AN astonishing match at Rookery Hill ended all square with a catalogue of controversy and incident offering a sun-soaked afternoon of high drama.
East Thurrock made a bright start, pegging their visitors back through the early stages and almost got rewarded when Kye Ruel
charged down a clearance by Rob Tolfrey which luckily bounced straight back into the keeper’s arms.
Further pressure led to a tenth minute free kick that Reiss Gilbey
clipped just over the bar.
Ks got their first real opportunity when a poor clearance by Tom Stephen
allowed Matt Pattison a run at goal which was only ended when he was illegally blocked on the edge of the box by Steve Sheehan. Pattison picked himself up and took the free kick which drifted just over the bar.
Another East Thurrock mistake, this time by Simon Peddie, let in Andre McCollin who raced 40 yards on goal and got his shot away despite pressure from the chasing Stephen, only for keeper Jamie Riley
to react quickly and push his effort past the upright.
Moments later there was a repeat chance for McCollin who was through on the keeper once more, this time shooting straight at his legs.
Rocks were get get a decent chance of their own when a poor Kingstonian corner ended with Gilbey’s clearance that exposed Saheed Sankoh to the pace and strength of Sam Higgins and he was outmuscled by the striker but Higgins scuffed his shot past the post.
The opening goal came on 32 minutes when an excellent move set Dean Lodge away and he checked inside the box to make space and thrashed a fine shot, though opinions were split whether it came back off the post or stanchion, the important decision being that of ref Graeme Irons that it was the latter, East Thurrock’s admittedly muted protests being in vain.
Rocks tried to come back before the break and Higgins had the best chance, but his attempted lob was plucked from the air by Tolfrey.
However, Rocks thought they had drawn level a minute before the break when Sam Collins
delivered a free kick into the box which struck a defender and was fumbled by Tolfrey and bundled home by Kris Newby but assistant ref David Smart controversially ruled the Rocks player was offside.
The boot was on the other foot in the opening minute of the second half when more defensive frailty exposed Riley to a ball under his crossbar and he was outjumped by McCollin who headed in from close range but he was adjudged to have fouled the keeper.
At the other end a thunderous free kick from Higgins was blocked by his own player, Kye Ruel
, after having looked likely to thread through a crowded box.
The game was opening up, as was the pace despite the searing heat, and the ball was switching from end to end rapidly, with Gilbey going close with an opportunistic strike then Sam Clayton forced a fingertip save from Riley with a fierce long range strike.
Rocks cleared the 60th minute corner and Collins’ long ball freed Higgins who in turn delivered a ball into the box which caused confusion around the feet of Tolfrey and Ruel poked the ball home from close range. There were shades of the first half controversy with Kingstonian appealing for offside and MacDonald was cautioned for his protest.
The game exploded a few minutes later when Sheeder, who had been cautioned in the first half, kicked out at McCollin as they fell to the floor. McCollin responded with a head butt and though it didn’t appear to have the venom portrayed by Sheehan, who clutched his face and rolled over, there was no arguing the validity of red card – nor that of the second yellow and subsequent red for Sheehan. What price the Olympian spirit on both sides of the argument?
Though legs were tired, minds were still thinking quickly and a superb backheel from Higgins opened a door for Matt Hall
but he was shut out by the quick reactions of Tolfry who had the save from close range. At the other end the strength and persistence of sub Goma Lambu saw the ball fall for Sankoh, whose fierce shot was pushed aside by Riley. His opposite number wasn’t to be outdone, with a decent double save from Ryan Sammons soon after.
Kingstonian were then incensed when penalty claims against Newby, for a challenge on Clayton, were waved away, though their protests were invalidated anyway by Mr Smart’s flag, raised for an earlier offside.
In the closing minutes Tolfrey produced another fine stop, tipping Higgins’ fierce drive over the bar then, in a moment that encapsulated the game, fumbled the corner, gathered it and released early for a Kingstonian counter-attack that ended with Small forcing the ball home only for Mr Smart’s raised flag once more to intervene and the effort was disallowed.
But even that was to be overshadowed by the 90th minute drama when another long ball caught out the home defence and Riley raced from his line and clattered into the chasing Small who had already clipped the ball past him. Simon Peddie’s efforts to keep the ball out of the net failed and it looked as if Kingstonian had won but Mr Ions called it back and, to the frustration of Kingstonian dismissed Riley and disallowed the ‘goal.’
Newby went in goal and the free-kick came to nothing. A frantic final few minutes saw Kingstonian put on most of the pressure, Newby proving an effective replacement with one punch under pressure and in the end the final whistle was greeted with a torrent of ridicule for the match officials from the terraces, with exhausted players from both sides collapsed with exhaustion and probably frustration.
East Thurrock: Jamie Riley
, Ryan Sammons, Tom Stephen
, Steve Sheehan, Simon Peddie, Matt Hall
, Kris Newby, Reiss Gilbey
, Sam Higgins (Joe Keith 92), Kye Ruel
(Lewis Bentley 79), Sam Collins
68). Subs not used: Lewis Frost
, Marc Gorbell
Kingstonian: Ron Tolfrey, Aaron Good, Dominic Sterling, Kieron Murphy, Gart MacDonald, Shaheed Sankoh, Matt Pattison (Wade Small 79), Karl Murray (Charles Ousu-Hene 79), Andrew McCollin, Sam Clayton, Dean Lodge (Goma Lambu 72). Subs not used: Crai g Mullen, , Jake Whincup.
Entertainment: **** Four stars
Man of the Match: Jamie Riley
East Thurrock United: Ruel 61
Kingstonian: Lodge 32.
East Thurrock: Sheehan, Newby.
Kingstonian: Murray, Sterling.
East Thurrock: Sheehan.
Referee: Graeme Irons
Assistants: James Whittaker and David Smart.