East Thurrock United 2, St Albans City 4
THREE goals in four dramatic late minutes dashed East Thurrock’s hopes of a third successive home Vanarama South League victory at Rookery Hill on Saturday.
Instead, the defeat became Rocks’ third from five outings at home and while there was disappointment at the way the way action unfolded, there could be few complaints as once more defensive frailty allied to an insipid attack negated plenty of effort and endeavour.
Put bluntly, Rocks simply are not a cohesive unit nor good enough at the moment where it matters. A question about the disappearance of balls was mooted by one member of the squad as he left the pitch and he wasn’t referring to the spherical objects that had just been kicked around the park!
There was little between the sides throughout but Rocks looked to be heading for a win as the clock ticked down thanks to first half goals from Sam Higgins and Jack Simmons but a fracas in the dugouts appeared to break their concentration and the late flurry of goals saws Saints snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
St Albans made the better start in the first half but Rocks grew into the game and went into half time with the lead and on the back of some decent, if infrequent, passages of play. They failed to build on that in the second half and Saints enjoyed most of the second half possession without ever really looking that threatening.
However, a touchline spat that saw Rocks physio Steve Taylor and St Albans assistant manager Glen Alzapadiedi dismissed for a confrontation that looked far from resolved as they both left the pitch in angry fashion, may well have broken the home side’s concentration and they were increasingly on the back foot.
Ultimately they were done by their Achilles Heel. They had always looked vulnerable from set pieces and high balls into the box, indeed the opening goal of the game on 25 minutes saw Merson rise unchallenged to head home past the onrushing keeper Jack Giddens who had screamed his intention to claim the ball.
It took just a minute for Rocks to get back on level terms when Richard Sho-Silva recklessly fouled Roman Michael-Percil just inside the box as the Rocks player was heading away from danger and Sam Higgins drilled the ball home from the spot for his first of the season. Rocks desperately need him to start adding more if they are to edge away from the danger areas of the division as he is such an integral part of if their side and without his movement, hold-up play and general menace – qualities seen only in fleeting patches in his game at the moment – they lack threat up top.
It was only Rocks’ fifth goal of the campaign to date and certainly the best. It showed what they might be capable of, but sadly it was not to be repeated as Snedker was not really threatened for the rest of the match.
However, the goal lifted East Thurrock and for a spell they produced attractive football, holding possession and stretching the Saints. Within five minutes they had grabbed the lead thanks to a superb run from Michael-Percil capped by an incisive pass that allowed Jack Simmons to take a touch, round onrushing keeper Dean Snedker and drill the ball home from an acute angle.
Indeed the closest anyone was to come to a goal before the break were a couple more unchallenged headers from St Albans that saw the ball fly wide of the post.
The second half was something of a stalemate, with neither side posing significant threat, though Sho-Silva did flash a header wide from a corner when he ought to have done better.
It was a warning, along with several others that had gone before, that Rocks were ultimately unable to heed.
Both managers made changes as the half went on but it looked as if Rocks might get home until the fatal last moments. One of those substitutions saw East Thurrock sub Freddy Moncur booked before he was officially on the pitch. Eager to get into the fray as Ben Marlow left the pitch he jogged over the white line without the assistant checking his studs and referee Alex Blake applied the letter of the law and cautioned him for the technical offence of entering the field of play without permission. Pettiness like that is why some referees fail to gain the respect the FA craves they be given!
It would be fair to say Mr Blake might well have handled the spat between physio and assistant manager as they squabbled over returning a ball into play in better fashion too.
That was a distraction that proved fatal for Rocks and given one more chance of a free header at goal on 88 minutes Sho-Silva made amends and powered the ball home and within a minute Merson picked up the ball on the left, cut inside and rode two weak challenges before he picked his spot to curl the ball into the top corner, leaving keeper Giddens helpless.
And to add to Rocks’ misery a fourth goal was to follow in the first minute of added time as sub Khale Da Costa made his mark.
A dejected Rocks squad looked broken as they left the field at the end, knowing they had squandered the chance to move out of the drop zone and a long inquest followed in the dressing room.