Canvey Island 2 v 4 East Thurrock United
THERE were a host of sub plots to Saturday’s Essex Ryman Premier derby at the Frost Financial Stadium but at the end of the day two salient facts stood out. East Thurrock reinforced their credentials not just as promotion contenders, but also possible title winners, while Canvey once again proved fragile and for the second match running gave away a decent lead.
Canvey went into the match having been beaten by Rocks 4-0 at nearby Rookery Hill just a couple of weeks ago and having thrown away a three goal lead to draw at Brentwood on their last outing, but manager Danny Heale remained bullish about the Gulls’ season going into the game.
There were also a number of Gulls players with a point to prove, not only to Heale but also to their former club Rocks, with four of the Gulls starting line-up having played under visiting manager John Coventry.
Rocks arrived on the Island to find regular keeper Lukas Lidakevicious was unable to start because of a foot injury so youngster Lewis Lockyer stepped into the breach.
He was untested for the first 13 minutes as Rocks set off at a blistering pace and worked the ball around the pitch in a style befitting a side in third place going into the match. The only thing missing was a decisive finish to a number of attacks and when that particular skill was shown, it was at the other end where Gulls’ first meaningful attack when a speedy break down the left by Harrison Chatting resulted in a superb near post cross that Tony Stokes met with an accomplished volley to score inside Lockyer’s near post.
And just three minutes later Canvey found themselves two goals to the good when Jay Curran’s shot was parried by an acrobatic Lockyer but as he chased the rebound he collided with defender Joe Ellul who was also going for the ball and it fell to .former Rock Maroin Tuohy who lashed it into the net.
At that moment it was fair to say the visitors were rocking and some angry exchanges between players clear showed that tension was running high in their ranks. However, a side that has Sam Higgins in its ranks is always going to pose a threat and sure enough in the 25th minute he got on the end of a sublime flick from James Walker, rounded centre-back Lawrence Yiga and seemed certain to score until Yiga’s rash challenge from behind felled him, leaving ref Simon Finnigan little option but to dismiss Yiga and award a penalty, which Higgins convincingly smashed home to erase memories of a rare missed spot kick in the defeat by Merstham in Rocks’ previous game.
The goal lifted Rocks and they might have drawn level when Higgins skill as a goal provider came to the fore with a stunning defence splitting ball into the path of Lewis Smith but he wanted to long on the ball and allowed Connor Gough time to set himself and make a fine save when the shot was eventually fired in.
However, Smith wasn’t to make the same mistake four minutes before half time when more excellent forward play by Higgins and Walker set up the chance for an angled shot and he stroked the ball home to send the sides in level at the break.
Canvey’s ten men battled gamely in the second half but were always under the cosh and only threatened on rare breakaways.
Rocks thought they had taken the lead when Walker clipped the ball past Gough but the effort was ruled out for offside.
But parity didn’t last much longer as another piece of excellent Rocks build-up saw the ball drift across the edge of the box into the path of Tom Wraight who calmly controlled it, drew Gough and side=footed it past him for his 14th league goal of the season, the same tally as Smith.
But it was Rocks master striker Higgins who was to have the last word. Aaron Morgan came off the bench to replace Walker and added energy to the attack. He was involved in the build-up to Rocks’ fourth goal in the 83rd minute though there seemed little danger when the ball was forced out wide into the path of Higgins but from a most acute angle. and with pinpoint accuracy, he drilled a remarkable fierce shot between Gough and his near post for his 26th league goal of the campaign.
That snuffed out any unlikley hopes of a Canvey comeback and Rocks comfortably played out time and their delight at a deserved derby win was enhanced when news came in that title challenges Hampton and Dulwich had both unexpectedly drawn their matches against struggling Hendon and Farnborough, leaving the opportunity for Rocks to go top if they avoid defeat against Met Police at Rookery Hill on Tuesday.