Makeshift Rocks battle through for semi-final place

Rocks celebrate the only goal of the game. Pic by Mikey Cartwright.

East Thurrock United 1, Concord Rangers 0

ROCKS gained some revenge for a home derby Vanarama National South defeat on New Year’s Day when a makeshift side surpassed expectations and earned a place in the semi-final of the BBC Essex Senior Cup.

Tuesday’s victory was testimony to the ability of John Coventry’s squad to dig deep when odds appeared against them as several in the starting line-up were carrying knocks or an illness while inspirational manager Coventry was himself absent for much of the night due to family illness. Such was the paucity of resources available to assistant manager Neil Gray and coach Paul Vaughan as they juggled the squad that they had to draft in youngster Harry O’Brien from the club’s Eastern Junior Alliance Under 18s to make up three available subs.

In contrast Concord had a strong squad to pick from and must have been confident of progress in a competition they won three times on the trot before it was lifted by Chelmsford last season – with Rocks the beaten finalists.

However, from the off, the three-pronged attacking partnership of Montel Agyemang and rare starters Harry Honesty and Calvin Ekpetita gelled and they proved no end of trouble for a Concord backline which saw stalwart Steve King restored to the fold.

Rocks created the game’s first clear cut chance but Agyemang scooped it over the bar. Other half chances came and went with both Ekpetitia – wearing the number nine shirt of iconic Rocks record scorer Sam Higgins who was stricken by an infection – and Honesty having efforts on goal. Lewis Smith, though struggling with an ankle injury, also prompted and probed.

But the next real chance was to fall at the other end when Femi Akinwande, who had grabbed a brace in the league win by Concord, struck a low shot that brought a good save from Lukas Lidakevicius. Rangers then stepped up their tempo and Lidakevicius had to repeat his heroics before Lewis Knight rattled the foot of a post.

The game’s pivotal moment arrived on the half hour when Agyemang burst through and struck a low shot that Louis Wells could only parry and the Rocks player followed up to drive the ball home.

Rocks took the lead into the break and looked to build on it, dominating the early stages of the second stanza with max Cornhill only denied by a goal-line clearance from Kyron Farrell.

Other opportunities to stretch the lead were spurned and as the high workrate began to take its toll Concord came more into the game again and had a glorious chance to force a penalty shoot-out late in the day but Akinwande spurned a breakaway by shooting wide when it seemed easier to score.

Rocks managed to hold on and moved into Wednesday’s semi-final draw alongside Billericay, who won 3-0 at Harlow, Chelmsford who grabbed the only goal to win at Colchester United and Romford or Grays, who meet after the draw is made.