee hadn’t the gumption to overrule him.

That decision effectively lit the blue touch paper for an explosion of aggression a couple of minutes later.

Martin-Sorendo and Swifts Manny Osei-Owusu were dismissed after a midfield scuffle and then the fourth official, Graeme Ions, intervened to get Bantick sent off also. Joseph-Lamar was lucky not to pick up a second yellow for his involvement in the incident.

The angry exchanges continued into the dressing rooms corridor, where further blows were exchanged.

Despite having a man advantage Millers failed to take advantage and Haigh was largely untroubled.

And in the closing moments the game was put beyond their reach when Joe Claridge’s long ball over the top was chased down by sub Matt Price. Joseph-Johnson hesitated and the Swifts player drilled the ball past him to secure the victory and a play-off final place against Maldon and Tiptree.