FOR the second season running Rangers broke Rocks’ hearts with a Ryman One North play-off semi-final win.
Last season they travelled to East Thurrock’s ground and ambushed their promotion hopes with Danny Heale’s spectacular first half goal. This time the issue was decided by a late, late strike on home turf from Lyle Taylor – who won the battle of the league’s hot-shots with the most influential role in the match.
Few could deny that Rangers didn’t deserve the win on the night, having created more chances and twice being denied by a lick of paint on the inside of the woodwork but moments before Taylor’s decisive angled strike Rocks had their own chance for glory but Kye Ruel placed the ball over the bar with the goal at his mercy.
It was a glimpse of what might have been for Rocks, but boss John Coventry conceded afterwards that his side had flattered to deceive for much of the season.
“We were very unlucky last season and I thought we didn’t deserve what happened to us but this season, as a whole, we haven’t been good enough and it came home to roost tonight.
“Good luck to Concord, though they have to remember nothing’s won yet. They were a bit chippy in the end, I thought they might have learned from last season,” he said.
He was recalling the fact that cock-a-hoop Rangers were humbled by Waltham Forest in the play-off final – and an in form Enfield Town will travel to Thames Road on Saturday optimistic of doing the same after their 3-2 victory against Wingate & Finchley in tonight’s other semi-final.
In Taylor, who was impressive throughout with his pace and control, Concord have a player who could win any tie, but he and his teammates must know they will have to be at their best as a unit against the industry of Enfield.
Against Rocks, the semi-final had been brokered as a tough derby in prospect, but in reality it never fired up. There was a slow tempo from the start but Rocks gradually increased their dominance and for much of the opening 20 minutes they pegged their hosts back.
They didn’t create many clear cut chances, though Rangers were grateful to scramble one close range effort off the line following a corner. It came after Kris Newby had forced Rangers onto the back foot with a surging run, but it was one of only a few impressions the youngster had on a big game he will once again not look back on with fond memories. Last year he was stretchered out of the semi with a bad injury that required a trip to hospital, this time he rarely broke the game line.
Having failed to make anything of their dominance in the opening quarter Rocks in turn found themselves going backwards as Concord pushed forward.
Several crosses and low shots fizzed across the face of Richard Wray’s goal as his defence looked increasingly fragile. Ryan Sammons had to resort to an illegal tackle on Taylor that brought him a booking on 40 minutes and when the free-kick was smashed into the box John Easterford forced it into the net but the celebrations were cut short by the linesman’s raised flag for offside.
Rocks emerged from the half time break to again seize the initiative but though they saw a lot of the ball, their passing game wasn’t fluent and most attacks came to nothing.
They did come close to going ahead in bizarre fashion when Nick Skelton passed the ball back to keeper Dale Brightley, only to see the keeper had left his line and was on the edge of the box. In a sprint for the line the keeper just beat the ball, scooping it away at the last moment to earn a grateful hug from his embarrassed teammate.
As Concord once more became an increasing influence James Donovan was booked for a poor tackle, though there were plenty of arguments on the terraces from Rocks fans that Concord’s Nicky Cowley should have got more than a yellow card soon after for a professional foul that clearly stopped Rocks racing away on goal.
It was a low impact game for the Rangers captain, normally someone who is at the forefront of everything aggressive that goes on, but it didn’t mean he wasn’t effective, breaking up play and generally bossing the midfield.
With Rangers taking the ascendency it seemed only a matter of time before they would score and they came so close when Michael Begg lashed the ball goalwards from close range only to see it bounce back and away from the underside of the bar.
Rocks, with Chris Ellerbeck introduced in place of Newby to give a different option up front, also had chances and Kye Ruel bundled a cross from Sam Higgins wide of the post.
The league’s top marksman, Higgins was being well marshalled by the Concord back-line and he threatened most with free kicks, with Max Cornhill ending up poking a shot straight at Brightly after a Higgins low drive had caused confusion.
As the game drew towards its conclusion Rangers’ Danny Glozier also thought he had broken the deadlock with a fierce strike that again crashed against the woodwork, this time the inside of the post.
Rocks then broke and Ellerbeck forced a fine save from Brightly that flew into the path of Ruel. It seemed the decisive moment had come but the Rocks player was unable to guide the ball below the bar and the chance for glory for the visitors was gone.
Such is the fickle nature of football instead it was Rangers who were to seize the day when they once more turned on the pressure and the ball flew about the East Thurrock penalty area before falling for Taylor who slid it past Wray to spark wild celebrations.
Rocks hustled their way through the last couple of minutes without creating a real chance and when the final whistle came they slumped to the ground in disappointment.
For three seasons in a row Rocks have ended the campaign despairingly. They were relegated from the Premier having got more points than anyone who dropped out before; they were denied in a dramatic last league game last season against Aveley followed by defeat to Rangers and now they have been rocked to the core again.
Boss Coventry has a close season to ponder how to crack that final promotion hurdle, while Rangers’ minds are more concentrated. For them it’s Enfield or bust on Saturday and they will hope Taylor has one more big moment in him!
Report reprinted with kind permission of The Essex Enquirer.