East Thurrock United 1 v 0 Burgess Hill Town
TUESDAY night’s icy encounter at Rookery Hill won’t live long in the memory but that won’t matter a jot to Rocks fans who saw their side elevated to third spot in the Ryman Premier thanks to substitute James Walker’s first league goal for the club.
It came midway through the second half of a clash that failed to catch fire, which was hardly surprising on a night when what started as a crisp outfield gradually turned into a frozen one, making control difficult and precision passing a tough task.
Credit is due to both sides and referee Nolan Wilde for getting the game on when a more comfortable option might have been to call it off in anticipation of the difficult conditions which were bound to follow as the temperature tumbled during the evening.
Credit also to the 143 hardy souls who turned up to watch a match which was rarely an attractive spectacle. The opening exchanges were fairly tepid as the players got a feel for the condition, though it was Burgess Hill who were to create the first significant chance with a well-worked move culminating in a shot by Chris Smith that was saved by Lukas Lidakevicius.
Rocks didn’t threaten until the ninth minute when top scorer Sam Higgins wormed his way through a pack of defenders but in the end he was crowded out again and his shot blocked. A clearer chance came soon after when Tom Wraight burst through but this time the effort was well saved by Town keeper Josh James.
And on 34 minutes the best chance of the half was also to fall to Wraight after George Craddock produced a fine run and cross but the midfielder could only direct his header over the bar.
Burgess Hill were always a threat on the break and after Lidakevicius had produced one comfortable save to deny Smith again, the highlight of the first half saw Town striker Sam Gargan produce a moment of first touch magic to work space on the left flank and he delivered a cross that Smith hit first time , with Lidakevicius again pulling off a stop – this time a superb one handed effort to push the ball wide of the post.
Both sides stepped up the tempo in the second half and Rocks’ young Dagenham loanee Jimmy Nottage, who again impressed on his second appearance at left back, burst through with a good run soon after the resumption but his shot was straight at James.
Smith again slotted a shot at goal that was saved and at the other end his Rocks namesake Lewis saw his effort saved before the deadlock was finally broken in the 67th minute. Rocks had introduced Daryl Robson for the injured Craddock and Walker left the bench to replace Sammy Knott and both were involved in what proved to be the winner, Robson early in the piece when he got the ball wide and when a cross was delivered the ball broke to Walker.
Though Burgess Hill were claiming h was offside he didn’t worry and showed great composure to swivel and crash a shot into the net for his second Rocks goal, adding to his FA Cup strike at Carshalton on his 19th appearance.
Burgess Hill were not happy with Mr Wilde’s decision to let the goal stand in the absence of any flag from his assistant but they channelled their energy into responding and quickly created an opening, only snuffed out by a cynical foul from Ryan Sammons who took a yellow card for the team, something he no doubt felt worthwhile when the subsequent free kick on the edge of the box come to nothing.
Rocks picked up a second yellow soon after when Simon Peddie was booked for his protests when Mr Wilde inexplicable ruled against what looked a cast iron penalty when Wraight was chopped down in the box from behind – a card made all the more annoying afterwards when the ref conceded he had got the decision wrong.
However, Rocks didn’t need the second goal a spot kick might have brought as they held on through the closing stages when conditions became increasingly difficult and they were delighted at the end to record the hard fought win that sets up Saturday’s home clash with second-placed Dulwich as a real thriller.