East Thurrock United 3-2 Tilbury
BBC Essex Senior Cup Semi-Final.
East Thurrock United will play in the BBC Essex Senior Cup Final for the first time in their 48-year history as victory over four-time winners Tilbury sent The Rocks through to a county showdown with either Chelmsford City or Heybridge Swifts.
Adequately holding their own in the new surroundings of the Vanarama National League South - the club’s highest ever position having won promotion via the Ryman League Play-Offs last May - East Thurrock were pushed all the way by Tilbury from two divisions down the pyramid in Ryman North in a thrilling cup tie which the home side edged, 3-2.
Tilbury led from the 5th minute of the contest at Rookery Hill. Toby Aromolaran was tripped in the penalty area by Ben Wood and Kurt Smith fired the visitors ahead from the spot. Minutes later, Tilbury’s Toch Singh flashed a half-volley inches wide on the turn following a flick on.
As East Thurrock looked to make their league superiority count, a spell of pressure saw Harry Honesty shoot through a crowd, with the loose ball diverted wide via the outside of a post by Tom Wraight. Wraight was then denied at close range by Tilbury goalkeeper Lee Butcher before Singh slid a low shot into the gloves of home stopper Lukas Lidakevicius.
Five minutes before the break, the hosts forced a leveller. Prolific Rocks top scorer Sam Higgins was fouled in the box and a second spot kick of the half saw Higgins himself step up to confidently smash home from twelve yards. Still in the first half, a good save from Dockers ‘keeper Butcher then kept out Wright’s angled effort after an excellent, low Higgins centre.
A following opening to the second period saw both sides exchange chances as Ben Marlow side-footed at Butcher for the hosts and Aromolaran saw a deflected effort find the side netting after a pacey run. But two goals in as many minutes mid-way through the period swung the tie in the direction of the National League side.
With 66 on the clock a long, whipped cross from Reece Harris was stabbed in by Higgins from close range at the far post, then Harris turned scorer as he found space to neatly chip a 15-yard lob over Butcher to extend the lead.
But Tilbury weren’t defeated yet and, with some substitutions freshening their ranks on an energy-sapping surface, they pulled a goal back eleven minutes from time. Conor Mead’s searching free kick was diverted into his own net by ‘keeper Lidakevicius.
Back in the tie, Tilbury, who had reached the last four courtesy of three successive penalty shoot-out victories, threw everything at the hosts in search of another penalty climax.
However, East Thurrock held out to earn a spot in the final against either National League South rivals Chelmsford, or last season’s runners-up Heybridge Swifts, also from Ryman North.
Those sides meet in the other semi-final at Melbourne Stadium on Monday February 13.
East Thurrock United: Lukas Lidakevicius, Michael Freiter, Marvel Ekpiteta (Joe Gardner, 46), Ben Wood, Lee Burns, George Craddock, Reece Harris, Ben Marlow (Ade Osifuwa, 84), Sam Higgins, Harry Honesty, Tom Wraight. Unused Substitutes: James Walker, Kye Ruel, Charlie Pardoe.
Tilbury: Lee Butcher, Conor Mead, Danny Smith, Eli Beniot, Joe Nightingill, Danny Norton, Toby Aromolaran (Lewis Francis, 77), Jack Carlile, Kurt Smith, Toch Singh (Neil Richmond, 75), Reece Hewitt (Reece Conway, 85). Unused Substitutes: Lewis Jaggs, Louis Hawes.
Referee: Anthony Pope (Witham).
Assistant Referees: Rhys Battye (Grays) and David Harrison (Wickford).