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Football: Thurrock youngsters go close for Essex

Essex 2-3 Bedfordshire, Thursday 9th March 2017, Kick-Off 7:45pm, Bridge Avenue, East Anglian Counties Under 18s Championship.

Essex require victories from both their final fixtures, plus help from elsewhere, to stand a chance of claiming an end-of-season East Anglian Counties play-off spot as a late flurry of goals saw their title hopes diminish against Bedfordshire.

It was a game which had looked to be petering towards a goalless stalemate until Bedfordshire’s Sam Gibson found himself in yards of space to chip his county ahead on 71 minutes. Within five minutes, Essex were three goals behind as Lawrence Burton and Matt Fraser gave the visitors an unlikely cushion. The hosts rallied in the dying minutes, Toby Aromolaran and Timi Ogunuende pulling the scoreline back to 3-2.

In what had previously been a pretty settled squad, there were six debuts in the Essex side as Danny Hurford, Harry Smith, Jed Smith, Neil Maclean, Jake Wiggins and Ogunuende came in for their first appearances. As a result it was, perhaps, no surprise that Essex took time to find their rhythm in the first half, despite enjoying much of the early possession.

The home side’s first effort on goal, on 14 minutes, saw Tom Dance fire wide after some good build-up play. Harry Smith’s low shot then deflected just wide following Tyler Richardson’s corner wasn’t fully cleared and Hurford picked out Jed Smith, who flashed a shot just wide. The visitors’ first opportunities materialised just beyond the break.

Elliott Beevor created an opening for himself at the near post, but Essex goalkeeper Jai Lewis made a good stop, before chances for the home side saw skipper Aromolaran break into the area and drilled over the top, while Dance also rattled the crossbar with a left-wing cross. Essex’s Wiggins and Beds’ Gibson exchanged opportunities prior to the away side grabbing the lead on 71 minutes. Gibson found himself in acres of space and chipped over Lewis.

The lead was doubled two minutes later. Gibson fed Burton and he neatly turned and fired a low drive beneath Lewis. It was 3-0 on 76 minutes as a good move was finished off by Fraser, who took the ball around Lewis and tapped home. Essex were left a little shell shocked, but they continue to search for an opening. Aromolaran turned inside the area, but saw his firm shot well held by the gloves of ‘keeper Gould.

Aromolaran’s endeavour, on his 15th appearance for his county, pulled a goal back on 90 minutes as he finished well after a strong, twisting run. There was time for Essex to grab another two minutes into added time, Ogunuende looping a header over Gould following Aromolaran’s blocked shot. But there wasn’t enough time to stage a dramatic comeback.

Essex: Jai Lewis (Rowhedge/Brightlingsea Regent), Tyler Richardson (Shenfield School), Tom Dance (Hullbridge Sports), Reece Latimer (Hullbridge Sports), Kieran Gore (Thurrock), Harry Hart (Hullbridge Sports), Danny Hurford (Concord Rangers), Toby Aromolaran (Tilbury), Harry Smith (Redbridge), Jed Smith (Concord Rangers), Max Watters (Thurrock). Substitutes (repeated): Timi Ogunuende (Thurrock), Neil Maclean (Old Southendian), Jake Wiggins (Brentwood Town).

Bedfordshire: Dan Gould (AFC Dunstable/The 61 FC [Luton]), Harry Watson (Biggleswade Town), Luca Allinson-Stalham (Biggleswade Town), Lewis Lodge (AFC Dunstable), Elijah Babalola (Biggleswade Town), Sam Paton (Biggleswade Town), Robbie Buchannan (Biggleswade Town), Phillip Alexandrou (Biggleswade Town), Matt Fraser (Biggleswade Town), Lawrence Burton (AFC Dunstable), Cameron Veazey (Ampthill Town/Crawley Green). Substitutes (repeated): Elliott Beevor (Biggleswade Town), Sam Gibson (Biggleswade Town), Aiden Fennelly (AFC Dunstable).

Bookings: Bedfordshire: Lodge (70, foul).

Referee: Craig Barnett (Basildon).

Assistant Referees: Joe Burgess (Benfleet) and Alfie Debono (Aveley).

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