Report - East Thurrock United 2-1 Oxford City
City narrowly beaten against the Rocks
By Ryan Bratley
A rare mistake from Craig Hill paved the way for Oxford City to slip to a disappointing defeat on the road at East Thurrock.
With a slightly weakened Hoops side having crashed out of the Oxfordshire Senior Cup on Tuesday night, Mark Jones will have been relieved to reintroduce a number of important figures to the side. At the back, Craig Hill and Matt Peake-Pijnen returned with Godfrey Poku deputising for the injured Jean Niate whilst further upfeild both Jefferson Louis and Kaiman Anderson returned to the starting line-up. Finally, new signing Akin Abiola-Daramola made his debut in midfield.
With a viscious wind swirling around Rookery Hill, City started reasonably brightly but it was East Thurrock who had the first sight of goal as they won a free kick on the left hand corner of the City box. Craig Hill set his wall in expectation of a shot at goal and was not disappointed – a well struck effort flying just over his crossbar.
City responded well to the early scare as Wilson Carvalho made an early show of intent, darting down the right wing before being taken down by an awkward challenge on the byline. Scott Davies stepped up to deliver a cross which almost found the top corner as it curled harmlessly behind for a goal kick.
With 10 minutes gone it was once again Carvalho who excited the travelling fans, this time popping up on the right to buy a corner from his marker. City opted for an increasingly familiar setup, 4 players coming short whilst the big men stayed in the box, but Davies opted to cross. His ball found the head of Lee Henderson at the far post, his solid header back across goal lacking the power and placement required to beat Lidakevicius in the East Thurrock goal.
With the wind behind them and their confidence growing by the minute, City continued to put pressure on the Rocks – mixing their attacking approach with a combination of long balls up to Louis and shorter passing play to keep the defence on their toes. Louis in particular lurked with menace, stealing in to make the most of a poor throw in which the defence thought they could shepherd behind for a goal kick. His tenacity earned the Hoops a corner, but they failed to capitalise.
Whilst City seemed relatively comfortable in possession, their hosts still carried a significant threat when going forwards themselves. With 20 minutes played, Jordy Ngathe was beaten by Akinwande the big forward earning himself the time and space to shoot but firing narrowly over.
The Blues once again responded well to the scare, producing a period of sustained pressure in and around the East Thurrock box which produced a number of shooting opportunities. The players involved however seemed somewhat shot-shy, trying to build the perfect goalscoring opportunity, but it was Anderson who eventually tried his luck from the left hand side of the box. His effort was speculative at best, catching the legs of a defender and going behind for a corner which was easily cleared, paving the way for the Rocks to break down the right. Peake-Pijnen did well to slow their progress but eventually found himself in the referee's notebook for a rash challenge on the edge of the area.
The resulting free kick was well blocked by the wall but the taker was able to pick up the loose all and re-deliver – his improved cross finding Ekpiteta whose awkward effort could only trouble the side-netting. The right wing became East Thurrock's main vector of attack. Another attack just before the half hour mark saw Henderson beaten, Ngathe eventually the man to clear a dangerous low ball into the box.
As the half drew into its final ten minutes, the wind – already a major factor in the game – began to make its presence felt even more. Lidakevicius slipped as he took a goal kick, lofting it high into the air where it held up severely in the wind. A smart knock-down found Carvalho who produced a typically sharp turn to earn himself some space before bursting forwards with support from Davies, eventually playing his teammate in through the left channel. The experienced midfielder shaped up to curl a shot into the far corner of the net but instead rolled a shot towards the near bottom corner which the 'keeper did well to push around the post.
Carvalho was yet again the focal point of the City attack just minutes later. Peake-Pijnen did well to hold up an otherwise pacey attack from East Thurrock, allowing Scott Davies to clear. Carvalho was first to the loose ball and immediately took the ball forwards, using the runs of two teammates as decoys to create space for himself before taking an ambitious shot from range which flicked off of a defender as it went behind. The resulting corner was well placed on the edge of the 6 yard box but only found Burns as no players in blue and white attacked the ball.
The final 5 minutes of the half were an extremely scrappy affair as both sides struggled to get the ball down and play and the fussy but fair refereeing slowed the pace of the game further. The arrival of the break will have been more welcome to the hosts to the visitors with City having had the momentum for the majority of the half.
Unlike the first half, the start of the second began with City on top as Anderson made the most of a bobbling ball on the edge of the East Thurrock area, letting loose an effort which was unfortunately straight at Lidakevicius. The hosts responded within 5 minutes, Harris delivering a good cross from the right which was met with a header which clipped the post as it went behind for a corner.
