Concord Rangers 4 v 5 East Thurrock United
RARELY is a meeting between these two rivals and near neighbours dull, but in the many years of rivalry between the two sides can there have been a match like this reports the Thurrock Enquirer.
The first half saw eight goals but both defences regathered themselves after the break and it wasn’t until the last minute that Concord grabbed the second half’s only goal.
In the end East Thurrock’s first half endeavours saw them through to a rare league double over their derby rivals but it was a bizarre and fraught victory for their fans – who are growing accustomed to seeing their side throw away commanding leads.
And Concord fans have lived equally on their nerves of late, seeing their side earn the mantle of comeback kings, a crown they came close to lifting against after being 5-1 down at one stage.
The drama started early with Kye Ruel rising to head Rocks home after just three minutes and a second goal followed on 11 minutes when dithering defence from Rangers saw Sam Collins steal the ball before launching on a powerful run into the box and unselfishly squaring for Sam Higgins to slide the ball home from the edge of the six yard box.
Rangers bounced back within four minutes when Rocks keeper Jamie Riley, in for a second Ryman Premier start of the season as replacement for the injured Richard Wray, failed to hold a ball which his defence then declined to clear and Steve King pounced to ram it into the net.
The fourth goal, after 19 minutes, was unfortunate for Rangers’ young keeper James Dudley who crouched to gather a tamely hit shot from Reiss Gilbey only to see the ball take a wicked spin and bounce off a divot and loop over his shoulder.
If Concord were dispirited by that, they were devastated when more poor defending, allied to a superb throughball from Ben Wood, opened the door for Higgins to race through and convert his second on 32 minutes, completing his hat-trick just two minutes later when he challenged young Dudley for a long punt upfield from Riley and won the battle, heading over the keeper into the net for his 27th league goal of the season.
It was to be his last act in the game, sustaining a dead leg in the collision that followed and limping out of the action. At that point he must have thought he had made ground in the race for the league’s golden boot with Wealdstone’s Richard Jolly. Perhaps if he had known the Wealdstone man had also completed a first half hat-trick in Stones’ clash with Tooting he would have been tempted to carry on. However, Jolly didn’t get any more but still maintains a three goal gap, with both teams having three to play.
Higgins was joined on the bench moments later by Rocks’ second top scorer, Kris Newby, a couple of moments later after the young wide man pulled up with what looked a hamstring injury.
As Rocks tried to reshape Concord pounced and their own top scorer, Tony Stokes showed he is far from out of the golden boot challenge with two poacher’s goals in six minutes to send his side into the break just two behind.
Both management teams must have read the riot act to their defences at half time and we got a ‘proper’ second half.
Defensively both sides held their shape and started to retain possession in danger areas, rather than haplessly give the ball away as they had done in the first half.
That’s not to say there weren’t chances. Harry Cook and Joe Keith went close for Rocks with excellent shots, while Mike Ramkin replaced Ruel, the third of Rocks’ leading scorers to pick up an injury, and also went close.
At the other end Riley was forced into action to make a couple of saves from the predatory Stokes but the Rocks defence wasn’t breached until the last minute of normal time when sub Sherwin Stanley headed in from close range.
That set up an anxious last couple of added minutes for the visitors, but for once they showed composure in playing out time and in the end took the spoils in yet another match that will live in the memory between these two still relatively fledgling clubs who – with mid table security secured – continue to punch above what many might say is their weight in the non-League game.
Not that fans who enjoyed Tuesday’s roller-coaster would worry about that. They were fully entertained by the drama – not a sentiment shared, I am sure, by the managers.