Invicta faced the daunting task of toppling the runaway Isthmian Premier Division leaders on Tuesday evening, but it was the side who have fallen in the playoff final the past 2 season who would take the points to send themselves 9 points clear with a game in hand.
Invicta would have been buoyed somewhere when looking at the team sheet to see a number of names not on it. Former Invicta men Ade Yusuff and Nathan Green are both currently sidelined with long term knee injuries while top scorer Liam Nash was among the others sidelined, but newly appointed manager Daryl McMahon (watching on from the terraces as he prepares to get to work) would watch a side that could afford to leave the likes of new signing Lewis Manor on the bench.
Invicta manager Andy Drury, who played under McMahon at Ebbsfleet United, made just 1 change to the side that shred 6 goals with Carshalton on Saturday as captain Ian Gayle returned for his first action since Boxing Day in place of Jake Goodman at the heart of the defence.
It was Joe Coleman who was the first keeper called into action as he collected a tame deflected shot from former Crystal Palace and Huddersfield man Sean Scannell after 4 minutes.
Invicta immediately responded as Dean Rance saw an effort of his own deflected wide for a corner. Eddie Allsopp’s delivery was headed clear as far as Seidou Sanogo 25 yards from goal who struck it on the volley, only to see his effort hit the shin of Jason Fregene and head just wide of the post.
Invicta continued to apply early pressure, with Sanogo finding Kane Penn in space on the right but the cross evaded everybody before being collected by Toby Byron who drove into the box and delivered a low ball of his own across the 6 yard box, again evading everybody. Jason Fregene was on hand to deliver a 3rd cross, this time high to the back post, finding Tom Derry who got his header on target but couldn’t beat Dion-Curtis Henry in the Hornchurch goal.
The visitors went close to opening the scoring on 23 minutes as left back Michael O’Donoghue cut the ball back to the penalty spot for Joe Christou who thundered his first time effort into the crossbar.
Invicta responded through our own left back Toby Byron who was found by Allsopp on the edge of the Hornchurch box, cutting inside and firing just over on his right foot via a deflection.
Christou was close to an opener again in the 33rd minute as Femi Akinwande drove a ball across the face of goal, Joe Coleman getting a touch that may well have been the difference in stopping the ball being turned home from a yard out.
It wasn’t long before Invicta were punished however, O’Donoghue this time delivering a cross from deep that Christou headed into the bottom corner to give Hornchurch the lead 10 minutes before half time.
Just 2 minutes Invicta were almost gifted an equaliser to take into the dressing room. A long kick from Henry was volleyed back by Byron, dropping in behind the Hornchurch defence and into the path of David Smith with the Hornchurch goalkeeper having come from his area and completely stranded Smith had to take his effort first time, lifting it over Henry but watching it drop just wide of the empty net.
Derry and Penn linked up to allow the latter one final chance to cross the ball right on the stroke of 45 minutes but Hornchurch remained resolute and took a goal lead into the break.
Invicta came out quickly after half time, Jason Fregene winning a free kick that Eddie Allsopp struck from distance to force a good save from Henry with the rebound dropping to safety.
With the 2nd half being played exclusively in the Hornchurch half and Invicta goal felt on the cards, even if the visitors were showing why their defensive record is second only to that of Billericay this season. But any hopes of an equaliser were killed off with 20 minutes to play when Toby Byron was dismissed. The left back went into a tackle with Quentin Monville that left the right back writhing in pain while the referee was quickly surrounded by no less than 5 blue and white shirts. Byron was shown a red card, much to the disgust of the majority of those on the terraces while thankfully Monville was quickly up and able to continue.
The loss of a man forced a reshuffle as Invicta moved to a back 4 for the final 20 minutes while sending on Ade Cole and Louis Collins in place of Eddie Allsopp and David Smith.
But the incident had completely changed the flow of the evening and Hornchurch used their numerical advantage to push for their second that came with little more than 10 minutes to play. Scannell showed all the quality and composure you would expect from a player with over 300 appearances in the EFL Championship to set up Akinwande to fire home and kill the game.
Scannell soon went close with an effort of his own that was deflected and looked like it may just loop over Coleman but the Invicta keeper did well to get his fingertips to it and push it away.
The final minutes were then played out with little fuss beyond the introduction of Scott Heard for Tom Derry and a booking for Sanogo. Invicta left wondering what might have been, dusting themselves down as we look towards another big task on Saturday with a trip to Billericay Town.
Midfielder Dean Rance was selected as Man of the Match by match sponsors Folkestone Invicta Supporters Club.