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FA TROPHY: Billericay Town 0, Cambridge United 3
A CONTROVERSIAL penalty set the tone for a frustrating afternoon for Billericay as they were knocked out of the FA Trophy by higher-league Cambridge United in a game played in awful conditions at New Lodge.
There were some confused looks all around the rain-swept and foggy ground when referee Charles Breakspear awarded it six minutes before the break.
When he blew his whistle most assumed it was for a foul on home keeper Luke Bartlett, who was left on the deck following a robust -if not malicious - challenge by Michael Gash.
Instead Mr Breakspear pointed to the spot and then booked Town skipper Rob Swaine for a foul.
Billericay manager Craig Edwards understandably made the point afterwards that - notwithstanding the fact that his keeper had been fouled - if Swaine had committed the foul three yards from goal to deny a clear goal-scoring chance - the card should have been red, and not yellow.
As it was, Gash accepted the early Chrismas present by smashing the penalty straight down the middle and high into the net to give the Conference National side an undeserved half-time lead.
Billericay had got off to an nervy start with Tom Shaw and Andy Pugh failing to punish them for defensive errors which presented them with clear sights of goal inside the opening 90 seconds.
But after that the hosts adjusted better to atrocious conditions with Glen Poole firing over from the corner of the penalty area and Jay May having a header saved from six yards by the airborne Jed Steer.
But they were given a mountain to climb seven minutes into the second half when the ball held up fortitously in a sodden patch in the area for the arriving Pugh to stoke it home for a 2-0 lead.
Town responded well but Junior Luke headed a good chance over and Chris Wild's header from a corner was somehow smuggled wide of the post.
Substitute Nathan Green then had their best chance of the game when he was played in by Charlie Taylor, but his rising side-foot was palmed away by Steer with 20 minutes to go.
Brazilian striker Alex Cerdeira came off the bench for Billericay to make his debut and curled a shot from distance high and wide.
And then the tie was finally killed when Cambridge substitute Tom Elliott forced the ball over the line at the back post following a low cross from the left.
And when Wild had a header cleared off of the line in the last action of the game, the Conference South newcomers were left with just the league to concentrate on this season.
Billericay Town (4-4-2): Bartlett; Anderson, Swaine, Wild, Collis (Green 67); Lechmere (Radley 84), Poole, Edwards, Luke; May (Cerdeira 78), Taylor.
Echo MOM: Junior Luke (Billericay Town).