AS MANAGER John Coventry said after the game: “It is just three points” You can understand John’s measured response in the light of the two previous seasons but the Rocks took a massive step towards promotion with this victory against second placed Needham Market.
The key part of the game was between the 65th and 85th minute when time after time, East Thurrock players made vital tackle after vital tackle. You cannot buy team spirit and commitment like that. It is engrained through experience and the superb man management of the East Thurrock team.
The first two goals came due to both teams standing off each other. Ryan Sammons scored in the second minute after being given a free run in the box as he thumped the ball home. Three minutes later, top scorer Craig Parker was unchallenged as he headed home from close range.
Free-scoring Parker came close to a second goal in he 20th minute when he worked himself space on the edge of the box and unleashed a powerful strike that looked goal-bound until keeper Richard Wray went full length to punch the ball away.
Rocks’ own midfield talisman, Max Cornhill, then fired a shot over the bar at the other end and then Hakeem Raba burst through with the ball and struck a bobbling shot just wide of the post.
The end-to-end thrills continued when Wray got down well to save Danny Thrower’s low shot and the rebound just eluded Sam Newson as he followed up.
Needham looked to be edging it and looked particularly threatening at set pieces but it was Rocks who were to grab the game’s third goal on 36 minutes. Kye
Ruel held the ball up wide and laid it back for Reiss Gilbey, whose deep cross was forced home from close range by Kris Newby.
The second half had a tentative start, with the first real chance at either end not coming for 13 minutes when Cornhill drilled a low cross in the box, which Needham were grateful to scramble away.
It was at this stage that East Thurrock started to tackle, started to throw their bodies in front of the ball, knowing that the finishing line that was a mirage over the last two seasons was now a reality.
Rocks’ attacks were somewhat infrequent but from one Araba won a corner and Cornhill headed just over. It was Araba’s last act, the hard-running centre-forward being replaced by Sam Higgins to end an immense solo shift up front.
Needham were reduced to ten men for the final six minutes when Phil Boyland led with an elbow in a challenge with Ruel and was dismissed by referee Phil Harris.
Needham spent the last couple of minutes with keeper Danny Gay joining them in an attempted siege of East Thurrock’s goalmouth but the Rocks’ defence – the best in the division – held firm.