Thursday, December 8, 2022

Football: Four-star victories for Thurrock youth teams

THREE Thurrock football teams won silverware this week in the finals of Essex competitions. All reports courtesy of Essex FA.Com

Essex Pelly Under 18s Cup Final

Brentwood Town 1-1 Thurrock (after extra time, Thurrock won 5-4 on penalties)

THURROCK required a nail-biting penalty shootout to secure victory over Brentwood Town in the final of the Essex Pelly Under 18s Cup, completing an unprecedented County Cup quadruple in the process.

The result also saw the South Essex side avenge last season’s 2-1 defeat to the same opponents, whilst many of the squad had been involved in 2012’s Cassells Under 16s Cup final reverse against Tempest. “I’m massively over the moon for the boys,” beamed boss Mark Sambridge straight after the final whistle.

“We’ve had a lot of misfortune, I suppose, in the County Cup; we’ve gone out in the final stages and we got beaten in the final last year, so you do look at it and wonder if it’s going to happen again, but it was great. It’s been fantastic for all of our sides to have done it; the Under 16s led us off with a fantastic victory and then the Under 14s and 15s last weekend, so I said to these guys that there was no pressure.”

“We were going off last, we’ve got three of the four and we were playing, if not the toughest, then one of the toughest sides at our age group, so there’s a massive sense of achievement for Thurrock in getting those results. For this group to have won it in the manner we have, we really have dug in, fought hard and earned it against a really, really good side, so it’s very gratifying.”

In a gripping match of few clear-cut chances, Thurrock’s Billy Rix steered a 25-yard drive narrowly wide of the right-hand post in the 17th minute before a beautiful reverse pass from Alex Akrofi released Jacob Dingli at the other end, only for Ricky Cooper to turn his strike into the side netting.

Thurrock took the lead in the 26th minute when Rix flicked on Lewis Clark’s long throw and Danny Gammaldi dextrously swivelled to slide the ball beyond Will Russell from eight yards out. Sambridge’s side ended the opening period on top and Russell was forced to make two smart saves to crisp Jordan Clark efforts. The second half saw a different pattern emerge.

Dingli was wayward with a pair of speculative attempts from distance and Cooper was brought into action for the first time in the 66th minute to keep out Akrofi’s deflected set piece. The Town winger was then unfortunate to see his chipped finish bounce inches wide having beaten Cooper to Shadrak Ngandu’s slide-rule pass, before being heroically denied by the Thurrock defence in the 79th minute when Rory Allen’s fierce strike was only partially charged down.

Brentwood thought they had levelled four minutes from the end when Ngandu met Akrofi’s corner on the half-volley, but the ball was hooked off the line. Instead, a dramatic denouement to the regulation 90 minutes was delayed until Akrofi expertly controlled a long ball and dribbled around Cooper to slam into the top right-hand corner of the net.

Sambridge admitted to feeling nervous at this stage: “I did think, for them to equalise a minute before the end of normal time, there were a lot of boys struggling with bad groins and hamstrings and a lot of tiredness out there, so it was just a matter of seeing it through. I’m feeling relief more than anything.”

“To be honest, I thought that we got a second wind in extra time and I was just concerned because of fitness. We’ve got a lot of ‘first years’ and they’re a strong side, so you do wonder if we were physically going to be able to match them, and there’s mental tiredness as well. But, if anything, we dug in and I think we had some good opportunities on the break ourselves. We handled it quite well.”

Sam Cross curled a 30-yard free kick over the crossbar for Brentwood, but Thurrock were indeed revitalised and Jordan Clark’s clever flick-on was thumped goalwards by Ayo Awosika, necessitating a brilliant save from Russell. In the second period, Akrofi had an effort ruled out for offside and Thurrock’s task was made harder when Billy Rix was dismissed for a second caution, but they held on to remain level after extra time.

For the second time in three seasons the Pelly Cup would be decided on penalties, and Cooper gave his team an immediate advantage when he saved from Ngandu. Thurrock made no mistakes with their spot kicks and, although there were no further blemishes by Brentwood, Lewis Clark stepped up to convert his side’s fifth and spark scenes of celebration.

“We’ve been done so many times in penalty shootouts over the years,” claimed Sambridge. “I basically just asked the boys who wanted one and they put their hands up and we just went through the numbers and that was it. It just so happened that Lewis Clark was number five; I was a bit concerned because he was hobbling around a bit towards the end of the game, even he’d said I hope it don’t get that far, but it was fantastic!”

Brentwood Town: Will Russell, Robert Bagnall, Sam Cross, Andy Freeman, Ryan Cosson, Connor Witherspoon, Adam Rooke, Shadrak Ngandu, Jacob Dingli, Jon Nash, Alex Akrofi. Substitutes (repeated): Josh Norman, Harry Quant, Garrett Kelly, King Ellis, Rory Allen.

