EAST Thurrock’s Jeckyll and Hyde team took a walk on the dark side at Margate where another diabolical defensive display gifted Margate a hatful of goals and the Ryman Premier points.
Ten days previously Rocks had shipped five goals in 45 minutes at Bury Town, but looked to have put that behind them with a tremendous all round performance against Lewes when a clean sheet was deservingly capped by a late winning goal.
But the demons returned in abundance at Margate’s sparten and windswept Hartsdown Place.
Rocks had recruited non-League English international centre-back James Smith
, ex of Farnborough, Boreham Wood, Thurrock and lately Maldon & Tiptree to bolster their defence but he suffered a desperate debut, struggling to fit into a faltering back-line and failing to impose himself on the game. It would be unfair to lay the blame for defeat on his shoulders and he has the pedigree to belie this performance but he will need to forge partnerships quickly in a defence that offers least resistance to set pieces and direct play.
The home side were quickly out of the traps and put East Thurrock under a lot of early pressure but, with a goal-line clearance from Simon Peddie and some scrambled defending, Rocks looked as they had weathered the early storm and began to play some decent counter-attacking football.
And the night’s fortunes might have swung their way on 15 minutes when the industrious Petrit Elbi
shimmied and shoved his way past two defenders, cut inside and had only keeper Simon Overland to beat from close range. However, the big keeper got down well to block Elbie’s low shot and the moment was gone.
It was a miss that Rocks were rueing just three minutes later when a ball delivered from the right caused pandemonium in the home defence and, with no-one prepared to make a decisive defensive challenge, Marc Corneille nipped in to smash the ball into the roof of the net.
Worse was to follow five minutes later when another cross came in and no-one was marking as Craig Cloke rose to power an unchallenged header into the back of the net.
That was bad enough, but things got worse for Rocks as the defensive seas parted again on 28 minutes, allowing Margate to stroll through the middle and Kwesi Appiah waltzed in to slide the ball home.
Rocks didn’t give up the ghost and Sam Collins
got on the end of a flowing move and his well struck drive brought another decent stop from Overland, but the visitors were lacking in conviction and the guile to prise clear cut openings – too often running up blind alleys or giving the ball away needlessly as they racked up the tally of unforced errors.
And it was no real surprise when Margate finished the half off with another goal, Appiah grabbing his second two minutes from time as the home defence went AWOL again.
Rocks improved after the break – or it might have been a case of Margate protecting what they had. The ball was certainly in Margate’s box much more than it had been in the first half, but with striker Sam Higgins reprising his role as the invisible man up top, there was little that the visitors seemed able to do to threaten Overland.
Just twice did Rocks’ previously talismanic striker threaten, with a overhead kick that went wide and a drilled shot that was bravely blocked, and it is a worry that his form has deserted him. Not that he was alone in the ‘could do better stakes.’ Far too many Rocks players failed to live up to their ability – and ability isn’t the question, Rocks have already proved they can compete with classy sides from higher division this season, it’s just a case of momentum and motivation.
The desire to compete, which was so prevalent against Lewes just seven days earlier, was missing in abundance – never more ably illustrated when Margate gained a fifth goal close to the end when Cloke drilled a free kick home, thanks largely to a defensive wall that jumped over the ball rather than stand firm in the face of adversity.
There’s no time for Rocks to mope though. Kingstonian are the visitors to Rookery Hill on Saturday, with Thamesmead in the League Cup and their conquers in Tuesday’s replay, Welling, to follow in the Trophy. Games will come thick and fast for the Rocks over the next two months as they chase the backlog of fixtures that cup success has brought – and they need a taste of that cup magic, allied to a better attitude, to lift them out of the drop zone.