Playoff curtains for K’s
On a night when Jose Mourinho saw his Chelsea side crash out of the Champions League, his style was at least living on elsewhere. Football's so-called philosophers may not have enjoyed AFC Hornchurch's gameplan but none could deny that it was clinical.
The visitors didn't park the bus but they certainly broke up the flow of a game that quickly became incredibly scrappy and after nicking the only goal of the game they were able to kill it off stone dead. After squandering early chances Ks quickly ran out of ideas against their physically imposing opponents.
The summer might help fans go over the heartbreak. The World Cup can't cause any more, not in the same way anyway, as football can only truly break your heart when it builds up your hopes and expectations.
While England in their present guise offer neither, this Ks side actually did - some 14 games unbeaten going into the playoffs having secured home advantage, and for the most part playing some impressive attacking football mixed with a solid spine and mental strength. It actually felt like promotion was a real possibility, which is what makes coming up short all the harder to take.
Ks started impressively but were never able to fashion more than half chances. Dee Okojie failed to reach an Andre McCollin cross, Daniel Pappoe stole in ahead of his man but volleyed wide and then McCollin missed the target with a free kick.
Things began to go downhill on 18 minutes though when Dan Sweeney went off after a picking up a knock. Sweeney had brought an early dynamism bursting forward from central midfield which Ks then lacked for the rest of the game as Pappoe, Steve Laidler and Charles Ofusu-Hene struggled to get into the box to support Ryan Moss.
Hornchurch also made a substitution before half-time, in more bizarre circumstances. Stefan Payne, already on a yellow card for handball, seemed to be increasingly wound up as he committed two fouls in quick succession and then became embroiled in a pair of incidents off the ball. His manager decided that replacing him with Leigh Bremner would be wiser than allowing him to risk receiving a second booking and rumours soon circled Kingsmeadow as to exactly how his team-mates had reacted to his performance during half-time.
Moss headed a Laidler cross over the bar and Okojie was felled just outside the box as Ks' frustration continued to grow. Yet, at the break there remained cause for optimism as the visitors had had few chances themselves.
The sucker punch came though on 55 minutes. Hornchurch won a corner and centre-back Ricky Hayles got there before Tolfrey to head home. A simple but effective goal that would almost inevitably prove enough given the Urchins' defensive strength.
McCollin was next to go off injured as an increasingly ragged Ks resorted to more desperate tactics, hitting balls long to the heads of Hornchurch's giant centre-backs with Moss looking increasingly isolated.
Okojie capitalised on an error to get a sniff of goal but shot tamely at Inigo Echepare before chaos from one of the few long balls that the Essex side didn't snuff out with ease created a good chance. However, of all the players on the pitch it fell to Matt Drage, who volleyed wide.
In truth, Hornchurch rarely looked troubled after taking the lead. They had little difficulty shutting Ks down and won themselves a succession of corners from which they looked ever-dangerous.
In injury time Moss went down under a challenge; some fans thought it was a penalty, others that it wasn't but the only man whose opinion mattered was in the latter camp. When Conference South was created a decade ago it felt like a natural home for Ks, who for much of their history have sat at step 2. Next August though it will kick off its eleventh season without them, while Alan Dowson again seeks the magic formula to escape from Ryman League purgatory.
Report: Simon Grier