Thurrock 1, Tilbury 2
THURROCK’S play-off hopes were dashed at the hands of their borough rivals during a dramatic afternoon of non-league football.
Fleet had to avoid defeat to secure the fourth and final play-off spot and hope that Chatham Town kept the score down against fellow play-off chasers Needham Market.
But neither happened.
Paul Vaughan’s Tilbury put in one of their finest performances of the season to beat Fleet 2-1 and Needham smashed Chatham 7-1.
That meant they overturned a six goal swing to jump above Thurrock, with the two sides finishing level on points – but Thurrock with a goal difference of 39 and Needham 41.
Though the task in itself seemed straight forward enough, Thurrock came into the game having already played three times in five days.
And they looked tired, knowing a draw would be enough, no matter what Needham did at home to Chatham.
In a tepid first half, Tilbury started the better but failed to test Andy Walker in a good opening ten minute spell.
The best chance of the half fell to Thurrock’ 34 goal striker David Knight in the 25th minute, but with only James Marrable to beat, he was quickly closed down by Joe Nightingill and scuffed his low shot.
The game needed a livener, and four minutes into the second half Tilbury’s Piers Wixon duly provided.
His 25-yard thunderbolt from the right hand corner of the box flew past Walker into the top left corner of the goal to give the visitors a surprise lead.
At this point Needham were 2-0 up against Chatham Town. But the opener at Ship Lane sparked Fleet into life.
They began to pose more of a threat. Knight saw more of the ball and the hosts looked more dangerous than at any other stage.
But as Needham went 3-0 up, 4-0 up and later 5-1 up – all without Thurrock really forcing a save out of a Marrable, nerves began to set in.
Knight missed the home side’s best chance of the game in the 77th minute. The striker collected the ball 15 yards from goal and with only Marrable to beat, his low shot was saved by the goalkeeper.
Needham went 6-1 up and then Tilbury struck again.
With Thurrock committed, Danny Aldwinckle collected a long ball up the pitch. He turned inside the Thurrock box and sent a low shot under Walker’s body putting Tilbury 2-0 up with seven minutes to play.
Rob Gilman, the former Tilbury centre half, made it 2-1 with three minutes to go, heading home at the back post setting up a frantic finale.
But in the minutes that remained – and the five added on – Thurrock couldn’t get the leveller, which would have been enough.
Tilbury came closest when, on the break, they set up a three-on-one. Cook laid the ball off to Folarin who only had to hit the target to score, but he sent the ball wide.
At the full time whistle, the players looked despondent. It was Thurrock’s first defeat in seven games and one of the most costly of the long season.
For Tilbury, this was a positive end to an otherwise disappointing season.
Thurrock: Walker; L Clark, Sutton, King, Gliman; Girdlestone (Ibe, 57’), J Clark, Onyemah, Smith (Warner, 57’); Wall, Knight.
Subs not used: Martin, Ryan.
Tilbury: Marrable; Glasgow (Johnson, 59’), Waters (Pooley, 67’), Nightingill (Aldwinckle, 72’), West; Christou, Wood, Blackman, Wixon; Folarin, Cook.
Subs not used: West, Babaloa.