Football: Rocks held at bay on the coast

FA Trophy 1st Round

Eastbourne Town 0 v 0 East Thurrock United

EAST Thurrock enjoyed huge tracts of possession and dominated this FA Trophy tie as an attacking force but in the end were indebted to goalkeeper Sam Mott who pulled off one of his trademark penalty saves to deny the Ryman South bottom club a giant-killing act.

Rocks boss John Coventry had to reshuffle his team with four regulars out because of suspension and injury and he gave a debut to striker Jason Hallett, signed from Concord Rangers.

Hallett looked keen to impress and looked the most potent player on the pitch in the early stages, going close after six minutes with a strong run that saw him shrug of several challenges, those his shot was eventually blocked.

Hallett’s strike partner Leon McKenzie also began to impose himself on the game, which was largely being played around the Eastbourne penalty area and he had two efforts on goal, one an acrobatic strike that caused keeper Greg Nessling some concern as it looped towards him but he backtracked to get both hands on the ball. The second fizzed just past n upright.

After a brief interlude of Eastbourne enjoying some possession and Rock Baptiste getting a shot on goal, Rocks began to dominate again and another enterprising effort from distance from McKenzie beat Nessling but fell just the wrong side of the crossbar.

More Rocks pressure saw Simon Glover headed wide and then Ryan Sammons drilled a shot into the wide of the target. Kurt Smith, on his return to the Rocks starting line up after his move from Romford was a bundle of energy and caused Town plenty of problems, nevermoreso than when his run and low cross saw the ball fly across the face of an open goal with McKenzie just inches away from a vital touch.

After all their pressure Rocks would have been glad to go in on even terms as, in the last minute of the half, Ryan Fregany and Richard Greenfield combined and Greenfield delivered a defence-splitting cross that picked out Baptiste and he will be annoyed that he didn’t do better, guiding his header into an area where Mott could make a relatively comfortable, is spectacular-looking save.

The second half saw Rocks step up the tempo, and the game began to get fractious. Eastbourne’s game plan appeared to have been to try and slow things down whenever possible and the long grass also inhibited any quick passing game so it was right for Rocks to try and stretch the game more and they created a number of decent half chances, with both McKenzie and Hallett being prominent.

However, it also allowed Eastbourne the opportunity to catch Rocks on the break and from one attack the assistant referee adjudged a Rocks arm to have blocked a cross and he flagged for a penalty – a call backed by ref Paul Yates.

It seemed a trifle harsh by Mott ensured no significant damage was done by diving to his left and pushing Baptist’s poorly struck shot wide.

There was controversy at the other end when Rocks had very good claims for a penalty of their own waved away and then McKenzie finally forced the ball into the back of the net from close range but a raised flag ruled the effort out. It looked a contentious call but summed up the way Rocks’ luck has been running.

The reminder of the game saw both sides have half chances, with Nessling the busier of the two keepers but no-one could find a deciding goal and they will have to do it all again next Tuesday.

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