Eastern Senior League South
Venue: Burroughs Park
2019 – 20 Season: Match 59
Saturday 22nd February 2020 – 3pm KO
W Ensign: Red Shirts, Red Shorts, Red Socks
Halstead: & Black & White Squared Shirts, Black Shorts, Black Socks
Ensign narrowly overcome spirited Halstead to reach 11 straight League wins
White Ensign 1 – 0 Halstead Town
Report & Photos by Scott W (Twitter: @ScottMHC14)
The weekend’s Non-League match saw me return to Burroughs Park to see the Eastern Senior League South encounter between leaders White Ensign and promotion rivals Halstead Town. Although I’d seen the Navy Boys at home in the FA Vase this term, this was the first League match I’ve attended this season, as well as the first time seeing Halstead, who I’d heard good things about. Ensign looked to extend their ten-match league winning run whilst Town looked to gain ground on their opponents. The hosts were depleted, without the suspended Connor Barnby and influential forward Luke Skinner. They did name former Woodford Town & Holland stopper Nick Wilson in goal, with Dave Limber and skipper Jake McWee at the centre of the backline, with front two Jason Reynolds-Blanche and Brett Munyard supported by Dominic Locke and John Hilliard. Recent signing Rhys Fatt and defender Jack Maleary were among the options from the bench. Halstead fielded Jack Cherry between the posts with centre-backs Garry Burdett, Matt Caley and Jack Schelvis in front of him, and a attack of top scorer Chris Harris and Ricky Gardner. Hassan Ayten, Conor Scurlock and Nick Miller were all on the bench.
This highly-anticipated match started in a tense way, as both sides looked to get a minor advantage. The first chance of note came after just two minutes for the hosts as from a John Hilliard corner, centre-back Dave Limber powerfully headed wide of the far post. Town were looking good going forward though as moments later a neat through ball by Kane Munday found the run of forward Ricky Gardner though the home defence retreated to clear their lines. I feel it would be fair to say Ensign started the match in a nervy way, particularly in defence, much to the ire of vastly experienced custodian Nick Wilson. As the increasing breeze made conditions tough, Ensign winger Dominic Locke was once again a big outlet on the right flank with his surging runs and passing. It was Locke himself who played in forward Jason Reynolds-Blanche though the ball’s path decreased his angle on goal as he fired wide of the opposite post past the committed Humbugs ‘keeper Jack Cherry.
In truth, Halstead were growing in stature as their neat build-up play tested the hard-working Ensign midfield. Moments after Town midfielder Charlie Pleace had fired wide, a searching cross by Munday from the left got caught up in the wind, and Wilson did well to prevent it landing in the far corner by clawing it away with an outstretched hand, though Jamie Baker’s follow-up shot was comfortably gathered by the well-positioned Wilson. Ensign needed a telling blow at this point of the match and they duly found it on 33 minutes. A fine ball in from the left by Hilliard was flicked on by Reynolds-Blanche to the onrushing Locke who bypassed the visiting defence to power home from about five yards out as Brett Munyard & Mark Healy’s side took the lead.
Halstead did well to keep their focus as eight minutes before half-time, as Ensign forward Reynolds-Blanche did well to get past the defence though his well-hit drive was tipped over by Cherry. From the ensuing corner, Hilliard found Locke at the near post but Cherry again foiled him, getting down low to claw it away. The pace was building in this dramatic match as Halstead responded at the other end as an errant clearance by the hosts found Gardner just outside the 18-yard box though he couldn;t find the target. Baker also fired wide before Halstead had a penalty appeal turned down as Ensign were getting ‘hot under the collar’ in clearing their lines.
Half-Time: White Ensign 1 – 0 Halstead Town
After the break, Ensign forced a number of set-pieces and had a penalty shout of their own as Reynolds-Blanche went down in the area. Referee Fabio Roque refused to budge, just as with the earlier appeal at the other end before the interval. Early in the half, Ensign were having more joy in attack, as Hilliard’s clever passing and the pace of Locke overloaded the visitors’ backline. On the hour, a fine centre by Locke found Reynolds-Blanche though his header lacked the power to trouble Cherry. Meanwhile, Humbugs full-back Munday was engaged in a entertaining duel with home full-back Charlie Buffin down the Halstead left flank, in what was a battle of wills.
The match got more fraught in the latter stages, as the tension rose. Town full-back Liam Whitehead did well to deny player-boss & top scorer Brett Munyard a one-on-one chance with Cherry though the final ball wasn’t quite there for the hosts. With 13 minutes to play, a neat ball by Hilliard found Reynolds-Blanche whose attempted pass was just gathered by Cherry ahead of substitute Rhys Fatt. Locke had another decent chance after another searing run moments later, though his drive cannoned back off the post.
At the other end, Halstead substitute Hassan Ayten and Harris were giving the home defence a problem or two trying to get in behind though full-back Thando Moyo stuck to his task well. On the cusp of the ninety, Fatt’s header was gathered by the impressive Cherry though Ensign had to endure a nervous added few moments before the final whistle blew.
Full-Time : White Ensign 1 – 0 Halstead Town
The score-line doesn’t really tell the story of a tense, gripping encounter which both sides could have won and on another day the Humbugs could well have grabbed a point. Ensign will take some stopping at present though as they made it eleven straight league wins and remain seven points clear at the summit, with Little Oakley remaining their closest rivals after they smashed Benfleet 9 – 1 this weekend. Halstead certainly showed why they are a strong side in a division that some in Non-League arguably still underestimate. Mark McLean’s side are strong going forward and have a committed defence as well, you wouldn’t be surprised if they finish in the top four this season.
In terms of stand-out performances, Ensign winger Dominic Locke had another strong match, aided by the technical ability of John Hilliard sizing up incisive passes while centre-back Dave Limber was a strong presence in the air, assisted by skipper Jake McWee who also shut out the enterprising play of the Halstead forward line well. For Town, centre-back Matt Caley was superb, making quality interceptions all game and showing great awareness to boot. Centre forward Chris Harris was a threat all match too, supported by strike partner Ricky Gardner and energetic full-back Kane Munday who sent in good crosses for most of the match. Goalkeeper Jack Cherry also had a certain presence about him as the last line of the defence.
Finally, I’d like to wish both teams the best for the rest of the campaign. It’s good to see Ensign on such a strong run on-the-pitch and if Halstead do join them in getting promoted this term, they will both strengthen whichever Step 5 division they get placed in.
White Ensign | Player-Manager: Brett Munyard | Assistant: Mark Healy
1 Nick Wilson (GK), 12 Charlie Buffin, 3 Thando Moyo, 13 Dave Limber, 8 Jake McWee (Capt), 6 Bradley Gates, 16 Ben Austin, 15 John Hilliard (2 Jack Maleary 85’), 9 Jason Reynolds-Blanche, 20 Brett Munyard (14 Rhys Fatt 72’), 11 Dominic Locke
Goal-scorers: Dominic Locke [33’]
Booked: Reynolds-Blanche, Locke, Hilliard | Subs Not Used: Martin (GK), George
Halstead Town | Manager: Mark McLean
1 Jack Cherry (GK), 2 Liam Whitehead, 3 Matt Caley, 4 Garry Burdett, 5 Jack Schelvis, 6 Jake Brown (Capt) (15 Conor Scurlock 76’), 7 Jamie Baker, 8 Charlie Pleace (12 Hassan Ayten 59’), 9 Chris Harris, 10 Ricky Gardner, 11 Kane Munday
Booked: None | Subs Not Used: Dunlop, Miller
Referee: Fabio Roque
Assistant Referees: Nicholas Hodges & Daniel Keeble