East Thurrock United 2 v 2 Dulwich Hamlet
EAST Thurrock’s fifth home Ryman Premier Division draw of the season was achieved thanks to a rare goal from cenrtreback Paul Goodacre three minutes from time but came with a sense of relief on a night when the hosts found themselves second best in many areas of the pitch against one of the division’s high-fliers.
Many matches at Rookery Hill see the hosts dominate but struggle to score but this was a rarity when the Rocks spent long spells on the back foot as their visitors stretched play with pace and intelligent possession.
That isn’t to say East Thurrock didn’t have chances, indeed a couple of the night’s best saves came from visiting keeper Oshane Browne, but it was a different sort of performance from the Rocks whose boss John Coventry will have been pleased with their resilience.
With a very small squad depleted by a work commitment for Lewis Smith and Connor Witherspoon sidelined by injury, not to mention the long term crocked Manny Osei, Coventry had limited options and played three centrebacks in Goodacre, Ben Wood and Simon Peddie, with defenders Ryan Sammons and Tom Stephen urged to get forward when they could. It somewhat invited the visitors onto the front foot and they always looked a threat going forward.
After several minutes of sparring in midfield, the first chance of the night fell to Rocks’ Reece Harris but he screwed his shot wide but that was the prelude to a spell of sustained pressure from Dulwich during which home keeper David Hughes made several scrambling saves as the ball flashed around his box.
Rocks still posed a threat and came close to opening the scoring when David Bryant was just inches away from a decisive touch to a ball across the face of goal and Browne showed his alertness with a couple of decisive interventions.
For the most part, though, the threat came from Dulwich who matched pace with possession and some telling passing and they opened up the home defence on 25 minutes when Hughes was forced to pull off a great reaction close range save from Nyren Clunis but the ball broke kindly for the diminutive Dulwich player and he was able to bundle it over the line for the game’s opening goal.
It was no more than Dulwich merited and they twice came close to a second when Hughes pulled off another good stop to deny Clunis in a one-on-one situation, then Ashlew Carew crashed an angled shot agaist the woodwork.
Rocks lifted themselves in the closing stages of the half and created a couple of half chances, the best of which saw Browne fingertip away a goalbound effort from Harris, with the home side unable to take advantage of a frantic goalmouth scramble that followed.
However, it lifted spirits going into the break and five minutes after the restart they drew level when a somewhat fortuitous handball earned them a 50th minute penalty and Sam Higgins slammed it past Browne in convincing fashion.
That sparked another lengthy spell of Dulwich dominance and their vocal supporters behind the goal were treated to a number of near misses before the introduction of sub Harry Ottaway on 64 minutes proved pivotal as he netted a fine goal with a rasping drive inside the post to cap a flowing move four minutes after his introduction.
He might have had another soon after when Rocks gave away possession and he unleashed another shot, but this time it came back off the bar.
To their credit, and with a little more forward impetus following the injection of fresh legs from sub Mitchell Gilbey, Rocks rallied in the closing stages and began to threaten in sustained fashion for the first time in the game. Higgins had a couple of chances blocked and more pressure earned an 87th minute corner that was met with a powerful header from Goodacre for the equaliser.
In the closing moments Rocks three times came close to an unlikely winner with shots from Harris and Higgins blocked and then, in added time, the ball broke for Nicky Symons on the edge of the box and his powerful strike caused Hamlet hearts to flutter before it flew wide of the upright and in the end, after an entertaining night’s football played out for large parts in driving rain and on a difficult, slippy pitch, honours were even.