East Thurrock United 0, Havant & Waterlooville 1
DESPITE a much improved performance, Rocks still had nothing to show from Saturday’s Vanarama National South clash at the FutureFuel Stadium other than a controversial red card for veteran player Lee Burns, who was dismissed just minutes after coming on as a second half sub.
To be fair, Havant should have had the game sewn up in the opening 15 minutes, best described as a car crash for East Thurrock who were shapeless, disorganised and ragged – but thanks to some profligate finishing from the visitors they survived and hauled their way back into a game that was evenly contested for the remaining 75 minutes.
In that opening stanza Jason Prior was Havant’s main offender, wasting a couple of clear cut chances including a gilt-edge opportunity when he had the goal at his mercy only to place his unchallenged heading opportunity straight to grateful keeper Harry Wright. The young Ipswich loanee keeper then did well to parry away a strike from Brad Tarbuck and home defender Ryan Sammons managed to scramble another goalbound effort off the line.
Rocks eventually started to play their way into the game and, as the impressive Marvin Ekpetita began to exert a commanding influence at the back some fluency up front saw Rocks create a number of half chances of their own.
The home side suffered a blow on 28 minutes when Lewis Smith left the field to be replaced by Jack Paxman after a poor challenge aggravated an already sore ankle.
Rocks ought to have had a penalty when Tom Robinson was tackled late from behind and felled in the box but referee Ian Fissenden, who was poor throughout, was not moved into giving the spot-kick. Mr Fissenden made a number of bad calls against both sides during the games, including a laughable decision to give East Thurrock a corner when an East Thurrock head had clearly put the ball out of play.
With the game much more evenly balanced Rocks finally brought a save from Ryan Young who got down well to save Ryan Sammons’ fierce, swerving low drive and then the keeper pulled off the save of the match in the closing moments of an entertaining half when he acrobatically tipped Sam Higgins’ well struck shot over the bar.
The game’s deciding goal came just nine minutes into the second half when slack defending by an otherwise solid George Allen allowed Tarbuck the opportunity to cut in on goal and he kept his nerve to deliver a fine angled finish past Wright.
Rocks upped the tempo in search of an equaliser and had the bulk of possession going forward, without ever really testing Young, though he did have to get down and push a low shot from Higgins wide, though it may well have drifted outside the post anyway.
If there was any criticism of Rocks as they tried manfully to force their way back into the game it was the lack of simplicity, with several players showing a tendency to overplay or go for a spectacular individual moment rather than bring better-placed teammates into the game with a simple pass. That was best summed up when Reece Harris opted for what proved a tame shot from outside the box when Higgins had lost his marker and was pleading in vain for a pass that would have seen him have a clear strike at goal from much closer range.
Burns came off the bench to replace Montel Agyemang on 69 minutes but he had only been on the pitch for six minutes when the theatrics of Hawks sub Alfie Rutherford contributed to his dismissal. Rurtherford was on the ground as Burns ran past him and the two made contact, with Rutherford implementing a scream of epic proportions and rolled about holding his head like a man having a fit. Mr Fissenden dished out a red card to Burns – much to the amusement of Rutherford who made a remarkable recovery and could barely contain his laughter as play restarted. It was a shameful moment in an otherwise enjoyable encounter and in a season when the FA have said they will crack down on simulation, the FA should look closely at Rutherford’s conduct – and the BAFTA committee can put his name on an award already.
Rocks’ ten men played out the remaining minutes largely on the front foot, making light of the man disadvantage but as hard as they tried they couldn’t fashion the one chance they needed to get a deserved share of the points and their quest for a first home win since August will now roll on to Tuesday evening when Gloucester City are their visitors.