Friday, December 8, 2023

Football: Rocks hold on to maintain unbeaten run

Ryman Premier

East Thurrock United 0 v 0 Margate

ROCKS have now drawn ten of 23 matches this season and more tellingly eight out of 14 Ryman Premier games, though this was the first goalless encounter of the campaign.

Without a shadow of a doubt in most of the those drawn games John Coventry’s side have come away thinking one point wasn’t enough for their efforts – or what they deserved – and this was another such instance.

Margate arrived at Rookery Hill with expectations of a win that would have put them on top of the table and for much of the game they found themselves outplayed by a home side beginning to grow in confidence but yet still lacking a cutting edge.

At the end of the day both sides will reflect that a point has some merit, but you can’t help wondering just how well Rocks might be doing if they could convert pressure into chances.

New goalkeeper Elliot Justham was a spectator for much of the game, particularly in a one-sided second half when he only had one shot on his goal to defend, while his counterpart Craig Holloway pulled off several decent stops – especially one late in the game when an instinctive hand and the post combined to deny Rocks’ most effervescent player, Kris Newby.

It took just ten seconds for Rocks to set the tone of the match, Hakeem Araba forcing his way onto the end of some slick passing, flattering to deceive not for the last time in the match by firing tamely wide when well-placed.

As ever this season, East Thurrock were often their own worst enemy, giving the ball away through unforced errors in potentially dangerous situations and one such instance on two minutes could have proved costly but fortunately for them Dan Stubbs shot high and wide when gifted a chance.

But for the most part it was Rocks going forward that set the tempo of the game. First time starter Liam Burgess is nothing, if not optimistic, and he chanced his arm with a long range shot that drifted high over the bar.

There was much more concern for the Margate defence when Sam Collins wormed his way through a packed defence but his scrambling run ended in disappointment as he tried to round Holloway only to run the ball out of play.

A fierce drive from Sam Collins who raced onto the end of a low, hard-struck corner brought strong shouts for a penalty when his half volley was blocked but Rocks have had just two of them this season in more than 35 hours of football going into Tuesday’s game and ref Mark Potkins, who had a great match, wasn’t about to change their luck.

As the half drew to its climax East Thurrock were growing in stature, exemplified by one move of around a dozen passes that ended with Mason pulling the trigger after showing pace to glide across the face of the box. Unfortunately for home fans, he pulled out another dud and the ball rolled harmlessly wide.

One hundred and forty six hardy souls had braved the cold night, with a decent contingent crossing the Thames from Kent, and they spent almost all the second half watching their team on the back foot as Rocks turned partial first half superiority into dominance.

The half started with Newby winning a foul on the edge of the box and Spencer Harrison launched himself at the subsequent cross, only to clear the ball, then another Newby cross picked out Araba but he could find a powder puff finish.

The chances kept coming though and Holloway did well to punch out an angled Newby header and on the hour mark he was left standing in hope after a long range lob by Rocks’ wideman floated over his head, but also the crossbar, bouncing up off the stanchion to exaggerate Newby’s misfortune from a clever attempt.

One of Margate’s few options had been the pace of former Grays and Thurrock player Matt Bodkin but though he was fleet of foot and equally quick of thought, he was surprisingly withdrawn for experienced striker Carl Rook on the hour, but he was to make little impact.

Newby continued to be the star turn in terms of efforts on goal and Holloway did really well to beat out a low angled drive with his legs. Chances kept coming Rocks’ way, with Araba lashing a shot across the face of goal and Simon Peddie headed over.

As often happens when one side dominates, something out of the blue happens at the other end to almost rock the boat and that moment came when Justham could only punch out a corner and he was grateful to see a close range strike nestle into his body after being fired straight back at him.

It was the only chance of the half for Margate, but not of the game.

There was still time for that man Newby to almost win it but somehow his nemesis Holloway got a hand to a fiercely stuck angled shot and with the help of the woodwork it bounced away to safety.

Soon after Mr Potkins’ final whistle brought the action to an end in an enjoyable, if frustrating game, for both fans. Margate will see it as a chance blown, Rocks as another case of what might have been.

Nevertheless both can take positives from it. Margate for getting a point when being outplayed and Rocks not least from the fact that they had bettered the league’s second-best side for most of 90 minutes and that they have laid the foundations for a possible climb up the table by going four games unbeaten. If they can find that cutting edge – and it may come with the return from lengthy injury of star striker Sam Higgins – they could soon change from being the nearly men to the big achievers.


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