A DEPLETED East Thurrock put on a brave performance against Ryman Premier title contenders at Rookery Hill on Tuesday evening and were deserving of the point they achieved from an entertaining match which had supporters on both clubs on tenterhooks throughout.
The result could have gone either way and though Maidstone had the lion’s share of possession and more chances throughout the night, Rocks always posed a counter-attacking threat.
The hosts were missing suspended Simon Peddie and David Bryant, both regular starters throughout the season, while Mitchell Gilbey, Ross Parmenter and Manny Osei are all still suffering the effects of recent injuries.
That meant a second league start for 18-year-old Joe Paxman – who went on to impress throughout – and the Rocks’ bench featured four other teenagers.
Maidstone were also short of full strength, with Alex Flisher, Jay May and Frannie Collin all missing.
Maidstone had the first chance of the match and probably should have scored from it. Alex Brown did brilliantly to glide down the right and cutting inside as he got to the byline, he sent a cross to the back post where Ben Greenhalgh controlled it, but could not bring it under his spell as quickly as he would have liked, and keeper David Hughes was out to him and Greenhalgh could only poke a shot straight at the keeper.
On 11 minutes the home side had their first chance and it was a superb effort from Tom Stephen, taking a quick short corner and cracking a shot off the crossbar with his left foot from just outside the right corner of the 18-yard box.
When the opener came it was all of Matt Bodkin’s making. He got down the right superbly and then delivered a lovely cross that was just too high for Hughes and his attempted one-handed clearance fell to Greenhalgh who nodded home.
The dangerous Rocks had shown some neat interplay in and around the Stones box and they almost hit back six minutes later when Kye Ruel turned Sonny Miles in the box and drilled a low host just wide of the far post when he should have hit the target. Ruel was something of a constant threat in the first half but struggled to keep his footing on a greasy pitch and slipped a couple of times when well-placed.
At the other end Greenhalgh was looking lively and his mazy, jinking run from inside his own half took him all the way into the hosts’ box, but once there he just could not get the ball out of his feet and his eventual shot had no pace and Hughes saved easily.
An entertaining first half an hour petered out after that.
Maidstone might have doubled the lead four minutes after the break, when James Rogers won the ball in his own half and fed a fine throughball in behind the home defence for the impressive Alex Akrofi. He got to the byline, waited for help and laid back for Jack Parkinson, who smashed an effort high over the bar.
Akrofi should have got a shot away in the 67th minute when he dispossessed Paul Goodacre 25 yards out and drove at goal. As he got into the box he should have shot, but instead cut inside Stephen and Goodacre was able to get back at him.
And he and his team-mates were made to pay a minute later when a free-kick
delivered into the box was flicked on by Sam Higgins. Steve Watt just could not deal with it and it fell for Higgins to lash home his 24th goal of the season.
Lee Worgan then made a great save at his near post to deny Higgins a second after Paxman had got in behind the Stones defence and then, as the game became stretched, Alex Brown had a low drive cleared off the line by a combination of keeper Hughes and Ryan Sammons after Akrofi did well down the right to dig out a cross.
Maidstone pressed hard for a winner and Charley Robertson and Bradley Jordan were thrown on for Brown and Bodkin respectively and they both made immediate impacts, though neither could find the decisive touch.
Jordan went on a driving run from right to left and laid off to Greenhalgh on the left and he crossed where Akrofi and Robertson threw themselves at it but could not convert and Robertson then drove at the home defence before Jordan got a shot away that Hughes saved well.
In the closing moments Paxman sprang the home defence and looked likely to get in a shot but in the end the more physical Maidstone defenders just crowded him out and though he tumbled after contact his appeals for a penalty were muted and waved away by ref Stuart Cheek – a decision that rounded off a decent night for the match official who played his part in keeping the game flowing.