BRENTWOOD rode their luck and played with determination right to the final whistle, snatching victory in hard-fought FA Trophy tie that often looked beyond them in a match dominated by the visitors.
There were huge twists throughout the game, not least in the last few minutes when the ldestiny of the tie switched dramatically.
East Thurrock looked a class apart in the first half, constantly creating chances but failing to convert them and they actually found themselves a goal behind in the most controversial circumstances, with referee Jonathan Pickford making a real hash of the easiest of decisions.
There was a low key start to the match, played out in a consistent drizzle, but Rocks created the first chance out of virtually nothing on four minutes when Kye Ruel burst through, only to flattened en-route to goal by Gbenga Sonuga who was booked for his foul. Pedants might argue he should have seen red but, on balance, Mr Pickford appeared to have got it right.
Brentwood were slow starters but they threatened on ten minutes when Anthony Ryan got in behind the visiting defence, who were slow to cover a long ball and were grateful to keeper Richard Wray who stood up well to deal with his shot.
On 14 minutes Rocks centre-back Ben Wood teased the home defence with an incisive ball as he broke from the back and Neil Richmond flicked it into the path of Max Cornhill who drove a low, rasping shot beyond keeper Andy Hall but saw it bounce back off the foot of the post.
Moments later a run by Ruel opened up the defence, creating the opportunity for Jimmy Webb to curl a shot high and wide.
Brentwood were spending most of the time on the back foot but broke to test Wray, who tipped a shot at his near post away for a corner, which was returned with interest and flashed across the face of goal with no-one on hand to turn it in.
An immediate Rocks counter attack saw Richmond lay the ball into the path of Kris Newby whose fierce drive was pushed past the post by Hall at full stretch.
Ruel was then denied a strike at goal by a fine tackle from Sonuga and Hall later had to be at his best to keep out efforts from Ruel and Richmond, while Richmond shot wide when well-placed.
Rocks were dominating but had nothing to show for the efforts and found themselves behind on 35 minutes when a long ball was played forward. There appeared little danger but Rocks hesitated in clearing the ball but they had created a high backline, leaving Ryan several yards behind them and he found himself in possession. He, and virtually everyone else, expected the linesman’s flag to be raised but, inexplicably, it didn’t happen and Ryan slid the ball past Wray, provoking fury from the visitors.
In the after match analysis Mr Pickford gave two differing explanations for the error, which only compounded the frustration for Rocks. Even Brentwood’s officials conceded it was a colossal mistake by the officials, but they were hardly going to look a gift horse in the mouth.
To their immense credit, Rocks rallied and were level within a couple of minutes when a flowing move ended with Richmond squaring the ball to Newby who slotted home with all the conviction of a man who had scored six in the previous three matches.
The score remained equal to the break, but just four minutes after the restart Rocks grabbed the lead when Richmond picked up the ball on the edge of the box and turned to strike a shot that took a deflection, leaving Hall flat-footed as it rolled into his net.
Brentwood introduced one time Rocks forward Ellis Remy soon after and the Blues began to press their visitors back, with Darren Blewitt glancing a header just wide of an upright.
They got back on level terms on 68 minutes when Rocks’ defence hesitated in anticipation of an offside flag against Petrit Elbi but he didn’t move for the ball, while Remy seized his opportunity and raced through, taking the ball in his stride and despatching a low shot past Wray.
East Thurrock were still generally in the ascendancy and Ruel burst through only to be flattened by Blewitt, who appeared lucky to escape a caution.
Further Rocks pressure brought a fine run from Richmond who squared the ball to Cornhill whose shot was agonisingly deflected off the line when it struck his teammate Ruel. Lee Hodges came off the bench for Webb and his first touch was stunning strike from distance that was saved at full stretch by Hall.
The momentum was definitely with East Thurrock and Blewitt seemed destined for a caution, if not dismissal, when he flattened Newby as the young wide man bore down on goal but inexplicably Mr Pickford let him off, just awarding the free kick. “He didn’t show any malice,” said the referee afterwards, which only exposed his limited knowledge of football – never mind the laws of the game!
Rocks’ frustration, with the referee and with themselves, was growing but they appeared to have clinched the game with six minutes remaining when a whipped cross from Ryan Sammons caused consternation in the home defence and Nikki Beale stooped to head it past his own keeper.
That ought to have been game over, but Brentwood showed tremendous spirit to press their visitors to the end and were rewarded inside a minute when a simple through ball opened the door for Remy to burst through. He was chased down by Sammons but still got a shot off and the defender’s challenge only deflected the ball past Wray for an equaliser.
Frustration was written all over Rocks’ faces and exploded when defender James Donovan was adjudged to have fouled Dee Okojie and booted the ball away, striking the assistant referee. His actions might well have brought a red card, and indeed Rocks were preparing to bring on a centre half to fill the expected gap, but Mr Pickford deemed the offence only worth of a yellow. Perhaps he knew, deep down, that he and his colleagues were a big part of the frustration!
Most people at that point appeared to have settled for the draw but in added time Brentwood mounted a final attack. The ball pinged around the visitors box for what seemed an eternity, with everyone throwing themselves or a boot at the ball and somehow sub Dean Green got the touch that saw the ball balloon up and into the net to earn his side a first round tie at neighbours AFC Hornchurch, the Ryman Premier side they dumped out of the FA Cup only last week.
It would be churlish to deny them their moment of glory and they deserved victory for persistence, while East Thurrock will have to try and find a more clinical approach to their game. They are a great attacking side, full of free-flowing football but perhaps they need a touch of the artisan rather than the artist.
Brentwood will draw satisfaction from their never-say-die attitude and shouldn’t feel guilty for riding their luck. In football, you make your own and they can’t be blamed for perceived inadequacies of the match officials.