Maidstone United 1 v 1 East Thurrock United
Report courtesy of The Thurrock Enquirer.
A GOAL five minutes from the end denied Rocks a famous victory at the Gallagher Stadium on Saturday but this was a landmark day for the Rocks nevertheless.
Playing in front of the biggest league crowd in their 45 year history, the Essex side belied their position in the Ryman Premier drop zone and for much of the afternoon threatened to repeat their recent home victory against the promotion-chasing Stones.
However, in the end they couldn’t defy the onslaught of second half pressure from the home side but the point they won could prove pivotal in their relegation battle, while the home side now face the real possibility of dropping out of the top five after a slump in form – though it is slightly academic as their artificial pitch has ruled the out of the promotion picture following a Conference ruling that they will not accept anything other than turf next season.
Rocks fans were few and far between in the 1,731 but they were delighted just three minutes into the game when the home defence backpedalled and Sam Higgins stole in to force the ball past keeper Lee Worgan at the second attempt.
The visitors kept up the early momentum and Higgins had another couple of chances, the second seeing Jack Parkinson clear the ball off the line.
As the half wore on Maidstone grew into the game and on 21 minutes they came close when Jerrome Sobers got in a powerful header that rippled the fingertips of keeper David Hughes before crashing off the underside of the bar and down and out.
Seconds later, a half volley from Jack Parkinson was heading goalwards only for Ryan Sammons to get in the way. Then Kiernan Hughes-Mason went on a good run down the left and picked out Tom Mills whose shot went into the side netting. By now, the Stones were looking more confident going forwards and Hughes-Mason was involved again when he did well to get into the box and play a simple pass to Alex Flisher who tried to place his shot which was blocked.
It was just one of many instances when Rocks players put their bodies on the line to keep the ball out and the determination to defend to the last might have been rewarded early in the second half when East Thurrock sub David Bryant, who had replaced the injured Mitchell Gilbey, snatched at an opportunity and blasted the ball well over the bar.
Having survived this scare, Maidstone started to push East Thurrock back once again. With 56 minutes played, a driven corner from Flisher picked out Jack Harris who saw his header strike the bar and then moments later, Flisher played in substitute Frannie Collin who shot across the face of goal.
With an hour played, the Stones defence was caught out leaving Bryant bearing down on goal. Worgan was quickly off his line with Elliott Cox also in attendance and Worgan managed to get a vital touch to divert Bryant’s shot wide.
At the other end, Tom Stephen, who was one of the stars of the afternoon for Rocks, was then adjudged to have played a back pass which Hughes picked up. Michael Phillips took the free-kick which was close to the Rocks’ six yard box and he pulled the ball back to Flisher who drove the ball wide of the left hand post.
The introduction of Frannie Collin and Steve Watt added impetus to the Stones and the two players were involved in moves which saw the Stones go close to equalising. The first of these saw Zac Attwood and Collin combine with Collin playing Attwood in on goal only for Hughes to get his shot away from the line. Then on 74 minutes, there was a scramble in Rocks’ box and Collin’s shot at the near post was blocked by Stephen before Steve Watt’s effort on the rebound was hacked away from the line.
Maidstone were not to be denied an equaliser though as with just five minutes remaining, East Thurrock’s luck in defence ran out. Collin played the ball back to Flisher who put a good delivery into the box where it was expertly brought down by Attwood before he turned and fired a neat finish past Hughes.
There was still time for the Stones to push forwards in search of a winner and they went close twice in the dying moments. With 88 minutes played, Attwood played the ball into Hughes-Mason who saw his low drive from a tight angle cleared off the line by Hughes, who deserved a man-of-the-match accolade for his efforts and then the same Maidstone player was denied by a goal line clearance following yet another scramble inside the box as the game entered stoppage time.
A second goal for Maidstone might well have reflected the pressure they exerted in the second half but would have been unfair on the heroic Rocks who must feel they have a great chance to avoid the drop if they can repeat the level of effort and commitment in their remaining fixtures.