Tilbury 3, Halstead 2
GIVEN that Thursday’s 2010 East Anglian Cup final was already three-quarters of a season overdue it was no surprise that it went the distance and beyond before being decided.
Indeed fans were contemplating a penalty shoot-out when Lee Hodges fired in the winner, albeit thanks to a shocking blunder by Halstead keeper Ed Wooten who had done much before to keep his side in the tie.
In truth the quality of football throughout left a lot to be desired, with neither side able to put a foot on the ball in a patch played out at high tempo on a bumpy pitch in a swirling wind.
Tilbury were barely at the races in the first half, jostled out of the game by the pace of a young Halstead side who belied their position two steps down the non-League ladder from their hosts.
But though Halstead enjoyed much of the first half possession, they rarely threatened a goal. In fact the first real chance didn’t until the 33rd minute when, on a rare attack, Dockers’ Manlee Brown struck a fierce goalbound shot from close range that produced a fine reflex save from Wooten.
Halstead thought they had taken the lead five minutes later when Ray Turner put the ball in the net after great work by Lee Townlow but he was adjudged offside.
It looked likely that the half would remain goalless but in the last minute Alex O’Leary picked up the ball wide on the left, cut inside and from the edge o the box smashed in a fierce curling shot that flashed past Tilbury keeper Andy Hall.
Halstead almost extended their lead five minutes into the second half when Turner and Townlow combined again, but some scrambled defending saw Dockers escape.
The home side were much improved in the second half, driven on by tireless captain Jamie Wallace who came close to scoring with a fine header that was cleared off the line by Seb Murfet.
Tilbury striker Jared Small then got in a half-hit shot that bounced awkwardly before Wooten palmed it over the bar.
The equaliser came 15 minutes from time when Steve Parmenter curled in a low corner that Small stepped over and it evaded everyone to nestle in the net.
Halstead might have won it in the last minute when a speedy counter-attack exposed the home defence and Townlow looked to have a simple job to guide the ball past Hall but though he managed that he was distraught when the effort hit the inside of the post and rolled across the face of goal to safety.
It looked as if the visitors had put that disappointment well and tuely behind them when they grabbed the lead again in the first minute of extra time, though it was a fortunate goal as Dockers Chris Thomas knocked the ball into his own net as he tried to clear a cross under very little pressure.
Hodges responded with a long range shot that Wooten did well to keep out but luck was with the home side when Halstead substitute Liam Morley was left with time and space to get in a shot from distance only to see it once more come back off the woodwork.
Dockers had also made changes and one of the replacements, Chris Stowe put them level in the first minute of added time when he stooped to head in a corner.
That looked likely to be the end of the scoring until Hodges took a hand five minutes from time, cutting in and driving a low shot towards Wooten’s near post, where the keeper made a hash of collecting the ball as he dived and it slipped under his body.
It was heart-breaking for the visiting stopper but at least it avoided the lottery of penalties and Tilbury were delighted to play out time and take the trophy, in effect their second of the 2009/10 season.
In their victory celebration they also paraded the Ryman League Cup, which goes back to the league next week. They won’t get to hold onto the impressive East Anglian Trophy for too long either, as this season’s competition is already underway. It too will have to go back to its keeper soon but for the moment on Thursday Dockers were far from worrying about that as they fully enjoyed their long-awaited victory.