THURROCK – 1 [Poole 72.]
SUTTON UNITED – 2 [Gray 30. Haylock 57.]
When things ain’t going well, you need a break. A bit of luck to get you rolling again. And if you can’t get that against a side you’ve proved a bit of a thorn in the side of for a while, when can you get it eh?
So, Thurrock, if you’d care to step forward.
Despite our sparsely supported Essex friends being one of the strongest & more consistent sides at this level for a fair while now (how many non-top 6 finishes in recent years?), we’ve actually got a pretty good record at their Ship Lane ground.
With company supplied wheels at my disposal, and Thurrock being a shite awayday, I’m nominated driver for the day. One rush of pickups later, Windy is collected last in Cheam with a box full of teas & bacon rolls. Good effort sir!
As we munch, Millsy calls and he’s already at the ground. It’s 12.30.
M25 a bit quiet then mate?
It turns out the feared pre-Xmas traffic hasn’t materialised and he’s had a clear run all the way. Right, better get a wriggle on then before that situation changes!
As it happens, we also fly round without problems and find ourselves in the Thurrock clubhouse shortly after 1pm ourselves. We find our sometime rent-a-fan ‘Thurrockboy’ parked in the corner with a pint. And he’s worried. He’s also well aware that we’re a bit of a bogey side for his boys and he’s not feeling confident of a win for his play-off bound side over our struggling shambles.
Especially as they’re missing their 2 free-scoring forwards, one influential midfielder and a defender.
Ooooh. Maybe just maybe…
We’ve stuck to the 4-4-2 formation thats recently been used to try & steady the ship a bit. But we’re again forced into a change with Joff suffering from a knock, new man Gary Haylock gets his chance up front with Eddie.
Unsurprisingly, we start a bit sluggishly. Although it takes our hosts more than 10 minutes to make their first good chance. A throw in on our left, deep in the Thurrock half soon turns into a dangerous attack as 2 quick, simple passes find their no9 racing away on the right. He takes a touch and hits an early shot that Wilson manages to get down to and hold.
Another chance arrives 5 about minutes later. This time originating from the right, a pass infield to the corner of the 18 yard box is whipped across goal and just wide of the far upright.
But despite having pretty much the most of the play, the home side are definitely missing the 4 first teamers not in action today. With about 25 minutes played, the U’s start to edge into proceedings at last and our first decent chance comes just before the half-hour mark.
Haylock takes down a ball neatly and turns to play a pass out to Brake on the left. With a bit of space, he puts in a decent cross that is headed clear to the edge of the box. Honey retrieves it and feeds the supporting Gonsalves, but his angled drive is just over the bar.
A couple of minutes pass and we’re managing to keep Thurrock pinned back in their half. An attack breaks down on the right, but the ball is won back by Honey who nods it into a bit of space for Gray. He has a customary run at the full back, who shepherds him infield. Matty cuts across the edge of the box before hitting a skidding shot between a gap in 2 defenders. It’s on target but seems to lack the power to trouble the ’keeper, but somehow, despite getting down and getting his hands to the ball, it slips through his grasp and creeps inside the near post.
Naturally, silly jumpy up & down celebrations ensue behind the goal.
Fucking hell, hang on! Am I seeing things? Or did we just get a nice big slice of luck there?
As seems to be customary this season, we’re soon trying our damnedest to give it away at the other end a less than 60 seconds later. Poor defending on the right corner of the 18 yard box only succeeds in gifting possession to the Thurrock no10 in a dangerous position, but fortunately, he’s left his shooting boots in the dressing room and drags his shot across the goalmouth.
Sadly, the guys at the back don’t learn from this and are soon fucking about in stupid and dangerous areas of our half again. Quinton gathers an overhit forward pass in the 18 yard box, but rather than turn out to the touchline and just get rid of the bloody thing, he turns inside, right into a chasing forward. The ball breaks loose and naturally runs to another free yellow shirt, who proceeds to waste this golden chance by dragging an effort wide of the near post when it seemed easier to score.
A minute later a throw in from the left is nodded down and crossed in from the flank. A good header is placed on target but finds Phil Wilson blocking it’s path and he makes a super save.
