RYMAN Premier hosts Billericay made just one change from their weekend clash with Kingstonian while their Division One North rivals opted for five amendments to their starting line-up and a couple of youngsters on the bench for Tuesday’s Essex Senior Cup tie reports the Essex Enquirer.
And, on a muddy but just-about playable pitch thanks to the hardworking Blues groundstaff, the experience and cohesion of the senior side saw them through.
The only omission from a first choice Blues line-up was striker Anthony Robinson, axed from New Lodge at the weekend after pushing manager Craig Edwards’ patience too far, and from the off they looked a dominant side.
Indeed they might well have banged in three or four goals in an opening 20 minutes that saw Rocks pushed onto a nervous backfoot where a new look back line struggled to cope with the pace, power and aggression of Billericay.
The visitors might have gone behind as early as the seventh minute when Adam Flanagan rose to meet a corner with a powerful header from the edge of the box that shook the crossbar and, in Harrison Chatting, Blues had a man-of-the-match, who was a constant threat.
On 15 minutes he showed great skill, balance and honesty to stay on his feet with a mazy run that saw a shot curl just wide of the post. And he was instrumental in many of the Blues moves, including one which saw Sean Bennett-Johnson also shoot just wide, and then he forced keeper Richard Wray to push an effort over the bar and also clipped a 23rd minute effort just wide of the upright.
Rocks tried to play their normal, fluent ground passing game, but it was a virtually impossible task on a very difficult pitch, though in a rare attack Joe Keith looked to be brought down in the box but the ref waved away vehement East Thurrock penalty claims.
‘Normal service’ was resumed as Cedric Ngakam burst the visiting backline but shot wide as Wray raced from his goal.
To their credit, East Thurrock kept plugging away and began to create chances, with Kye Ruel shooting wide and then Reiss Gilbey forcing Nicky Morgan to make his first real, though comfortable save.
And on 35 minutes Rocks ought to have taken the lead when a forging run by Gilbey ended with a pass to Ruel that left him with only Morgan to beat but the Rocks man fluffed the chance and the keeper saved at his feet, releasing the ball quickly for another Blues attack which was to end in the opening goal as Greg Oates’ superb throughball fell into the path of Bertie Brayley, splitting the defence wide open as they appealed in vain for an offside that was rightly never going to come, and he lifted the ball past Wray.
It was a goal Blues deserved on the balance of play, though a calamitous close range miss from Stanley Muguo moments before the break showed they were living on a knife-edge at one-nil.
And it looked, in the opening minutes of the second half at least, as if Rocks would run them close as some electrifying play from Kris Newby twice carved open the home defence, but he was unable to find a goalscoring finish.
That wasn’t the case at the other end on 51 minutes when Ngakam was in the right place to force the ball home from close range for a second Blues goal as the Rocks defence dithered.
Brayley ought to have had his second soon after but blazed over the bar, while Max Cornhill showed there was still life in the Rocks with a powerful header that drifted just wide.
However, the game was up for the visitors on 67 minutes when Brayley did find his second finish, producing a few twists and turns before slamming the ball home from close range.
Both sides made changes in the closing stages but there was little goalmouth action of note until the last minute when Bennett-Johnson smacked a superb free-kick against the inside of the post and was unlucky to see it bounce out.
A fourth goal would have been tough on Rocks, who showed plenty of good football, but fell short of the physical strength required to really test a robust Billericay side, who thoroughly deserved the victory and a quarter-final home tie with Great Wakering later this month.