HAKEEM Araba’s hat-trick guided East Thurrock into the fourth round of the Essex Senior Cup on a night when Rocks rarely got out of third gear but still had enough to see off the challenge of a young and enthusiastic Abbotts reports The Essex Enquirer.
The match was played out on a slick surface and persistent rain, which turned from a drizzle into a torrential downpour in the second half.
Rocks made a bright start but fine early incisive play on both flanks failed to produce a goalscoring opportunity and it was the Abbotts who were to threaten first with Danny Hayes’ shot that tested Richard Wray at his near post and two minutes later the keeper did extremely well to block a shot from Liam Farrell after he burst through a static backline and fired in a low drive.
The first goal was come on 12 minutes when Kris Newby ran at the visiting defence and hit a fine cross with the outside of his boot to Joe Keith who cannily helped it into the mixer and Hakeem Araba prodded home from close range.
Rocks had the ball in the net again on 24 minutes when Max Cornhill’s looping header from distance evaded keeper Neil Tillotson but the effort was inexplicably ruled out for offside.
East Thurrock were generally in the ascendancy but lethargy and unforced errors crept into their play, culminating in an equaliser for Watham Abbey in the first minute of added time at the end of the half when the ball fell for Farrell who was given time and space to find a spot and roll the ball past Wray.
The goal didn’t flatter Abbey but it certainly acted as a tonic for the home side, who went on to dominate the second half.
They set the tone soon after the restart with a shot from Newby after Araba’s flick and some neat, intricate triangular passing won them a free-kick for a foul on Reiss Gilbey, though the attack ended with a shot from Keith that he laced high, wide and not so handsome.
A counter attack from Steve Cawley was snuffed out by a fine tackle from Conor Mead before the never-say-die Farrel sneaked in low shot that was saved by Wray and hacked away.
A pacy counter attack with Araba at its fulcrum ended with the tall striker blazing over when the build-up deserved better. Another flowing counter attack ended with Keith guiding the ball agonisingly against the foot of the post, with Tillotson grateful to gather the rebound.
As the rainfall steepled into the faces of the Rocks players, Keith was hauled down in the box but ref Adrian Oldershaw waved away claims for what seemed a blatant penalty.
The Rocks pressure continued as Gilby nicked the ball into path of Araba but he was just unable to get a guiding touch past the onrushing Tillotson.
A second Rocks goal seemed inevitable and it came on 70 minutes when a blisteringly quick counter attack from Rocks saw them switch the ball from end to end, starting with Gilbey’s sweeping pass to Keith and culminating in Araba’s thumping close range header from Newby’s cross.
As the pressure continued a header from Cornhill was pushed wide by Tillotson and then a goalmouth scramble following a mazy run from sub Lee Hodges saw Newby smash the ball against the underside of the bar but it bounced down and out.
However, within a minute Araba completed his hat-trick when he chased down a through ball and smashed it past Tillotson from the edge of the box.
Rocks seemed home, if certainly not dry but they had to suffer a nervous last minute of added time after Farrell got the second goal his optimism deserved, the home defence going to sleep as he raced through and slotted the ball past Wray.