EAST Thurrock barely broke out of third gear as they eased to a comfortable victory against Ilford at Rookery Hill on saturday to keep their hopes of securing a home Ryman One North play-off spot alive.
Ilford came into the match on the back of an emphatic Easter Monday victory against Potters Bar but strangely lacked the sparkle that result ought to have given them and they contributed equally to a lethargic opening few minutes that culminated in a free kick several yards outside the visitors box after four minutes.
That was enough opportunity for the division’s top scorer Sam Higgins to make his early mark on the match, driving home his 34th league goal of the season, beating Ron Budd’s despairing dive at his near post.
Rocks failed to capitalise on the goal, playing at a low tempo, though Kye Ruel did show some energy and urgency with a bustling run past several defenders, though his finish lacked the killer touch as he passed the ball into the side netting.
On 17 minutes a snapshot from Higgins brought a decent save from Budd, which seemed to lift his teammates and on 22 minutes Derek Hawtin left Rocks full back Ryan Sammons trailing and delivered a cross that was just inches away from being touched home by former East Thurrock youth player Jarreau McCarthy.
A quick counter by the home side saw Higgins test Budd again and soon after it seemed odds on the striker would add to his impressive tally when he sprang the offside trap and bore down unchallenged on Budd but the keeper stood up well and was able to make a save at the expense of a corner which came to nothing.
With three minutes of the half remaining more Ilford pressure ended with a decent save by Richard Wray from Hawtin’s shot and he released the ball quickly to Chriss Duffy who in turn picked out Higgins. The striker, who always does as much work in creating chances as he does finishing them, flicked an incisive pass into the box which set up the chance for Sam Berry to flick over Budd for a finely executed second Rocks goal.
To their credit Ilford kept going and on the stroke of half time grabbed a goal back when Rocks failed to clear their lines and the impressive Troy Hewitt smashed a fine low drive that beat Wray at the foot of his post.
Any impetus that gave the visitors was killed off six minutes into the second half when Kris Newby latched onto the end of Ruel’s cross to force the ball home with a crisp low strike.
Again Ilford tried to force their way intot he game and Wray was forced to backpedal and push an inventive lob from McCarthy over his bar but the wind was taken out of their sails by Rocks’ fourth goal on 61 minutes that followed a ridiculous piece of decision-making by referee Evetts who adjued Anton Trice to have made a back-pass to Budd.
To every one else in the ground it was a horribly miscued attempt at a volleyed clearance from the defender, who was out wide and a back-pass was clearly the last thing on his mind.
Budd had little option to catch the spinning ball right on his line – making even more of a nonsense of the official’s decision to allow Rocks to take the indirect free kick eight yards from a li9ne that included a line-up of virtually all the Ilford players. It wasn’t a barrier strong enough to stop Newby’s thumping strike after the ball was rolled to him by Max Cornhill.
In the closing stages Ilford’s never say die spirit was shown by sub Josh Coulson, who forced another decent save from Wray, but the fifth nail in their coffin came on 89 minutes when Steve Sheehan smashed home a Newby corner.
There was still time for an Ilford consolation that came when Mr Evetts awarded them a penalty for a handball on the line by James Donovan, though the Rocks man claimed the ball hit him in the face. He perhaps should have been glad that the ref didn’t opt for red card as the handball, if it was one, clearly denied a goalscoring opportunity – though the goal did follow when young Hewitt – a real prospect for the future – gave Wray no chance with the spot-kick.
Report reprinted courtesy of the Essex Enquirer.