Rocks clinch promotion
John Coventry may not be a name known in the wider non-league circuit but to the fans of East Thurrock United
his name will always be associated with club legend, as under his command, this small club from Essex, have gained promotion into the Vanarama National League South.
On Monday they put the finishing touches to a marvellous campaign, which had seen them camped for most of it near the upper echelons of the Ryman Premier table, by winning their Play-off Final at Rookery Hill.
They did so with a dominant first half showing, that whilst not silencing the large travelling away support in the record 1,661 crowd, at least silenced the Dulwich Hamlet players, who were unable to pick themselves up and really get stuck into the Rocks. Dulwich Hamlet may have felt that Sam Higgins and Tom Wraight were the danger men and so kept them under tight rein.
The real threat came from the Rocks set-pieces and Hamlet never got to grips with that and Coventry’s well-drilled team made them pay for it.
The windy conditions set a challenge which East Thurrock were able to adapt to a lot better than their opponents. Playing with the wind behind them in the first half didn’t faze the Rocks as they elected to get the ball down and play it to their forwards. Higgins, who has notched 46 goals in all competitions this season, was being watched very closely by Jack Dixon, but he nonetheless was able to at least win an early corner. The resulting corner from George Craddock eluded the hands of visiting keeper Preston Edwards and floated over the bar. It was an early signal of the Rocks’ set-piece prowess as Craddock then hit a free kick from the right that was darting dangerously towards goal until Edwards intervened and tipped the ball away for a corner. Moments later Edwards was beaten by an in-swinging corner from the boot of Craddock, that sneaked past him and landed in the back of the net.
After going a goal down, Hamlet did try and get some attacks going. Ethan Pinnock went on a run but was halted by Sammy Knott and Roman Michael-Percil found himself in the penalty box and with the ball at his feet, but Joe Ellul dispossessed the Hamlet forward with a solid tackle and then smashed the ball clear from danger.
The Rocks doubled their lead on 18 minutes when yet another well taken corner, this time by Ben Wood from the left, swung towards Rickie Hayles and his glancing header glided past Edwards. Being caught out for a second time by a corner caused a quick discussion between Preston and Ethan Pinnock.
However the Hamlet defence never dealt with the threat the Rocks posed from corners; they were punished again on 35 minutes. Another Rocks corner flew across the Hamlet goal and Hayles was again in a position to unleash a header; placing the ball in the top right hand corner. Edwards and his defence stood dumbfounded.
Hamlet were handed a lifeline of sorts when they were awarded a penalty barely two minutes after going three goals down as Michael-Percil was brought down by Ryan Sammons.
Ashley Carew’s penalty was initially tipped away by Lidakevicius but Jordan Hibbert reacted quickly and volleyed the loose ball into the roof of the net. It had been Hamlet’s first real chance and the goal did lift their spirits as they started to put a few balls towards the Rocks penalty box, one of which fell to Carew but Hayles, who had caused such damage at the other end, put his body on the line as he put in a last ditch tackle to prevent Carew rifling off a shoot.
Going in leading 3-1 at half time meant that Hamlet had to start the second half off with attacking fervour if they wanted to try and chip away at the Rocks’ two goal lead. It was the Hamlet custodian who was first called into action; a Craddock free kick needed some attention and then another dangerous corner needed to be dealt with.
Slowly Hamlet came out of their shell, even winning a corner of their own. Pinnock took it and Lidakevicius could only parry the ball; it almost fell fortuitously to Michael-Percil but he harried his shot and wasted a precious opportunity.
Damian Scannell was brought on at half time by the visitors to try and sharpen things up front for the Hamlet front line and he kept himself busy trying to create openings. However he soon was kept under lock and key by the Rocks defence.
East Thurrock were always looking to try and catch Hamlet on the counter, but with the game almost in the bag, elected to keep things tight as their defensived line up took the club’s nickname to heart and kept the Dulwich Hamlet forwards out with a rock solid defence.
It took until 63 minutes before Lidakevicius’ goal under some pressure as Hamlet won three corners in succession, one of which was deflected away by Simon Peddie which had Hamlet players claiming had involved illegal use of the hand. The ref turned down those claims and awarded another corner which Ellul then headed away. A bit of tidying up here and there was all Lidakevicius was required to do as Dulwich played long balls over the top which were easily mopped up by the Rocks defence.
The Rocks, who had been explosive with their set-pieces, put in a defensive second half performance that took no risks and when the final whistle went there were jubilant scenes as the Rocks ended their great campaign in style by gaining promotion to Step 2.
The Non League Manager of the Year has still to be decided; but if you ask that question in Corringham or Stanford-le-Hope then the only answer you will likely get is John Coventry.