Sunday, 30 December 2018

29/12/18 Review: East Thurrock United vs Dartford

East Thurrock United 2-2 Dartford (National League South)
Rookery Hill

For the third year on the trot I found myself ending the year down in Essex on family business, which of course meant that an opportunity would raise itself to head on down to my final game of the year and with plenty of National League action taking place I had a choice of Welling, Woking, Dagenham, Chelmsford or East Thurrock for my 140th ground. After narrowing it down to the two easiest accessible grounds by public transport from Leigh-on-Sea, I left it up to Twitter to make my mind up and with my poll drawing in the same percentages as Brexit, I was on my way to leaving the EU... sorry, I mean Rookery Hill.

It's what you voted for, so it's what you are getting!

So with my fate sealed I was sat at Leigh train station with a ham and mayo baguette and a can of Carlsberg Export all ready to see what second bottom East Thurrock United could muster up against promotion hunters Dartford. My form when it comes to travelling by train is pretty woeful, but even then it was somewhat better than that of the hosts who had lost three in a row, albeit against top half teams. Dartford came into the match as favourites despite only having won one in six in all competitions and because of this slump in form I was able to successfully predict my first correct scoreline of the season in my seventh effort. Yes, I was going in as an optimist for the hosts to snatch a point and knowing that the games were coming thick and fast at this time of the year, I was spot on (for once) with my 2-2 guess. Once I'd jumped off the train and circumnavigated my way to Corringham via the 100 bus in Basildon, it was time to head to the ground a little later than planned and have my usual whip-round of the ground that 163 of you picked as my big finale for the year.

At least it doesn't have a running track around it...
Needless to say that the ground was a little on the rugged side and that's absolutely fine by me. Having spent most of my season up in the North West Counties League lurking around Manchester and Staffordshire I was almost numb to the sight of portacabins and sheds, alas I wasn't quite expecting to see so many of them at this level. Rookery Hill, up until the 2016/17 season had been the home of Isthmian League football and despite losing many a playoff match over the years they finally had success as they beat Dulwich Hamlet 3-1 thanks to a brace from Ricky Hayles, who will no doubt go down in the East Thurrock United history books as he helped his side reach the promised land of National League South football. Much like North Ferriby United's ground, a place I was lucky enough to visit a couple of seasons back, the Essex based club I found myself at this weekend will no doubt admit themselves to being small fish at this level and a proud team that continues to punch above its weight alongside the likes of former Football League side Torquay United and infamous moneybags project Billericay Town. In short, the club are doing alright for themselves. On the other side of the field today would be a team making the short 15 mile trip over the Queen's bridge from Kent to Essex and last year's runner up side, Dartford. The Darts, who have themselves played in many non-league tiers from the National League Premier downwards, have also had to house themselves here there and everywhere in the last thirty years. Having moved out of Watling Street they have lived temporarily in Erith, Thurrock and Gravesend, amongst others, and they finally came back to Dartford in 2006 to their new Princes Park stadium. All's well that ends well, I suppose.

Rookery Hill has been the home of the Rocks since 1984, in case you wondered
Regardless of who lived where and with who, the main thing was that on this mild Saturday afternoon in Corringham, in front of 450ish people, these teams would do battle and I was thrilled to be there with a pint of Prava in my hand and a smile on my face. Dartford, who have more than double the amount of points that the hosts have, didn't start as well as I'd expected in terms of dominating the early play- but they did boast the crucial stat with ten minutes gone. Playing in a gorgeous purple strip, an early corner was nodded in by Charlie Sheringham in the seventh minute for Dartford and I can now proudly say that I've seen Sheringham score a header in real life. Who said non-league wasn't luxurious? East Thurrock 0-1 Dartford. The Rocks knew that following the early goal they would have to remain solid and, as their nickname suggests, they did just that. Most of the play came from United and although Dartford didn't seem to worried, there was always that chance of an equaliser whilst the hosts were on top. When it did eventually come, just after the half-hour mark, it was from a goalkeeping error and with Bailey Vose flapping around in no man's land it was left to Tom Derry to roam into the box, through the motionless Dartford defence, and then head home a much deserved equaliser. East Thurrock 1-1 Dartford.

An action packed game was only just getting started
With goals, red cards and much more action still to come on the pitch, the attentions would be switched to the touchline momentarily just before half-time in which the dismissal of a member of Dartford's technical area sparked an epic final few minutes of the half. I'm not really sure why the chap was sent off but shortly after this he would be joined in the changing room by a player as Lee Noble would also see red. The mini midfield maestro had to go in the referee's opinion following an alleged elbow on an opposing player. And as if all of this wasn't enough, there was to be another big moment in the first-half and it would come from Derry again. The number 12 showed poacher's instincts to beat Vose to the ball for the second time, this time with his feet, meaning the hosts would take a strong advantage of one goal, one player and one official more than the Darts. East Thurrock 2-1 Dartford. In truth it could've been three deep into stoppage time as a headed corner had to be tipped over from close-range, but ultimately the break would be a happy one for East Thurrock United as they looked for a first win in four.

Time for a HT pint!
Unlike the rest of the ground, Rookery Hill's clubhouse was a thing of beauty and with all the mod cons from projector screen with the footy, to luscious wooden flooring and blue lights in the ceiling, it was a very impressive piece of work. I took my sweet time to sit and enjoy another Prava in the comfort of a brown faux leather sofa whilst watching the recap of Rangers beating Celtic earlier in the day. Needless to say that the bar ended up being pretty rammed and with fans flocking back out for the second-half I reluctantly lifted my carcass from my seat and joined them. I decided to go over to the other seating area at the opposing end of the ground for the second half, which didn't last too long as I found myself benched next to that one couple that every club has- the couple that sit and moan about everything their players do, the opponents do, and of course each action of the officials. Urgh, I know.

"It was never off, you plonker!!!"
Ten man Dartford began the half much better than they'd ended the first, and Teddy Jr went close to his second goal in the 54th minute after rounding Jack Giddens only to then see his shot deflected away by one of the two desperate on the line defenders. It remained a very good and open game all-round and with both sides carving half chance after half chance, the nerves seemed to be building all over Rookery Hill. Giddens was handed a caution by the referee for time wasting and the hosts keeper would now have twenty minutes of having to "get on with it" as Dartford started to claw at an equaliser. Soon enough the visitors had a corner from their right-hand side and as I stood by three fans all pointing out the poor United marking, surely enough they would be proven right as the unmarked men at the back post would eventually be queuing up for a header. In the end it was Elliot Bradbrook who claimed it in the 73rd minute. East Thurrock 2-2 Dartford.

Still fifteen minutes left, this could go either way... or neither
The scores were level again in this roller coaster ride of a match and the last five minutes would provide a final twist to the tale. At one end, the Rocks won a free-kick which bashed the base of the Dartford woodwork, meanwhile at the other end the Darts attacked to the point where Danny Harris lunged in and saw red meaning that the game would end well and truly level. Great game to end the year with! Following the game I made my way through the graveyard of the nearby church and into The Bull, where I would end my night watching Liverpool thrash Arsenal on the TV whilst taking some random abuse about being a gravy loving northerner. I wouldn't mind, but of the trio of southern softies having a pop at me, one was drinking from a challis, the second had an "extra chilled" beer and the third was on the gin. Grow up.

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