This was always going to be a banana skin and a banana skin it almost turned out to be…
How would we have felt if we had dropped two points here with Woking winning tonight? And how would we have felt if the first half had carried on into the second and we had lost? Well it could of all come to pass in the quaint Saxon surroundings of Rookery Hill, what with the beautifully amber lit exterior of the Bull Inn tempting enough to stray in, have a pint and a nice meal and then tip-toe through the graveyard to the little football ground that is home to East Thurrock United – the Rocks and how our boys almost ended up on them!
I was scornful of those who were predicting a runaway win Hemel style pre-match and sure enough second from bottom Thurrock on their awful pitch compacted after having two games on it over the weekend (Romford used it on Sunday) and under their dreadful floodlights made it hard for United in the manner that visiting Welling manager Steve King told me they would when we ‘clashed’ pre-match and then verified during a half-time kiss and make up tete a tete. I was a bit rude to him pre-match and thought I’d seek him out to apologise during the break and I’m so glad I did – I learned a lot!
He said that the way that he set his side up to beat us the other week was not the manner in which he usually sends his sides out, but you simply must do something as a manager of part-time footballers to counter the Gulls superior fitness and technique. What we saw at Welling, we saw at Thurrock and it was bloody awful. For the whole of the first half we were playing on their terms and we were second best at it. Gary Johnson screaming at the players to turn their markers and run on to balls shot over the top and flying off that compacted surface into unpredictable bounces and skips; it was inevitable that the home team would take the lead, and the manner in which they bundled a left wing cross over the line said all about their fight and commitment.
The match announcer couldn’t tell us who scored, confessing he was unsighted and so were we…it turned out to be Danny Harris and he could have pushed it over the line with his private parts for all we knew, it was that much of a ‘bundle’. Yes, that’s what it was a bundle; what an apt description.
Sendles-White was like Bambi on ice out there and put out of his misery by the manager hooking him off after an embarrassing 33 minutes of sheer ineptitude. It could have been titled ‘Hancock’s Half Hour’ for it’s comedic value alone. Would Asa Hall fare better at the back? Well he had been tonking the ball powerfully forward from midfield, so to get him to do it thirty yards further back probably made sense to Mister Johnson and his love of base line tennis tactics as the line calls were more likely to be ‘in’ than ‘out’ now; and so it proved.
So sent out onto the pitch after just a half-half-time to continue a self-post mortem in public was the players’ lot; but to be fair with the home side running out of steam it was pretty much all one way traffic in the second half and Saikou Janneh (who with Kalvin Kalala presented pretty much the only acceptable performances in the first half) joyfully lashing home Keating’s opening on 55 minutes and it seemed set up for United to go on and win.
Wrong! It was never so cut and dried as that and time seemed to be running out before the coup de grace was applied and not until Ryan Dickson had managed to get himself a yellow card without ever coming on (berating the ref in ridiculous fashion from the touchline) and Andrews getting yanked off yet again straight after another booking for a player who is totting them up in alarming fashion at the moment. Indeed for the third away game in four Andrews and Evans looked dreadfully lightweight and naïve at times tonight and very much the kids that they are.
Saikou inexplicably passed the ball onto Wynter when better placed to shoot himself and so the right back’s ‘goal’ was disallowed for offside (put that one down to inexperience), and Jamie Reid suffered one of those excruciating moments when he skied from just three yards out of an open goal. As if he had chosen precisely the moment that the local mole had decided to pop his head out for the first time of an eerily gathering fog coming in off the Thames Marshes.
With the all deciding goal being scored in the final minute, when Ruairi got on the end of an epic ball in from the left from Evans and pushed it home in front of the assembled Yellow Army (prompting a mini pitch invasion/grandad dancing display), there was still time for MacDonald to give us a Fred Karno moment of mishandling and general tomfoolery (juggling would be too kind a word to use), but we knew all he had to do was send his drop-kick up into the night sky and ref would sound three long blasts on the whistle and so he did. Thank you God; thank you to all those who made the huge effort to get there tonight and thank you to the players for digging in and then digging themselves out of a hole tonight.
That’s how to win ugly as they say and maybe at last we’re learning to do that!
I don’t normally approve of these, but just for you…
MacDonald 6 – Assured in the first half, but his communication with the defenders needs to be better. Needless cabaret at the end.
Wynter 7 – As good as anybody tonight – got forward well to add support to the attack and defended stoutly in the face of some pretty intimidating stuff.
Niate 6 – Stood up well to their bullying and should have seen his assailant Higgins sent off for a blind-side elbow into the cheekbone that was totally missed by the officials. Kept his head and used his head to good effect too.
Sendles-White 3 – What was that? A fecking mare of a performance and mercifully put out of his misery after 33 minutes!
Davis 4 – Consistently left floundering in the first half as if he was playing on roller skates. Thankfully pulled himself together in the second half and was often instrumental in the team piling forward.
Kalala 8 – Best player on the park tonight in my opinion. Running with the ball and passing with ease and then got booked for simulation near the end. Oh well!
Hall 6 – Did the muck and nettles as usual and then had to go and show JSW how to do his job properly too – thanks skipper!
Evans 5 – A poor performance by his (home) standards and as this season enters the end of term scrappiness in uninspiring surroundings he’s looking less and less like an international.
Andrews 4 – Poor; very poor. Not his ‘scene’ this mucking about in little grounds like this; but hey wake up – this is what this league is all about!
Reid 5 – Not his greatest night but he never stopped working from first to last and his part in the team effort was undeniably vital.
Janneh 7 – Superb in very trying circumstances; unselfish in the extreme and too unselfish when he set up the offside Wynter for that disallowed ‘goal’ when he could far more easily have scored himself.
Keating 6 – Full of effort as always and a game changer for us tonight. Well done fella.
Vincent N/A – Not on long enough.
Dickson -1 Getting booked when you are supposed to be warming up is pathetic; go and stand in the corner!
Man of the Match: Kalvin Kalala
Simply in a different stratosphere to most on the pitch tonight. A quality footballer if ever there was one.
‘Baseline tennis’ for the first half and they weren’t any good at it either. Twisted the knife with tortuous ease when eventually getting to grips with the pitch/opposition and surroundings, and patient in the extreme to win at the death.
Physical, committed and blowing out of their arses in the second half. They’re going down!
Shite! Knew the laws but not the game; probably another who started reffing at the age of twelve and has never kicked a ball in his life. Let Sam Higgins get away with more murders than Fred West. An appalling display of ‘homerism’. Tempted to say the only things he got right were blowing to kick-off then blowing for full-time, but I suppose he might have been a bit better than that. Nice hair though.
This was soooo National League South tonight. a scruffy little ground where they’re not allowed to play music, low-key atmosphere and a place to get out of; piss off back down the motorway with the pints and vow never to come back here again!
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Weston-super-Mare – 2nd March @ Plainmoor