AFC Hornchurch 1, East Thurrock United 0
A SUPERB strike by Lewis Smith in the third minute of added time resolved this hard fought Ryman Premier derby in favour of the home side.
Neither side deserved to take the win but if there was to be a talismanic matchwinner on the park it always looked likely to be livewire Smith, who was the one player in the game prepared to take people on and chance his arm with a shot reports the Thurrock Enquirer.
The sides largely cancelled themselves out, with Rocks having more of the ball in the first half, and Hornchurch holding the attacking edge in the second, and the draw seemed a fair outcome until Smith snatched his opportunity.
Chances were few and far between, with the first 15 minutes of the game passing without any real incident, before an off the ball clash between Smith and Rocks’ best player Simon Peddie saw them both booked.
The Urchins were forced into a change when Reis Noel, who had twice suffered in a clash of heads, was replaced by James Love.
Though there were scrambles at both end, and a Peddie header that rose above the bar from a corner, the first clear-cut goal opportunity didn’t come until the 20th minute when a ball through the middle broke well for Kye Ruel but, from close range, he was unable to get any real venom into his strike at goal and
Joe Woolley gathered comfortably.
A minute later Smith had a real chance at the other end but after his pace got him into a good position, he scuffed his low shot wide.
The half was played out in low key fashion, though the decision by ref Jonathon Pickford to play just two added minutes, when there had been a number of lengthy stoppages, baffled most onlookers. Perhaps he just wanted to take a break from the mediocrity and make a fresh start to the game.
Certainly things picked up after the break, with both sides injection more urgency into the play.
Again it was Rocks who had the first chance to break the deadlock when Ruel set up Sam Collins, but his poor shot dribbled wide of the target.
Rocks introduced Petrit Elbi for Ruel soon after and his snappy style of play unsettled the Urchins and he created a number of half chances with his enthusiasm, the best being a run into the box and shot which was blocked. Rocks top scorer Sam Higgins, largely anonymous for much of the game, is always on hand with a killer touch and again he nipped into the limelight by seizing on the rebound but his close range shot was half blocked an ricocheted away off the upright.
At the other end, after 67 minutes, Smith – who was becoming increasingly influential with powerful runs and an attacking instinct largely lacking elsewhere on the pitch, surged forward and looked to have the goal at his mercy but he didn’t catch his shot right and keeper Richard Wray got down to make an unexpectedly comfortable save.
Andy Tomlinson then drilled a shot over the bar and, after another Higgins shot had been easily held by Woolley, Smith again surged into the action, this time firing across Wray who pushed his effort away for a corner,
Smith then looked as is he might have won a penalty when he tumbled in the box but Mr Pickford – who irritated both sets of players and fans throughout the afternoon with his inconsistencies and lack of conviction in decision-making – waved away the appeals.
That looked as if it would be it but, with just 15 seconds of three minutes of added time remaining, Rocks gave possession away cheaply midway in their opponents’ half and Urchins switched play to the opposite side where Joe Anderson capped his man-of-the-match performance with a driving run down the flank and laid the ball to Smith a couple of yards outside the box. He was initially covered by Kris Newby but the Rocks man went to ground with his tackle, and Smith skipped past him to work space and smash a magnificent shot into the top corner. However hard it might have been on the Rocks, it was a goal worthy of winning any match and Smith’s aggressive attacking instinct willingness to shoot when he could, rather than prevaricate was the difference between two well-match sides on the day.