Cray Wanderers 2 v 2 East Thurrock United
EAST Thurrock were left to rue several missed opportunities but in the end showed character to battle back to take their unbeaten Ryman Premier run to 12 matches and maintain their push for a play-off spot.
The draw, their 15th of the season in the league, leaves Rocks in sixth place, one place and one point behind Canvey who beat Thurrock 1-0 to go fifth. However, East Thurrock have a game in hand on the Gulls.
A point was also important for Cray who are still flirting dangerously with the drop zone.
The game got off to a low key start, with both sides struggling to find any fluency but it was Rocks who looked the more dangerous and they had two decent penalty shouts waved away by ref Peter Georgiou, including one seemingly stone cold cert when Kye Ruel was flattened.
However, at the third time of asking, when Ruel was again felled on the edge of the box by a clumsy challenge from behind by Mark Willy Mr Georgiou did point to the spot and Sam Higgins slotted the resultant12th minute penalty with some venom.
The goal ought to have settled Rocks, who had looked a bit lethargic – no surprise given their recent congested run of matches – and a little lacking in imagination as they aimlessly pumped the ball forward rather than try and work an opening.
And that propensity to give away possession rebounded when Crays capitalised on a breakaway on 18 minutes which left the visiting defence in some disarray and Danny Phillips collected the ball and steered it past Elliot Justham.
From then on the half was pretty even, with both keepers having to make saves, the best of the game being a reflex stop from Crays’ Andy Walker that denied James Lawson from close range.
Rocks came out much improved in the second half and began to dominate the game, creating several chances, including a gilt-edged one for top scorer Higgins who broke through and was unchallenged with only Walker to beat but he was hesitant in his approach and the keeper closed him down and then blocked the low shot.
Sensing they might get something positive from the game Cray also stepped up the pace and they took the lead on 75 minutes when Rocks again gave the ball away cheaply when going forward and on the counter Leigh Bremner brushed off a challenge from Steve Sheehan and showed Higgins how a one-one-one is converted by sliding the ball past Justham.
Rocks boss John Coventry rang the changes, with three subs coming on for the closing stages but when Sheehan blazed over the bar when it seemed easier to score and a number of balls ricocheted around the six yard box without anyone getting a vital touch it looked as if they might go home empty-handed.
But their saviour was to be Higgins who picked the ball up on the edge of the box with five minutes to go and with stunning precision drilled a low shot between three players and just inside the post beyond the outstretched fingertips of Walker. It was his 18th goal from 34 appearances in what has been an injury-hit season and none could prove to be more precious.
There was even time for sub L’heureaux Menga to come close to his debut goal for the Rocks but he twice went wide of the post when he perhaps should have done better and in the end Rocks were happy to take the point and they still control their own destiny in the sprint for the play-off line.