Thurrock: Ricky Cooper, Lewis Clark, Christian Mbulu, Billy Rix, Flynn Linard, Lawrence Petts, Danny Gammaldi, Ross Woolward, Luke McLeavy, Jordan Clark, Harry Matthews. Substitutes (repeated): James Killingback, Ayo Awosika, Lewis Moore, Charlie Crumpton, David Amole.

Referee: John Magill (Colchester).

Assistant Referee: Ray Savill (Canvey Island) and Aaron Irvine (Westcliff-on-Sea).

Fourth Official: Stuart McMillan (Basildon).

Attendance: 240.

Thurrock 2-0 Upminster Park Rovers (Greens), Sunday 28th April 2013, Kick-Off 3:00pm, Len Salmon Stadium, Essex Rosser Under 15s Cup Final.

Darren Appanah’s brace bookended Thurrock’s 2-0 victory over Upminster Park Rovers at Bowers & Pitsea FC in a result which saw the club claim their third item of County Cup silverware in 2012/13, adding the Rosser Under 15s Cup to the Andrews Under 14s and Cassells Under 16s Cups they already hold in their cabinet.

And, with the Pelly Under 18s Cup final to follow just four days later, Manager Terry Epstein was ecstatic as he beamed: “It’s a great achievement for the club; they’re definitely going in the right direction. Hopefully we’ll complete a clean sweep! I don’t think any other team in Essex have done that before, so that would be a fantastic achievement.”

“I’m just really pleased,” he continued. “Obviously it was disappointing last week when we lost 4-1 on penalties in the Eastern Junior Alliance Presidents Cup, so it was just good to put that right really. We lost in the League Cup last year – against Billericay Town – so after two finals it was a case of third time lucky!”

Thurrock made the best possible start, taking a 1-0 lead in just the 5th minute. Callum Jex’s free kick dipped awkwardly for UPR goalkeeper Richie Morris and, under pressure from Lee Rome, he pushed the ball out into the path of Appanah, who nodded in from close range.

The EJA outfit continued in the ascendancy during the remainder of the first half. Jacob Barlow swung a 20-yard strike into the grateful gloves of Morris with the outside of his right boot after a quarter of an hour, and Harry Catherall darted in from the left flank to drill another attempt straight at the custodian.

When UPR did threaten, it was generally in the form of set-pieces, and Jack Gittens’ in-swinging corner was flicked into the path of Fred Houseago by Harry Gibbs in the 24th minute. Unfortunately for the Echo Junior League club, their Captain’s header was planted narrowly wide of the left-hand upright.

Morris dealt with a viciously curling George Boffa flag kick and a Robert Carroll header from another Boffa delivery before the break, with Epstein believing his team had the advantage of the elements in the opening period.

He recalled: “The first goal’s quite important in a cup final, and I think the wind played a big part in this game. In the first half we had the wind and the momentum was with us, we scored a goal and they didn’t really get out their half, except for one chance from a flick on.”

“In the second half, there was a little bit more pressure, but we knew that was going to happen. They were going to come out second half – in the first ten minutes they were quite strong but I always thought we were in control.”

Indeed, after Jex had scuffed Mason Iley’s pass into Morris’ hands, UPR’s Houseago nodded wide from a Gittens corner and Petcharat Chotipala fired narrowly wide of the left-hand upright. However, Appanah delivered the telling blow for Thurrock three minutes from time, collecting the ball just outside the six-yard box following industrious work from Jack Blackledge on the right flank and shooting past Morris.

In stoppage time, the forward attempted an acrobatic bicycle kick from Barlow’s deep free kick to try and grab the matchball, but the ball looped over the crossbar. Epstein, who has skippered Ockendon and Little Thurrock Dynamos to the Essex Saturday Veterans Cup crown in each of the last two seasons, was thrilled.

He opined: “The boys knew they’d won it by then. It was just a great feeling and I couldn’t wait for the whistle to go. I’ve played in about four or five county finals and I haven’t lost one, so it’s a good record so far. With the boys, it’s the first one they’ve been in for most of them, and one out of one isn’t bad!”

Thurrock: Scott Gunner, Fraser Williams, Lee Rome, Michael Jerman, Jacob Barlow, Robert Carroll, George Boffa, Harry Catherall, Callum Jex, James Slater, Darren Appanah. Substitutes (repeated): Mason Iley, Tommy Epstein, Jack Blackledge, Marlin Manduakila, Kyle Duncan-Hinds.

Upminster Park Rovers: Richie Morris, Fred Houseago, Petcherat Chotipala, Jack Gittins, Harry Gibbs, George O’Connor, Michael Ward, Hamza Lounis, Zuriel Twum, Charly Bruce, Taylor Rowland. Substitutes (repeated): Matthew Kent, Elliot Scott, Niyi Adeaga, Jamie Betts.

Referee: Robert Claussen (South Fambridge).

Assistant Referees: Adam Humphreys (Hornchurch) and Adam Arthur (Chelmsford).

Fourth Official: Craig Barnett (Basildon).

