BOWERS & Pitsea were lauded by boss Rob Small after his threadbare squad suffered a narrow 1-0 defeat to Hornchurch.

The hosts were without the injured quartet of Kenzer Lee, Max Cornhill, Ben Sartain and Lewis Manor for the Isthmian Premier League clash.

But Lewwis Spence's early strike proved to be the difference between the two sides at the Len Salmon Stadium and Small insisted his players could be proud of their efforts against a side widely tipped to be among the contenders for the title.

"Personnel-wise, we were really short," said Bowers chief Small.

"We were missing the spine of the team and others were walking wounded.

"I'm proud of the character shown throughout the game, especially after falling behind so early.

"Weaker characters would have crumbled.

"The players went toe-to-toe with one of the favourites to win the league and we were desperately unlucky not to earn a point."

Kick-off was delayed by 45 minutes after an assistant referee picked up an injury in the warm-up.

And Bowers were caught cold when the fixture eventually got underway as Hornchurch went ahead inside the opening two minutes.

Ade Osifuwa misjudged the flight of the ball, allowing Remi Sutton to profit and send an inviting cross into the danger zone for Spence to tap home from close range.

Bowers responded with Jamie Dicks firing over from long range and Tom Stephen forcing Urchins goalkeeper Joe Wright into action.

The home side continued to push for a leveller after the break and Callum Leahy nodded a Quentin Monville free-kick narrowly wide.

Chris Dickson thought he had put Hornchurch further ahead when he found the back of the net, but the striker was left frustrated by the offside flag.

Small's side continued to search for an equaliser and Brad Warner passed up a presentable late chance against his former club.

The striker was found in a promising position but could only direct his header over the crossbar.

Hornchurch held on for all three points and Bowers were left to suffer a second consecutive defeat.