EAST Thurrock retained their Ryman Premier League status after a battling comeback secured a priceless victory on the last day of the season.
The complicated make-up of the final day meant John Coventry’s men needed to match or better Wingate & Finchley’s result to stay up but, should they fail to do so, could still have avoided the drop if Evo-Stik League North side Frickley Athletic slipped up. Vauxhall Motors resignation from the football pyramid meant one side in the third tier of the non-league would be given a reprieve.
However, victories for Frickley and Wingate & Finchley meant only a win would do for East Thurrock and that looked a long way away when they found themselves 2-0 down with barely fifteen minutes on the clock.
Goals from Ben Johnson and Ollie Pearce after swift counter-attacks put second placed Bognor in the driving seat but Coventry’s men were not going down with a fight.
Rocks had hit the crossbar through the excellent Nick Symons in the aftermath of both away goals but failed to take advantage of a number of good openings.
They reduced arrears ten minutes before the break. A deep cross found full-back Ryan Sammons at the far post and his driven cross was put in by David Bryant.
Rocks went into the break safe but only because Frickley were losing 170 miles up the road.
Desperate to put their fate back in their own hands Rocks came out firing in the second half and equalised within seven minutes – Sam Higgins pulling back for Mitchell Gilbey to side-foot home.
Lewis Smith went close to giving the home side the lead before the crucial goal came.
Smith shot at goal from outside the box with away ‘keeper Grant Smith pushing the ball to Higgins, who was also denied. However, there was Gilbey again to smash into the unguarded net.
The stands were rocking and, although Gilbey missed a great chance for a hattrick, the hosts completed the turnaround with ten minutes to go as Higgins hit his 13th goal since his return to confirm East Thurrock’s Ryman Premier status.
Wingate & Finchley were relegated despite thumping Billericay Town 5-0 because of an inferior goal difference.
After the match John Coventry said his players deserved the crucial victory.
“It’s been a crazy season with so many highs and lows and not very much in between. We were so low after the first 45 and massively high in the second half.
“Today was all about us. The first 15 minutes we didn’t have the confidence to use the ball. I don’t know if Bognor relaxed but we got at them and we made good use of the ball. We found spare men and there were some big performances out there.
“It is sad to see anyone go down but I’m just glad it’s not us.”