By Scott Lanza
EAST Thurrock United kick off their Vanarama League South campaign on Saturday at home to Hampton & Richmond Borough with John Coventry looking to better last season’s performance.
The Rocks finished a credible thirteenth in their first season in Step Two and with the play-offs positions now open to the top seven means that East Thurrock could spring a surprise and put themselves in the mix.
‘There are no big clubs like there is in the Vanarama North, there are no ex-Football League sides and so the South is much more open. There is no obvious winner and with Ebbsfleet United now promoted out of the division means there is a level playing field,’ explained Coventry, who guided the Corringham-based club into the Vanarama League South via the Ryman Premier play-offs in 2015/16. They surpassed expectations that season and there is no reason to doubt that they could do so again.
The opening schedule also throws up a midweek trip to Whitehawk, followed be a further trip to the south coast a few days later to play Poole Town. They then host Vanarama South new boys Havant & Waterlooville. I asked the long-serving East Thurrock boss what he made of the opening four games. ‘There will be no easy points in this division and no one knows each other’s squads at the moment. No one has yet got any points on the board so it’s just a case of us making the best start we can’. The Rocks had a decent pre-season run out that saw four wins, a 3-3 draw with Bowers & Pitsea and a narrow 1-0 defeat to Colchester United
The Rocks have managed to retain most of last season’s squad also adding some new signings. One absence will be Tom Wraight, who left the FutureFuel Stadium to join Vanarama National side Maidstone United. Coventry said that Wraight would be a miss but that ‘we can’t compete financially with clubs like Maidstone and also it was a platform for Wraight to go higher. We get players lower down and progress them.’ The Rocks have re-signed Lewis Smith from Chelmsford City who the Rocks’ boss said has goals in him, mentioning that last time he turned out in East Thurrock colours he went on to bag twenty goals.
The Rocks appear ready to get rolling and Coventry finished off by saying: ‘We surprised a few people last time and I think it will be a very competitive league this season, but we can push for a play off place’.