East Thurrock United 1, AFC Hornchurch 2
IN complete contrast to Saturday’s game, when Urchins survived by the skin of their teeth, Tuesday night’s FA Cup First Qualifying Round replay saw a much bigger gap between the teams than the scoreline suggests and had Hornchurch taken their chances they would have been home, hosed and on their way to Spalding by half time.
As it was, East Thurrock somehow stayed in the game and at the end could even claim to have been a trifle unlucky after being millimetres away from extra time after a late effort hit the crossbar.
But in the end no-one could deny the visitors were the better side on the night, with the big mystery being how two sides could show such a contrast in performance levels over the space of four days.
On Saturday Rocks were fast out of the blocks, with Hornchurch on the backfoot. On Tuesday the visitors proved a much stronger force and they forced East Thurrock backwards from the off, looking particularly strong down the left, exploiting the big imbalance in the hosts’ midfield.
The first real opportunity to score came seven minutes in, but Simon Peddie cleared the danger. The normally immaculate Rocks centre back had one of his less impressive games in an East Thurrock shirt but throughout the night he still popped up with some important blocks and clearances.
However, there was little he could do when fellow centre back Steve Sheehan conceded possession easily and Stefan Payne drove the ball inches over the bar. And moments later Carl Rook fired wide.
Rocks’ first chance didn’t materialise until the 20th minute when Bryant shrugged off the challenge of Elliot Styles and Inigo Echepare did well to get down and push his shot wide. The keeper dropped the ensuing corner but no-one was on hand to capitalise on his mistake.
The deadlock was broken on 28 minutes when Michael Spencer burst through a flatfooted defence, again on the left, and he cut inside to fire past keeper Darren Behcet.
A minute later, and with Rocks all at sea, Chris Bourne had a good chance but a defender blocked. A rare Rocks counter attack saw Lea Dawson head wide across the goal and from the following Urchins attack Payne rounded Behcet but was unable to get the required venom into his shot which was scrambled away.
More dreadful home defending then handed Bourne a glorious chance and this time the shot was on target with pace but somehow Peddie got back to deflect the ball over the bar.
The escape lifted Rocks and they began to attack with a degree of belief, winning a free kick when the previously innocuous Nathan Koranteng burst through on the left. He was cynically hacked down by Frankie Curley who astonishingly escaped with only a lecture from the ref but Stuart Thurgood extracted punishment with an exquisite free kick delivery that picked out Leon Mckenzie and his back-flicked header guided the ball past the flapping hands of Echepare and Rocks were somehow level going into the break.
That should have lifted the home side but their brief flurry of attacking endeavour disappeared in a lack-lustre start to the second half that allowed Hornchurch to seize the initiative again and there was no surprise when the home defence went AWOL again just nine minutes after the resumption when Behcet was left exposed and though he got a touch to Bourne’s shot he couldn’t prevent it from going into the net.
Rocks were floundering at that point but the injection on the hour of subs Mitchell Gilbey and Grant Eagle added a some energy to the pursuit of an equaliser. Much of the play remained around Behcet’s area and the keeper pulled off a remarkable reflex save to keep out a deflection off Peddie.
Urchins were chasing the game-killing third goal but when it didn’t arrive and as the clock ticked down, they began to get a little nervous, with Echepare forced full stretch to push Tom Stephens’ shot wide. A flick from Steve Sheehan from another fine Thurgood cross also flashed past the post and then, in the closing moments it looked like Rocks would grab an unexpected equaliser when the ball fell to Bryant at the far post but his goalbound close range shot took a deflection and came back off the crossbar.
Four minutes of nervy added time followed but Rocks were unable to find the goal they sought and on the night, if not over the two legs, Hornchurch deserved to go through and they will fancy their chances of grabbing another clutch of prizemoney with a trip to United Counties League Spalding in a fortnight.