Late flurry from Hornchurch gives boss Mark Stimson another slice of Wembley FA Trophy joy
FA Trophy Final: Wembley Stadium
Hereford FC (1) 1 Owen-Evans 13
Hornchurch (0) 3 Ruff 75, Nash 87, Brown 90+5
Three late goals ensured Hornchurch created another bit of east London folklore and proved that when it comes to the FA Trophy, there is no better man for the occasion than boss Mark Stimson.
The final had been drifting away from the Urchins, as they trailed to a deflected first-half goal, but sub Charlie Ruff bagged an equaliser with 15 minutes left before Liam Nash plundered the goal which effectively landed the cup.
Ellis Brown’s solo effort deep into injury time - outpacing the last defender and slipping the ball under keeper Brandon Hall - was the icing on the cake.
The trio of goals were all scored in front of the ecstatic Hornchurch fans massed in the east stand. Pandemic protocols restrict numbers these days but they made enough noise to compensate and were treated to a day they will never forget.
Just reaching the final of the FA Trophy was something of a minor miracle worked by Stimson – who has won the competition once as a player and, now, four times as a manager. Simply reaching the final was not what Stimson had in mind.
It comes to something when Hereford – a name synonymous with giant killings of yore and that famous triumph over Newcastle United - should play second fiddle in a big cup tie in terms of underdog status.
As a level six club, they might have been expecting to be the team punching above its weight, but for once, the club once claiming to be the last word in non-league defiance did not enjoy that status.
That mantle undoubtedly belonged to the Mighty Urchins of level seven in this year’s FA Trophy final.
The Isthmian Premier League side have done east London proud in their incredible march to the showpiece occasion, with the defeat of that grand old club Notts County in the semi-final, a result that will forever be etched in the annals of the club’s finest moments.
Maidstone United and Darlington – two more clubs which have graced the Football League – were also dispatched along the way.
The Upminster club did reach the second round of the FA Cup in 2003, but this was still a milestone that feels even more remarkable, given that they have never even got past the fifth round of the FA Vase, let alone the FA Trophy, which is the premier non-league knockout competition.
Past winners include plenty who have experienced life in England’s most recognised divisions – clubs like Wycombe Wanderers, Wrexham, Morecambe, Cheltenham and Cambridge.
Getting to the home of English football for the first time is especially remarkable for the Urchins, given they have played no league football since early November, when the competition was abandoned because of the costs and logistics associated with Covid-restraints.
In any other year, Hereford reaching the final would have been the most remarkable element of the story. After all, they are in National League North, so not even in the fifth tier National League, which is just below the Football League pyramid.
More than that, it is a club that has risen from the ashes of the old Hereford United which was wound up in the High Court in 2014 with debts of £1.3 million.
They have a young manager in Josh Gowling, though he was a play-off winner at Wembley with Grimsby Town five years ago.
The hope at the start was that former Gillingham boss Stimson could once again wave his magic wand in this competition. The 53-year-old won the FA Trophy as a player with Canvey Island when he laid on the winning goal against Forest Green in 2001 and won it three times as a manager – twice with Grays Athletic (2005, 2006) and once with Stevenage in 2007.
Not that those stats seemed likely to mean anything after a troubling first half.
Thirteen minutes in, and a polished corner-kick routine ended with Lewis Butroid rolling the ball across for an unmarked Tom Owen-Evans to sidefoot in from 12 yards – defender Oli Muldoon only helping it on its way into the corner with his attempt to get a head on it to block.
It needed Jo Wright to be watchful in goal when Chris Camwell bent a free-kick goalwards as Hereford continued to show the greater guile. Stimson’s men had to contend with the skills and ever-present threat posed by Michael Bakare on the left flank.
The narrative, however, was about to change after the break. Brown, set up Sam Higgins for a wild shot which almost fell just right for Joe Christou, who clipped the ball wide after meeting it at pace.
There would be a better chance when Nash broke through and had his partially-saved shot cleared off the line by a defender.
Then came the moment that had the red shirted fans bouncing around their end. From a long throw by Christou, the ball bobbled onto the top of the crossbar via the head of a defender and Charlie Rupp, lurking at the far post, bundled it over the line.
Even greater joy followed when a long ball hoisted in from the left was nodded back into space and Nash was on hand to rifle home. He ripped his shirt off and made for the corner flag, sparking more scenes of wild celebration.
Some fans were on the pitch at full-time, moments after Brown’s euphoric finale. But order was quickly restored to allow the usual post-match ceremonies to take place in an atmosphere of utter contentment for Urchins supporters.
Hereford: Hall, Hodgkiss, Haines, Grimes, Camwell (McQuilkin 75), Butlin, Owen-Evans, Finn (Kouhyar 88), Lloyd, Bakare (Klukowski 90), Butroid. Subs not used: White, Pollock, Digie, Jones
Hornchurch: Wright, Parcell, Sutton, Clark, Hayles, Muldoon, Christou, Spence (Ruff 59), Higgins (Dickson 60), Nash (Stimson 90), Brown. Subs not used: Thackway, Winn, Hassan, Cooper