Chelmsford City 1, East Thurrock United 2
EAST Thurrock United left a rain-soaked Melbourne on cloud nine after another battling comeback performance that left them on top of the Vanarama National League South on Monday evening.
The win was fully deserved as the Rocks squad, the smallest in the National league, showed all the qualities any manager could ask for against expensively-assembled and highly-fancied opposition.
Whether Rocks can remain above the Clarets in the pecking order in the long run is a very moot point, it seems unlikely, but then East Thurrock are gaining a reputation as the team you can never write off.
On Monday they were missing influential midfielder Lee Burns because of a work commitment and had just 15 players to select from. Thankfully for manager John Coventry, James White had recovered enough from his recent injury to make his fourth start of the season in place of Burns, while a tactical switch saw Harry Honesty make only his second start, in place of Femi Akinwande. They were changes that were to prove massively influential.
The teams took to the pitch in driving rain, with intermittent thunder and lightning around the ground and it was to be Chelmsford who seized the early initiative.
They looked to force Rocks onto the back foot and early pressure paid after six minutes when Chris Dixon was hauled down to end a mazy run on the end of the box and Danny Green stepped up to crash the ball past the wall and keeper Lukas Lidakevicius, though the Lithuanian stopper will be disappointed he didn’t do better at the side of the goal he covered.
Before the game Coventry had talked about his side’s character and that showed in bucketloads as they forced their way back into the game, with Honesty a particular threat on the left wing. His persistence led to the first of a succession of corners that ended on 26 minutes when former Claret Max Cornhill rose highest at the far post to plant a thumping header into the back of the net.
And things got even better for Rocks seven minutes later when another surging Honesty run ended with a shot that keeper Sam Beasant could only parry and in the scramble that followed Cornhill prodded the ball home.
Chelmsford sought to respond positively, but the work-rate of East Thurrock, with White proving a tower of strength as anchorman in midfield, kept them at bay and goalscoring chances were sporadic and off the mark.
The second half saw more early Chelmsford pressure but East Thurrock always looked a potent force on the breakaway and came close to extending their lead on 57 minutes when Sam Higgins, another exemplar example of a player giving everything to the cause, latched onto the ball and from an acute angle on the left beat Beasant but saw the ball thump back into play off the foot of the post.
Chelmsford continued to press and went close with an effort from one time Rock Ashley Miller, who had come off the bench, that flashed past the upright, while another Clarets sub who spent time at Rookery Hill, Shaun Batt, had claims for a penalty waved away by ref Jacob Miles.
A third Chelmsford sub, Tom Hitchcock, then rattled the crossbar with a spectacular overhead kick but the clear cut chance that Chelmsford wanted, failed to materialise as East Thurrock got men behind the ball and never gave up on seemingly lost defensive causes. Coventry has spoken often of how hard his current bunch of players are working this season and another stellar example was Lewis Smith, tackling back in both defensive corners and then seeking to get on the end of balls forward as Rocks sought to exploit counter-attack potential.
From one such break Higgins had a great chance to make the match safe but his rising shot beat Beasant but also the angle of upright and bar.
Four minutes of added time were played out as Rocks, now with youngster Ryan Boswell on for a tiring White and Akinwande chasing and harrying after replacing Honesty, fought to keep their lead. They did so to deservedly take the victory that left Coventry and the Rocks fans beaming and eulogising about the performance but as Coventry said afterwards: “We will enjoy the moment, it was a great display by a team that is working hard and showing great character but let’s not get carried away. What is means is we have got 22 points and we have put some distance between ourselves and the clubs at the bottom. That’s all it means at this point.
“We can forget about the league now for a while as we have an FA Cup tie at Biggleswade on Saturday but let no one be in any doubt about how hard that will be. We’ve got ourselves to the top of a table tonight and all that will do is give Biggleswade the incentive to try harder and shoot us down, that’s what the cup is all about and we will need to show everything we showed tonight and probably some more if we are to get anything on Saturday, but as ever we will give it our best shot.”