EAST Thurrock produced a battling team performance to dump their Ryman Premier visitors out of the Championship Manager Trophy on penalties after a hard-fought match.
Goalless at half time, the match took a twist with two goals inside a minute in the second half, but that was it as far as goals were concerned until the shoot-out when East Thurrock produced the perfect nap hand from the spot, with Richard Wray saving Greg Enstone’s spot-kick to turn the tide in the home side’s favour.
There was a low key start to the evening, though good early play down right flank involving Joe Keith promised much but came to nothing.
The first strike of venom from either side came from Urchins’ Tommy Black, the best player throughout the night. His sixth minute rasping shot tore through Wray’s hands and cannoned off his body but no-one was on hand to profit from the rebound.
Hornchurch were generally the sharper, stronger running of two sides who were certainly treating this Championship Manager League Cup tie seriously despite a welter of changes to both starting line-ups but Rocks ran a scrambling defence, frequently getting in a last ditch tackle when danger threatened.
The deadlock ought to have been broken on 14 minutes when Tambeson Eyong outpaced the home defence and struck a low shot that Wray fumbled at his near post. This time Ross Wall was on hand to pick up the rebound but he blazed over the bar,
Another burst through the Rocks backline by Wall ended with a thumping shot that Wray did well to tip over for a corner and the keeper did even better when it was swung in and skipper Elliot Styles smashed a shot that looked goalbound until Wray stretched and tipped it onto the bar.
Rocks’ chances were few and far between but deep in added time Hakeem Araba had a half chance, flicking a header from Lee Hodges’ cross just past the post.
The game was much tighter in the second half, though Urchins sub Lewis Smith was something of a constant threat, running at pace at the Rocks defence and trying his luck from distance with a couple of shots that drifted wide.
Black also continued to threaten and on 68 minutes he left defenders trailing in his wake, but shot wide.
However, he was to make no mistake when opening the scoring five minutes later. Young Rocks midfielder Tom Dodkins had been somewhat harshly penalised for a foul after tracking another incisive Smith run and Black whipped in a low free-kick around the wall and just inside the post.
The lead lasted barely a minute. Another disputed free-kick, this time in Rocks’ favour, was drifted into the box by Lee Hodges. It looked like keeper Bobby Smith would take a clean catch but from nowhere Steve Sheehan steamed in and powered a header into the back of the net.
Chances were few and far between from then on. Rocks made a couple of changes, introducing 17-year old John Atmore for his first team debut, while Kris Newby replaced Hodges.
The tempo of the game didn’t change, with both sides eager to get the ball forward, but the defenders stood firm – though Rocks had an escape three minutes from the end when Hornchurch scrambled the ball home, but it was from an offside position.
Extra time came and went with little goalmouth incident, as the sides cancelled themselves out.
The momentum might have swung Urchins’ way when Steve Harrison picked up his second yellow card for a trip on Black as he raced towards goal but it was too late to have much impact as the game went to the penalty climax.
Araba calmly struck home the first for Rocks, with a succession of fine strikes from Soz Yao, Newby, Black, Ruel and Smith making it 3-3.
Joe Keith slammed in Rocks’ fourth but Enstone wasn’t decisive with his strike and Wray parried it away.
That set the stage for Rocks youngster Conor Mead, making his first start for the first team, and he showed great composure to put it away in confident fashion and win the tie for his side.