Compared to the 45 minutes which preceded it, the early stages of the second period had seen sloppy play from both sides and this was typified by the nature of the opening goal. City stopper Craig Hill received a seemingly routine backpass but dallied on the ball and was dispossessed by Akinwande - leaving the striker with the simplest of finishes.
The goal did nothing to improve the quality of play from either team but the departure of Ngathe allowed debutant Abiola-Daramola to move to full back, Reece Fleet making his return to midfield. The change had an almost immediate effect as Abiola-Daramola broke down the right but saw his path into the box blocked by what looked like an East Thurrock hand. The linesman was unmoved, signalling for a goal kick, but was overruled by the referee who awarded a corner.
With 20 minutes remaining, City mustered their best effort of the game as an excellent Davies corner once again found the head of Henderson. The City skipper rose well to meet the pacey delivery, glancing his header just wide of the far post.
City's final two subs arrived shortly afterwards as Anderson made way for Ezra Forde and, later on, Ngamvoulou replaced the injured Louis.
With only a one goal defect to overturn and time left on the clock, the Hoops committed men forwards in the hope of finding the crucial goal. Man of the Match Carvalho produced the touch of the game in the 79th minute, sending his marker the wrong way and advancing to the byline unchallenged. With time and space to spare he was able to pick out Ngamvoulou on the other side of the box and, although the ball wouldn't sit for the Frenchman, he was able to find Davies whose vicious effort from a tight angle narrowly cleared the bar.
The missed opportunity proved costly for City as, two minutes later, the hosts doubled their lead. With City committing men forwards they were left short at the back and were undone by a simple diagonal ball to the left wing. The resulting cross was pinpoint and found Scott Heard with the time and space to place his low shot underneath Hill.
The goal should have killed City off but they rallied directly from kickoff. Davies opted not to play a long ball straight from the restart and instead allowed his side to build more patiently from the back. Forde showed great awareness when he took possession in midfield, playing a delightful ball into the path Khawaja. The youngster kept a cool head, holding off his man and slotting past the onrushing Lidakevicius, for his first City goal to bring the Hoops right back into the tie.
With the game back in the balance, East Thurrock understandably began slowing the pace of the game and heading for the corners when possible. They were almost, however, gifted a third when a mistake in defence gifted Wraight the ball in a dangerous position. His shot from range had Hill beaten all ends up, crashing off of the bar on its way behind for a goal kick.
As is so often the case, City did find themselves with one golden opportunity to earn a point. A stoppage time corner gave Hill the opportunity to venture into the opposing box and his imposing frame caused havoc when the ball was delivered. The loose ball fell to the feet of Khawaja on the edge of the 6-yard box and, with the goal gaping, the youngster somehow managed to scoop his shot wide.
The miss was the last meaningful action of the game and the referee's whistle brought to an end a frustrating game for City. Despite the disappointment of defeat, Carvalho's performance caught the eye of many – his willingness to run with the ball and take on players being pivotal to most of the Hoops' best moments.
Speaking after the game, Mark Jones reflected on a difficult day on the road:
“I think the main feeling today is definitely frustration – its a game which I think we shouldn't be losing. The conditions were difficult: the wind was swirling around and the pitch was quite dry and bumpy so it wasn't conducive to a great game of football. I think we started to get a bit better as the first half went on. The first 10 or 15 minutes was quite scrappy but to be honest I think we shaded it and had the better moments although it was fairly tight then second half I felt we were in control of the game.
We started quite well – Kaiman Anderson had a good chance – and obviously it was a big individual mistake from Craig Hill which cost us for the first goal. To be fair to Craig he has done very, very well since he has come in and he doesn't need us to tell him that was a big mistake. We're then fighting to get a goal but on the overall balance of play we didn't deserve to get beaten. Maybe a draw would have been a fair result.
It was very frustrating because sometimes when you get beaten by a better team you hold your hands up and say 'we were beaten by the better team and we weren't at it' but I don;t feel they were better than us. Defeat is a bit harsh for us but we are making too many mistakes as a team to be successful. We keep making silly errors which are costing us.
But, we are where we are at the moment and we're there for a reason. We need to keep working: this will be a tough week for everybody playing against Maidenhead and Poole but we've got to keep working, keep doing our best. The lads are an honest bunch and they are trying their best – I don;t think we can accuse anyone of a lack of effort or a lack of care - we just keep making basic mistakes which we shouldn't be making.”
The City manager has also clearly begun looking ahead to next season:
“We need to keep going as best we can until the end of the season and then we need to sit down as staff and as a club to look at where we want to go and put a plan in place which will hopefully see us moving up the table next season. We need to add some more quality to the team, there's no question about that. Our goalscoring form over the last couple of months isn't great: there aren't many games where we have scored more than one goal and that needs to change if we want to be challenging at the top of the table"