Heybridge Swifts 1, East Thurrock United 3
REFEREE Thomas Ramsey left Scraley Road condemned by all and sundry for his performance, with East Thurrock riding their luck and taking all the points on what could prove to be a pivotal afternoon in the Ryman One North title race reports the Thurrock Enquirer.
Mr Ramsey sent a player of from both sides, awarded East Thurrock a penalty and, perhaps more importantly denied one to Heybridge when the game was evenly poised.
Moments after he denied what appeared a certain Swifts spot kick after Stanley Muguo tripped Jake Gibson in the box, Rocks countered and at the end of a speedy attack, under little pressure, Nathan Smith inexplicably headed into his on net, just wide of post.
That gave East Thurrock the lead with three minutes to go and Joe Keith confirmed the victory, whipping in a free kick deep in added time.
It was, to most observers, rough justice on Heybridge but East Thurrock, whose manager John Coventry was announced as the March manager of the Month winner on Saturday morning, will also feel that on the balance of play they deserved the victory.
They had started well and as early as the second minute threatened a goal when
The ball was played forward. Hakeem Araba got to it first and chipped past Ollie Morris Sanders but it bounced wide.
After that Heybridge quickly got into their stride and a couple of attacks brought reward on eight minutes with a neat passing move through the centre of the Rocks midfield, finding Tom Broadhurst with time and space inside the box and he smashed the ball home.
Broadhurst and Tom English were proving a real handful for the home defence and they came close to forcing a second in the 13th minutes, the move breaking with cries for a handball from the home fans that never came.
Rocks responded with a quick counter sparked by Reiss Gilbey that saw Chris Ribchester booked for pulling back Neil Richmond as he bore down on goal. As he glanced the ball wide.
The delivery from Piers Wixon was causing Heybridge some problems and though he fluffed one cross from open play after a neat pass from Joe Keith, he then delivered a fine cross that left Max Cornhill clutching his head in disbelief.
However, in the 11th minute more power pressure saw Hakeem Araba brought down in the box and the big striker picked himself up to slam home the penalty.
Ben Wood was then booked for a professional foul as Swifts countered in a game that was rapidly switching from end to end.
So much so that the pace eventually began to tell and the match entered a period of midfield stalemate and the half petered out without any further real chances, though Ribchester was dismissed after a late, rash tackle on Richmond in added time that brought his second yellow card.
The second half took time to get going and it wasn’t until eight minutes in that either side created an opening, East Thurrock breaking the deadlock when Araba flashed a header high and wide.
Both sides were cancelling each other out, ten man Heybridge employing a broadly defensive strategy until, 32 minutes into the second half Wood picked up his second yellow, for a rather innocuous challenge that was a foul, but no more. Mr Ramsey appeared to have reached that judgement until he realised it was Wood who was booked and then he reached for his yellow, seizing the opportunity to level up the dismissals. He had been under intense pressure to do something in Swifts’ favour, not least having survived an assault on his changing room at half time by Swifts officials that could well land the home side in hot water,
However, far from placating Swifts, he raised their tempers to boiling point close to the end of the match when Muguo, having dropped back to fill Wood’s defensive road, attempted a ridiculously ambitious way to clear the ball and, having got caught cold by Gibson, tripped the Swifts player. It was about as cast iron penalty as you could get but the ref waved it away and, to compound his blushes, Rocks substitute Kye Ruel broke away and, having drawn Morris Saunders out wide, clipped a ball into the box that appeared to be going nowhere until Smith stooped to head it, bullet-like.
The relief that flooded the East Thurrock camp was massive and the frustration felt by Swifts was encapsulated when Morris Saunders raced out of his box to clear his lines but carried his momentum into a clattering assault on Araba.
Tempers briefly flared on both sides and Mr Ramsey looked a lost soul as he tried to mediate, but Rocks had the last word when Keith took the free kick quickly and curled a shot past a flat-footed Morris Saunders.
The 3-1 scoreline undoubtedly flattered Rocks but they won’t worry about that as they get down to next Saturday’s task – entertaining their title rivals Needham.