Top of the league for the Rocks!

East Thurrock 3 v 2 Tilbury

TUESDAY’S Ryman Division One North derby at Rookery Hill rarely hit the heights but was nevertheless and enthralling – and at times controversial – match reports the Thurrock Enquirer.

East Thurrock raced out of the traps and set an exhilarating pace in the opening minutes culminating in a superb fourth minute goal which involved Joe Keith, Steve Harrison and Reiss Gilbey linking down the left before Gilbey’s cross picked out Hakeem Araba who took the ball in his stride and slotted it past James Marrable.

At that point it looked as if the title-chasing Rocks might hand out a drubbing, but to their immense credit, and thanks to some slack and indifferent lay from the home side, Tilbury began to grow into the game, building pressure and creating chances.

And they drew level on ten minutes when home keeper Richard Wray could only parry Donovan Wilson’s fierce free kick. Harry Cook turned the ball back into the box and Jack West nipped in at the near post to force the ball home.

That sparked a purple patch from the Dockers, with Cook at the forefront of their attacking moves. He was unlucky to see an angled lob drop just the wrong side of the bar and then dithered with the ball at his feet at the the end of a flowing Tilbury move.

Tilbury were awarded a 34th minute penalty when the mercurial Cook had once more carved himself an opening with a penetrating run against a static defence but he tripped over his own feet, knocking the ball forward to be pushed aside by Wray who was then aghast to find himself facing a spot kick as Mr Degnarain had judged Ricks skipper Ben Wood to have tripped him.

Ben Bradbury stayed calm through the controversy and slotted the ball home from the spot, though Wray did get hands on his strike.

Dockers remained the side most likely to score for the rest of the half, which ended with another scramble seeing the ball fly just over Wray’s bar.

It seemed unlikely that East Thurrock could play as poorly in the second half, and so it proved.

Striker Sam Higgins limped off soon after the restart and the introduction of midfield powerhouse Max Cornhill, who had been sidelined as a precaution because of a groin injury, stirred up the home side, particularly when he strode into the box to meet a fine cross from Newby on 62 minutes and head home his fourth goal in three games.

Though Rocks continued to press Tilbury back, it seemed as if they would be denied until they grabbed a winner with 15 second of normal time remaining, Araba rising to flick in a near post header from Woods’ corner.

Tilbury came close to a dramatic equaliser in the final of five minutes of added time when a manic goalmouth scramble ended with Gary Henty forcing the ball goalwards from close range, only to see Wray produce a scrambling, almost miraculous, save.

After the game Rocks boss John Coventry conceded his side had ‘got a bit lucky’ but said the win showed a mental strength to his side that boded well for their remaining nine matches in the enthralling title race with Needham Market.

Rocks edged three points clear of their rivals, who have two matches in hand, but he said: “In the end I was pleased to see the way the players reacted. We weren’t at our best, playing with a disjointed and new formation because of injuries but it was a result that shows our strength. In previous seasons we wouldn’t have come back to win the match.”

Dockers boss Paul Vaughan said he thought his side were unlucky and deserved something from the game. “We were excellent in the first half but we didn’t seize the couple of chances we had to edge further ahead and in the end they came back at us and we got caught out with some tired legs and a little bit of inexperience but I was very proud of the performance.”

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