Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Football: Rocks undone by relegation-threatened Robins

Ryman Premier

East Thurrock Utd 2 v 3 Carshalton Athletic

Courtesy of the Thurrock Enquirer

AFTER the high of their pre-Christmas point at Bury, Rocks were brought crashing down to earth in a dramatic match at a very muddy Rookery Hill on Boxing Day where the visitors emerged from a relegation battle with their first Ryman Premier win in more than three months.

Though there was plenty to encourage Rocks boss John Coventry, including a debut for Chris Bourne after his signing from AFC Hornchurch, he must have wondered whether it was worth the effort to get the game on when most of his neighbours’ grounds were waterlogged – particularly as the encounter was played out in front of a paltry festive crowd of just 115, the lowest of the season at Rookery Hill, which is becoming a difficult place for Rocks to play this season.

In eight home league games they have won just twice, with two draws taking their home points to just eight from a possible 24. They have won just two of four cup ties on home soil too and with a second half of the season dominated by home games Coventry will know the home hoodoo is something his side will have to crack.

It’s not as if they don’t create many chances, game after game including this clash with the Robins is littered with an abundance of opportunities, but the Rocks are struggling to convert them.

On Thursday that was largely due to an impressive debut from visiting on-loan Colchester United goalkeeper Shaun Phillips who played a blinder, no doubt hoping to impress any watching eyes from his home club on a speedy return to Essex.
Phillips comfortably gathered the first shot on goal from Bourne while at the other end Bobby Price almost burst through on goal via a Kingsley Aikhionbare cross-field pass during the opening exchanges, but the home side made most of the early running.
Rocks won a corner on 10 minutes which eventually bobbled around the six yard box before a shot was blocked by a forest of legs and then hacked away.

Aikhionbare had a sight of the home goal a minute later as a poor headed clearance fell to him but the young striker dragged a shot across the six yard area which was cleared.

Carshalton forced a corner on 14 minutes which Charlie McCarthy and then Tommy Bradford headed goalwards. The ball was nudged away and Aikhionbare’s subsequent effort was deflected for another corner.

This delivery was headed out as far as Price who returned it with interest and the diminutive Bradford, who always seem to shine against Rocks, rose between two defenders to power home a header for his 10th of the season.

The lead only lasted five minutes however as David Bryant held off both Adriano Moraes and Sean O’Toole to drive into the Robins area, only for Matt Males to lunge in and bring the forward down. Tom Stephen stepped up and sent Phillips the wrong way.
Getting back on level terms inspired the home side to become the more dominate side for a spell, but they couldn’t concert the pressure.

Bourne was played through on the left on 38 minutes but, as McCarthy came across at full pelt to cover, the winger’s third touch was heavy and the ball ran out of play. In fact, both keepers were mostly dealing with miss-directed long balls as each side failed to carve out any decent chances until added time.

Good work down the United right by Jack Hopkins saw his low cross dummied by Leon McKenzie and Lea Dawson, arriving from deep, steered a free effort wide of the far post from 16 yards.

The home side made a substitution and altered their formation for the start of the second-half, Hopkins making way for Ross Parmenter, and three offside flags curtailed attacks as they looked to put Carshalton under immediate pressure.

McKenzie had a pot shot on 52 minutes after Sammons picked him out with a pull back from the right but, even though Phillips was always behind it, the ball stuck in some mud in front of the keeper and spun on the spot.

The home side kept up the pressure and O’Toole did well to hook the ball away from Stuart Thurgood inside his own box and Phillips had to play sweeper on the hour to deny Bryant a clear run at his goal.

The new keeper saved and then clutched a swerving Bourne shot from 20-yards as the Robins were finding it difficult to retain possession and ask any questions of the United backline.

Matt Reece came on for the tiring Aikhionbare but it was the visiting keeper that covered himself in glory again on 68 minutes.
Bourne got the better of McCarthy on the left and his fizzed cross found an unmarked McKenzie, who seemed odds-on to score, but Phillips spread himself at his feet and blocked the effort from six yards away.

Price made a brave block to deny Bryant in his own area too but not many inside the stadium would’ve been too surprised to see Carshalton’s lead surrendered on 75 minutes. A rolling ball was fired back with interest by Thurgood from 23-yards which beat Phillips all ends up to nestle in the far post.

That looked to be the turning point and home fans began to anticipate a change in fortune but Carshalton rolled up their sleeves and reasserted themselves as an attacking force almost straightaway, taking the lead for a third time three minutes later.

McCarthy gathered an over-hit corner and beat his marker to deliver a ball into Bradford who controlled it on his chest 12-yards out before tumbling to the ground under a challenge. Referee Elliott Kaye had no hesitation in pointing for a third spot-kick and

Taylor kept his nerve to send Mott the wrong way.

The game became a bit stretched as it headed to its conclusion but it was Rocks that seemed the more likely to nab a sixth goal of the game as they laid siege.

The Robins began to probe forward again as the clock ticked towards the half-hour mark and they won a penalty of their own as Ryan Sammons halted the driving run of O’Toole inside the home area. Bradford placed the ball and sent keeper Sam Mott the wrong.
But the closest they came was in the fourth minute of injury time when Sammons powered a header against Phillips’ crossbar, but a raised flag would’ve curtailed any celebrations had he hit the target anyway.

The defeat, though painful on the day, is far from fatal for Rocks who remain seven points ahead of the Robins and three in front of an improving Thamesmead who have played three more, but Coventry will have expected to have edged his way up the table.

He remains confident his side will make that journey and has plans to add to to his squad further but with 28 players having played in league so far this season the manager knows a settled side is imperative if Rocks are to move away from danger.

With tough away games to come at Lewes on Saturday and New Years’ Day’s derby with Grays there are no easy points in immediate prospect but Coventry knows long term it is form at Rookery Hill that will determine his side’s future and he will expect better things in 2014.


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