Barking 2 Waltham Abbey 3: Barking beaten on Bostik League return
PUBLISHED: 19:41 12 August 2017 | UPDATED: 15:02 13 August 2017
Barking began the new campaign with a narrow defeat to Essex rivals Waltham Abbey at Mayesbrook Park - their first match back in the rebranded Bostik League in over a decade.
And it was a game they may feel hard done by to have lost after goals from captain Ben O’Brien and a Billy Jones penalty were not enough to secure a point in the Blues’ return to the eighth tier of English football as Abbey skipper Billy Holland, Darelle Russell and returning striker Christian Assombalonga netted for the visitors.
The hosts went into this season opener in good form in pre-season, having been unbeaten in 11 friendlies, winning 10 and scoring 48 goals, and they had beaten Abbey 2-1 in the London Senior Cup when the sides last met in 2005.
Barking had a much-changed squad from last season’s Essex Senior League-winning side and former Aveley boss Justin Gardner joined Glen Golby for his first league game as joint manager of the Blues, with previous joint-boss Steve Willis focusing on his playing career with the Mayesbrook Park outfit.
The starting XI included new signings Bowles, Billericay loanee Will Putt, as well as Danny Fitzsimons, Arian Retkoceri, Abs Seymour, Billy Jones, Michael Pindy and Theo Ola who returned to the club after playing his football in Sweden, with fellow new arrivals Akwasi Marfo, Capela and Dan Gilchrist beginning their Barking careers on the bench.
Abbey narrowly avoided being in the relegation zone on goal difference last season while Barking were hoping to capitalise from their title-winning fortunes and set a marker down for the forthcoming campaign and there were encouraging signs for the Blues and their supporters throughout a difficult game in which neither team deserved to lose.
The visitors made the most of early possession and after chances from Assombalonga and Firmin Ngando, they turned to Holland to strike from the edge of the 18-yard box. A deflection wrong-footed Bowles and the ball found its way into the centre of the net after just 10 minutes on the clock.
Abbey’s lead lasted only seven minutes as O’Brien got his head to an inswinging corner from debutant Michael Pindy with an Abbey defender seemingly clearing off the line. However, referee Tom Bishop and his assistant deemed the ball to have crossed the line and Barking were level.
Assombalonga dominated throughout the first half and continued to be instrumental in every Abbey attack, with the former Dagenham & Redbridge man skilful and productive in possession.
Step-overs and trickery found him some space after half an hour and his deflected shot earned his side a corner, from which he headed narrowly over the bar.
The first half finished even and it didn’t take long for Abbey to continue to threaten on the attack as Russell caused Barking’s back line some problems and got in behind, only to see his acrobatic effort to go high over the bar.
Barking also had a half-hearted penalty claim after 60 minutes when Retkoceri produced a Cruyff turn and was bundled to the ground. From the resulting free-kick, Willis felt his shirt being tugged but the referee let play continue from the hands of Abbey goalkeeper Lewis Lockyer.
Abbey retook the lead after 74 minutes as Russell got free from his marker and ran inside the box to create a one-on-one with Bowles, who was beaten with a low right-foot finish into the bottom corner.
Former Dagenham & Redbridge academy player Capela was introduced with 12 minutes left and made an immediate impact, turning his man 25 yards out and seeing his fierce shot fumbled by Lockyer for a corner.
But not long after, Assombalonga struck in order to gain a two-goal cushion for Paul Joynes’ men with a sublime run and finish as he burst into Barking’s box and delightfully laced the ball into the top-right corner of the net for a breakaway goal after plenty of Blues possession.
However, Capela proved a nuisance for Abbey’s defence and was brought down by a defender following good pace and close control from the attacking player.
The referee pointed to the spot for a penalty and Jones stepped up and tucked it away in the bottom left corner, sending Lockyer the wrong way.
Barking may have equalised with the final action of the game as Capela beat his marker and won a header from a corner, but the ball flew over the bar and the referee signalled for full time and a defeat for Barking.
Golby had said prior to the match that safety was the priority for the club and with the changes to the promotion/relegation structure within the division, those hopes have received a boost.
Only the bottom team will be relegated this season, while the top two positions are automatic promotion spots rather than just the champions, with a third team going up via the play-offs.
Next up for Barking is a trip to last season’s play-off semi-finalists Haringey Borough at Coles Park on Monday evening.
They may prove difficult opposition after finishing in fifth position last term and won their opening game 2-0 away to Norwich United.
Barking’s next home fixture is next Saturday in the FA Cup against Saffron Walden Town.
Barking: Bowles, Tarbard, Putt (Gilchrist 83), Willis, Fitzsimons, O’Brien, Retkoceri (Taylor 62), Seymour, Jones, Ola, Pindy (Capela 78).
Unused Subs: Marfo, Abiola.
Waltham Abbey: Lockyer, Brampton, Joynes, Johnson, Harrison, Benoit, Daniel, Holland, Russell, Assombalonga, Ngando (Spencer 71).
Unused Subs: Pellin, Gordon, Glasgow, Elbi.
Referee: Tom Bishop.