plumbing new depths in a season that already requires the Earlsmead faithful to use deep-sea diving equipment to reach the shipwrecks that so many performances have sunk to.
Daniel Dyer and Sekou Kaba came into the side that played Hendon, in place of the injured Ben Long and Harold Odametey. Dyer came in at right-back, Julian Smith moving to midfield: both these moves proved disasters as the last half-hour unfolded, and worse still was the lack of reorganisational instruction given from the bench as their Essex opponents exposed the faults of both players.
On a sticky but playable pitch, both sides had early opportunities. John Sonuga was correctly deemed not to have handled a cross intentionally, the ball bouncing up and hitting him, before Symons shot wide from range for East Thurrock. Nick Jupp saved at the feet of Higgins after Smith’s attempted clearance had cannoned into Anthony Maissiat. George McCluskey arrived at the far post but failed to control Michael Bryan’s deep cross. Higgins went past John Sonuga, was briefly stopped by Maissiat, but recovered to get his shot away, forcing a save from Jupp.
Borough went in front in the 23rd minute with an astonishing goal. Nik Salapatas sent Marc Charles-Smith away on the left. He reached the by-line and cut in towards goal, getting past two defenders and reaching the six-yard box, before shooting from the tightest of angles, the ball squeezing through keeper Hughes and ending in the net.
Borough should have doubled their lead immediately, as Charles-Smith sent Salapatas clear on goal. He opened his body to play a right-foot shot across Hughes and although the ball beat the East Thurrock keeper, it went past the far post as well. Hughes rescued himself after he stumbled on Sammons’s throw-in, pushing the ball away as Charles-Smith threatened a goal.
Jupp reacted well to save George McCluskey’s deflection of a Paxman cross. Another golden Harrow chance went begging as, following a great build-up between Bryan and Charles-Smith, George McCluskey arrived on the ball eight yards out in the centre of goal but got his feet completely wrong and screwed the ball wide. Higgins’s shot was deflected wide and Jupp saved from Sammons, and the half ended with Stephen’s redirection of a Salapatas cross saved by Hughes.
Kaba should have done better with an early second-half opportunity, screwing the ball wide after a promising build-up. The first hint of the defensive apocalypse that was to follow came when George McCluskey managed to hit his own bar with a clearance. That was a let-off and Harrow seemed to make the most of it when they doubled their lead in the 55th minute. Bryan was tripped on the right, and Salapatas’s outswinging delivery was glanced into the far corner by Sonuga’s header.
The panic stations set in for Harrow with the first East Thurrock goal after an hour. An attack was only half-cleared, something that was to happen time and time again, and Smith curled the ball over Jupp and into the roof of the net.
Kaba made a fine challenge on Higgins to block a shot, and Jupp made a brave save at the feet of Ruel, as the Harrow defence were cut to pieces. Symons arrived in the Harrow area to spoon a great chance over the bar as the warning bells grew louder. Harrow attacks were getting rarer but a great Lewis Driver (whose entry as a substitute had been – just three weeks after the farcical eight-minute Jerome Walker entry against Lewes – delayed while he dressed according to the rulebook, picking up a booking in the process) crossfield pass gave Salapatas some space, and his cross was cleared by Wood with Charles-Smith threatening. Jupp headed the ball away as Ruel again got through the Harrow back-line.
It was obvious to everyone watching that Dyer was being sucked inside and giving East Thurrock way too much room on their left but did Harrow do anything to address this? No. Worse still, the Harrow midfield, Smith especially, could not keep possession. In the 76th minute the Rocks got the ball out to their left. The resulting cross saw an initial shot blocked, but Harrow did not get the ball away and Higgins netted the equaliser.
Jupp made another brave save at a forward’s feet but the visitors smelled blood and next goal soon arrived, in the 79th minute. Dyer was again absent from the right-back area as a crossfield pass found a man in space there, the subsequent cross finished off by the predatory Higgins.
Looking for his hat-trick, Higgins shot wide from a free-kick. Substitute Raheem Sterling-Parker, on for Dyer, taken off no doubt to spare him further punishment, got the ball to Salapatas whose shot was blocked but the humiliation was completed in the third minute of stoppage time when Smith got his legs in a tangle, and gave away a free-kick, which the other Smith netted via a huge deflection off a Harrow player. And even then the visitors might have got a fifth, as George McCluskey blocked an effort on the far post following a shot from the, you guessed, vacant Harrow right-back area.
The full-back positions have been problematic all season for Harrow and if decent quality players are not brought in to them soon then this, along with the massive deficiencies in player coaching, will be to blame for what is looking an increasingly inevitable relegation, and with it the potential demise of a once proud club.
HARROW BOROUGH: Nick Jupp, Daniel Dyer (sub Raheem Sterling-Parker, 88 mins), George McCluskey, Julian Smith, John Sonuga, Anthony Maissiat, Michael Bryan, Sekou Kaba (sub Ryan Hope, 79 mins), Marc Charles-Smith, Carl McCluskey (sub Lewis Driver, 68 mins; booked, 70 mins), Nik Salapatas. Unused subs: David Fallah, Kamaron English
EAST THURROCK UNITED: David Hughes, Ryan Sammons, Tom Stephen, Ben Wood, Paul Goodacre, Connor Witherspoon, Joe Paxman (sub David Bryant, 57 mins), Nicky Symons, Sam Higgins, Lewis Smith, Kye Ruel. Unused subs: Tom Anderson, Ross Parmenter, Mitchell Gilbey, Darren Phillips.
Referee: Mr C Bodell
by Simon Grigor