Attendance: 277

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East Thurrock United 1-3 Thurrock, Sunday 28th April 2013, Kick-Off 11:00am, Len Salmon Stadium, Essex Andrews Under 14s Cup Final.

Thurrock needed to recover from an early deficit to defeat spirited neighbours East Thurrock United and claim the Essex Andrews Under 14s Cup courtesy of a “fairytale” 3-1 victory, as described by their chief Lambros Papantoniou.

Emmanuel Kouassi put East Thurrock ahead in the 17th minute, but Billy Monk quickly pulled a goal back before Joshua Lee’s sensational strike and a third from Jack Willis – still during the first half – sealed Thurrock’s comeback. “I think we’re fortunate that we got a quick reply – it was important to do that,” said Papantoniou.

“We obviously got to 3-1 up at half time and, in the second half, I thought they threw everything at us so we played on the counter. I’m pleased for the boys because they’re the ones who put the work in. Obviously we do a lot behind the scenes to help them, but they’re the guys who actually have to go out there and play. It’s brilliant!”

East Thurrock could only name a squad of eleven for the fixture and they were further hampered by an injury to their goalkeeper sustained last weekend, but they battled hard and could have taken an early lead when Ryan Tattan curled a 25-yard free kick narrowly over the crossbar in the 2nd minute.

Local rivals Thurrock tested stand-in shotstopper Brandon Olagunju for the first time in the 6th minute as Lee’s fierce 20-yard effort was blocked by the legs of the custodian, and Jack Willis followed that up with a deflected strike into the side netting. Two minutes later, Olagunju made a fantastic save to claw out Brandon Williams’ set piece before the defence scrambled Monk’s close-range finish away.

Again Olagunju made a fine stop in the 14th minute, denying Jamie Orchard after the forward had delivered a stinging shot from distance. Then East Thurrock were rewarded for their resilience when Kouassi gave them the lead by beating William Gibson to Tattan’s pass and knocking the ball into the net.

“We knew that East Thurrock were fighters and I thought that their goalkeeper was exceptional,” explained Papantoniou. “He made some really, really quality saves. You’d think with all the injuries they’ve had that maybe they’d be a bit weary, but they were exactly the opposite. They had their backs to the wall but they dug in and stuck together.”

Thurrock could have netted an instant reply when Orchard planted his header wide from Jake Willis’ right-wing cross, but they did equalise in the 25th minute. Orchard’s long-range effort was charged down by a defender but it fell to Monk, who kept his composure to slot past Olagunju. Five minutes later, Thurrock were ahead in show-stopping fashion.

Orchard combined with Jack Willis on the left and they set up Lee, who lashed unstoppably into the top corner from distance. His Manager said: “I put on his profile for the match programme that he’s like a ‘Roy of the Rovers’ because he plays with his heart on his sleeve and sometimes you have to rein him back in. But he’s capable of that – he’s done it a couple of times this season. He’s now captain, and I’m so happy for him to score a goal like that in a County Cup final.”

60 seconds later, Jack Willis found himself clear on the left-hand side of the penalty area and he had the simple task of rolling the ball beyond Olagunju. At the other end, Gibson had to tip over Tattan’s viciously in-swinging corner in the dying stages of the first half, whilst Dennis Sendur was unfortunate to see his shot blocked for East Thurrock during the second period.

Whilst both teams maintained their intensity after the break, there were few chances. Although Jack Willis and Orchard went close, Thurrock couldn’t add to their advantage, but Papantoniou was still happy with the final result: “I’m ecstatic. It’s been a long journey from seven years ago, starting off as a ‘D’ team for the old Grays Cosmos side and we’ve worked our way up throughout those seasons and got better and better year-by-year.”

“This is the benchmark that we always looked at, trying to get near that level, and the boys have been absolutely terrific. It’s all credit to the guys behind the scenes. I think some people might forget what we do. We don’t get paid a penny – we do it for the love of the game, for the love of working with the players.”

“It seems like the everyone’s on the same page at the club. We’ve got the same ethos and it’s been a good couple of years working to get four sides into County Cup finals. It’s been an incredible season. A lot of hard work’s gone into changing little details on how we do things. We’re a club which everyone wants to come and play for now, and that’s a bonus.”

East Thurrock United: Brandon Olagunju, Sam Kirwin, Callum Adelizzi-Hill, Jake Driver, Dennis Sendur, Ryan Tattan, Jayde Abraham, Conor Hales, Emmanuel Kouassi, Darren Phillips, Frankie Naidoo.

Thurrock: William Gibson, Jody Meredith, Kieron Gore, Billy Monk, Jamie Orchard, Jack Willis, Brandon Williams, Bailey Rollins, Jake Willis, Paul Nwanze, Joshua Lee. Substitutes (repeated): Ryan Dinney, Alex Panantoniou, Dylan Lewis, Shaun Gittleson.

Referee: Thomas Whay (Harlow).

Assistant Referees: Tom Beattie (Colchester) and James Beal (Maldon).

Fourth Official: Elliot Horne (Rochford).

Attendance: 180.

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