East Thurrock United 1 v 1 Enfield Town
EAST Thurrock remain Enfield’s bogey team with Sam Higgins’ late penalty retaining their record of never having been beaten by the promotion-chasing Towners.
However, with results elsewhere going their way, Enfield control their own destiny going into the Ryman Premier Division’s final weekend when a home win against relegated Witham Town will see them secure a play-off spot.
Rocks’ final day sees them travel to champions elect Maidstone and they will lack back on this campaign as a season of missed opportunities in the league, with ten draws at home (seven of them 1-1) proving costly as their own play-off challenge faded.
Saturday’s clash was an entertaining one played out in front of a large and vociferous travelling contingent of Towners’ fans who saw their side pushed onto the backfoot in the early stages as East Thurrock made a fast start.
Rocks almost broke the deadlock early on as Lewis Smith curled in a fine shot from the edge of the box, but goalkeeper Nathan McDonald made the first of a number of exceptional saved well, pushing the ball wide and Higgins’ follow-up was blocked at the expense of a corner.
Enfield’s best chance of the half came on 20 minutes when Bobby Devyne got in behind the Rock’s back line but he dragged the ball just wide of the left post.
Sam Higgins was denied at the half hour mark as his free kick on the edge of the box was saved impressively by McDonald and five minutes later McDonald was called on again to prevent Higgins from opening the scoring. Kye Ruel did well to get in behind the defence down the right hand side and found Higgins with a flighted cross, which Higgins chested and struck on the volley, but he was unable to connect cleanly and the visiting keeper managed to scramble the ball out for a corner.
Rocks did get the ball in the net, straight from Tom Stephens’ corner, but ref Jake Hillier controversially ruled McDonald had been fouled.
McDonald then produced one of the saves of the season, first getting down to block a low shet then, as the ball was recycled into the danger area scrambling to his feet to dive and push Connor Witherspoon’s powerful close range header over the bar.
Enfield were much improved after the break, applying early pressure and they could have scored in the first minute. But Devyne missed the target from inside the box. The visitors then thought they had scored from a corner as Joe Ellul headed home, but Mr Hillier balanced his books by again seeing a foul on the keeper that not many others did.
On 54 minutes Jordan Lockie went close with a volleyed effort from outside the box, but he dragged his effort wide. Enfield then had another half chance moments later when Devyne looped a ball over from the left flank, which was creeping into the inside of the back post but David Hughes did well to scramble back and palm the ball away.
The Rocks had a chance on the hour mark as Ruel was through one on one with the keeper. Ruel went down under the keeper’s challenge, but Mr Hillier courted more controversy by not awarding what seems a cast iron penalty and instead booked the Rocks player for diving.
Enfield took the lead in the 72nd minute through Devyne who volleyed home from close range after Tyler Campbell ran down the left hand side and delivered an in-swinging cross.
East Thurrock had a decent chance to equalise when substitute Simon Peddie drilled in a fierce angled shot but McDonald again came to Enfield’s rescue with another fine save.
Rocks got the equaliser in the 81st minute when another Rocks sub, David Bryant, was felled by a charge in the back from Ricky Gabriel as he was about to shoot. It was a definite penalty, the only surprise being that Gabriel stayed on the pitch, getting a yellow card rather than a red. The league’s top scorer Higgins improved his chances of taking the golden boot by smashing the penalty home off the foot of an upright.
Gabriel failed to make the most of his escape by lunging into a challenge on Witherspoon a minute later and picking up a second yellow. His dismissal diminished Enfield’s chances of getting a winner and the matched petered out through six minutes of added time.