The last chance of the half falls to Sutton. A free-kick played in from the left finds Gonsalves. He plays to the so far impressive Haylock, who in turn lays off to Fear, but his driven effort from 20 yards is just a bit too high and wide of the mark.
Half-time arrives and I leave Chalmers in charge of gathering the flag for a change and dive off to the grub bar for one of Thurrocks legendary ‘Fleet’ Burgers. Ok, they’re not quite as good as Bognors monstrous ‘Premier Burger’, but they’re certainly a meal all in themselves. It’s well gone 9pm before I feel hungry again!
The second half starts much as the first did with Thurrock on the attack. And again, they waste a good chance. They work the ball down the right and low cross is zipped into the area, but again, somehow the attacker finds the advertising hoarding to the side of the target rather than the back of the net.
It’s a costly miss as just before the hour, the U’s manage to double their lead.
A huge kick out from the back sends Haylock & a defender chasing. It looks like the big centre back is going to win by proving to big an obstacle for our man to get round, but when the second bounce of the ball holds up slightly and doesn’t carry as he’d probably expected, Haylock pounces.
To confuse the issue, the ‘keeper races off his line probably hoping to gather the ball before the U’s striker can get there, but about 10 yards out he and the defender tangle with the ball between them. No doubt to his surprise, Haylock suddenly finds himself a few yards out, ball at his feet and a totally empty net in front of him. He keeps his cool and gleefully rolls the ball in to send the travelling fans wild with delight.
Now, thats not so much a slice of luck, more the whole fucking pie!
The goal understandably gives us a lift and we press forwards looking for a killer third. Fear probably gets the best chance on 63 minutes, somehow managing not to make contact with a cross to the near post from Brake’s cross on the left.
Shortly after, Haylock is withdrawn for Watkins and JR reshuffles the side slightly, switching to a 5-3-2 formation, no doubt to try & protect the lead we have. Sadly, all this does is prompt the home side into a couple of changes of their own and to attack a damn sight more!
It’s only a matter of time and Thurrock finally pull one back on 72 minutes. We fail to clear a ball, and crossfield ball finds a huge overlap on our left and the no14 in acres of space. He doesn’t miss, cracking a rising shot high into the net before a Sutton defender can get near him.
This leads to a rather mad last 10 minutes, where absolute chaos reigns. The U’s defence try quite possibly the hardest I’ve ever seen to chuck away a lead. Every time the ball comes anywhere near the box, someone in a green & White shirt totally panics and only succeeds in giving the ball straight back to an opponent.
We manage one breakout with 5 minutes left. Eddie finds Watkins from the left and he turns a defender like he’s not there. Only to be hauled back when he’s a short sprint from goal with just the ‘keeper to beat. The punishment? A yellow card of course. Fucking nonsense.
The resulting free-kick comes to nothing and we go back to being pinned back around our own 18 yard box. It’s only thanks to two very good stops from Wilson that we somehow hang on. First a ball in from the left finds a yellow shirt clear of any marker, but his low strike is superbly blocked by our stoppers legs. Then he’s in action again in the last minute whe we fail to clear a corner. The ball is played out to the left where a cross comes straight back in to the near post, but Wilson reacts and beats away a snap shot from a few yards out.
Somehow, we hang on and claim another big 3 points at Ship Lane. As we head for the bar, we apologise profusely to Thurrockboy for mugging his team. He accepts the apologies graciously before heading off for a night out on the town, no doubt to drown his sorrows and forget such a performance!
We disappear back to Sutton round the M25 soon afterwards where Greek proceeds to fiddle with almost every single button within reach on the dashboard. Including the electric window control, meaning we go over the Dartford bridge with all 4 windows open and a rather fresh breeze whistling through the car.
So, be warned. If you have a Greek in the car, make the bastards sit in the back.
MAN OF THE MATCH : Gary Haylock. Impressive! Very good, very comfortable on the ball.
ENTERTAINMENT : 7. Not technically great, but not dull either!
TEAM : Wilson, Booth, Scarborough, Quinton, Gonsalves, Gray, Fear, Honey, Brake, Haylock, Akuamouah. SUBS : Boosey, Martin, Watkins
THE REFEREE’S A………Just the usual really. Nothing particularly outrageous, but certainly could have been a lot stronger with some of the challenges he let go.