Hastings United 1, East Thurrock United 2
A BIZARRE own goal gave East Thurrock victory in Saturday’s Ryman Premier clash at Pilot Field, but it was no more than Rocks deserved as they dominated possession and their hard work stretched the home side from start to finish reports the Thurrock Enquirer.
They pressed Hastings back from the off and won a succession of corners without being able to carve a clear opening.
And they found themselves behind on nine minutes when they gave the ball away cheaply and Zac Attwood cut inside before shooting from just outside the box, his low drive taking a deflection that saw the ball evade the outstretched arm of diving keeper Richard Wray.
It took Rocks 18 minutes to strike a shot with any venom, Kris Newby volleying into the sidenetting. He had another pot shot that went wide soon after and as the visitors continued to press Sam Higgins sneaked in behind the Hastings backline and keeper Matt Armstrong-Ford but his header lacked the power to get beyond the stopper.
Rocks dominance was constant, with Hastings having little to offer up front and it took a late tackle from Matt Whitehead, who was cautioned, to stop Kye Ruel who was driving goalwards from the flank.
And the half ended with Higgins forcing a save at his near post by Armstrong-Ford but Hastings held out to take their lead into the break.
Rocks continued to dominate possession after the interval but it took a change, with Petrit Elbi coming on for Sam Collins to snap at the home defence, to spark a change, though he didn’t play a direct part in the equalising goal on the hour, Ruel’s fine cross picking out Newby who cleverly headed home from an angle.
And a second, and ultimately decisive goal, came six minutes later when Reiss Gilbey hoisted a lofted ball into the box and Whitehead back-pedalled to head it over his own keeper.
To their credit, Hastings kept battling and in the closing stages caused Rocks more than one two moments of concern, most noteably when Wray had to react quickly to paw the ball away in a hectic goalmouth scramble.
Rocks might have sealed it when Higgins broke away late in the game but Armstrong-Ford did well to foil the in-form striker in a one-on-one situation.
It was the last real chance at either end and Rocks saw out the last few minutes to earn a third away win in succession and see out the most memorable year in the club’s history by climbing out of the relegation zone.