RYMAN Premier newcomers East Thurrock left the Hub with three points thanks to a fluke goal from Kayan Kalipha, but real reward for manager John Coventry will be the way his beleaguered and injury-hit side worked hard to overcome the legacy of a troubled pre-season.
Never equipped to compete with the big spenders, Rocks have always lived within their means and Coventry has won huge plaudits for producing attractive, attacking sides reports the Thurrock Enquirer.
The Ryman One North champs have been hit by a catalogue of injuries in the pre-season that left them with the bare minimum of players to start the season but they did boss Coventry proud with a work ethic that earned them a massive stroke of luck for the game’s only goal.
Without a doubt Rocks will play much better than in Saturday’s season opener and lose, but they will take whatever Lady Luck throws their way with a smile and gratitude.
Saturday’s game threw together two sides well outside the radar of potential league winners, but you couldn’t fault the enthusiasm of both sets of largely young players.
On an afternoon that started with a downpour and ended in searing sunshine everyone gave maximum effort though talents on both sides will need to be honed.
The most eye-catching performance came from Tooting’s livewire winger Luke Wanadio who tormented East Thurrock all afternoon.
Rocks’ debutant full-back Tom Stevens probably went to bed on Saturday night looking under the covers to make sure he had finally got rid of the threat from Wanadio, though he certainly shouldn’t lose any sleep over his own overall performance which showed great potential.
Other than the rampaging runs from Wanadio, the first half was largely uneventful.
Rocks just about had the edge in terms of possession, and they teased Tooting with their skill on the ball, drawing a number of rash challenges and booking for the home side.
However, after lots of tentative probing from both sides, the first real opening didn’t come until the 20th minute when Tooting’s Fola Onijube rushed a header and saw his glancing header drift wide when he ought to have done better.
Two minutes later another teasing run from Wanadio opened the door for Onijube but what was to prove the game’s best chance went begging Rocks keeper Richard Wray rushed off his line and produced a fine save with his legs.
At the other end, after 37 minutes, Ryan Sammons thrashed a superb shot goalwards, prompting a finger-tip save from Tooting’s Simon Lehkyj.
Goalless at half time, the game was played at a slightly lower tempo in the second half and it was Tooting who appeared to hold the edge as the clock ticked down.
However, the decisive moment went Rocks’ way on 81 minutes. There appeared no danger when Rocks sub Kayan Kalipha, on for Neil Richmond who had worked had without reward, chased a ball down to the bye-line.
There was little on but he turned inside and chipped an optimistic cross to the far post over the head of Lehkyz and got unexpected reward when it dropped against the inside of the woodwork and into the net.
The goal sparked real urgency into the home efforts through the closing minutes and Jordan Wilson flashed a superb cross across the face of Rocks’ goal that agonisingly avoided all the onrushing players and then the same player forced a low save from Wray.
But they couldn’t force an equaliser that would have got them a deserved share of the points and it was Rocks who celebrated at the close.