PAUL Vaughan, the Tilbury boss, was optimistic about his side's performance - despite watching them squander a two-goal lead to league favourites Harlow Town.

Both sides were reduced to nine men as referee Daniel Richardson sent off three men in a frantic final 15 minutes, during which time Hawks scored twice to salvage a draw.

Dockers - who deserved to win the game - took the lead in the 29th minute when Sam West, who had already had a goal disallowed for offside, smashed the ball home from 10 yards after Town failed to clear a free kick that was knocked down at the far post by Tom Wood.

Wood, the young Tilbury winger, doubled the visitor's lead, tapping in from two yards in the 45th minute after good work by Harry Cook and Ben Hunt on the right.

The closest a disjointed Harlow Town came to scoring was when David Cowley struck the post six minutes before the break.

Tilbury started the second half well and were unfortunate not to put the game beyond their hosts. Cook hit the bar from 20 yards five minutes in, and 10 minutes later, Hunt saw his lobbed effort also cannon off the woodwork.

Thurrock Gazette:

Harlow centre back Joe Urquhart goes toe-to-toe with Dockers forward Harry Cook [Mikey Cartwright/Ponderosa Pix]

Ed Thompson was forced into a series of good saves as Tilbury looked - without luck - to kill the game off.

The first red card of a game slowly spiralling into an ill-tempered affair, was shown to Harlow centre-back Michael Toner, who put Cook on the floor with a head-butt while the referee dealt with another foul on the half-way line.

Jared Small, Hawks' stand-out performer, brought the hosts back into the game in the 77th minute, pouncing on a ball that had slipped from Alex Read's control and sliding it past Dean Driscoll.

Hunt then had a goal disallowed when he strayed offside before Sam Cutler played a pass to him as Tilbury broke once more.

Then came the Harlow pressure. And with minutes remaining, Cowley saw his powerful shot hit Jake Pooley in the hand, leading to the award of a penalty. Pooley was booked.

Read missed the penalty, as Driscoll saved. But the ball spun back across the goal line and Read smashed it home.

Seconds later, a scuffle broke out in the goal mouth - leading to both skippers being dismissed. Tilbury's Aaron Waters raised an arm and was given a straight red. James Smith was shown a second yellow then a red card.

And with just a few moments remaining, Pooley made a clumsy lunge on Read on the left byline. He was shown a second yellow and given his marching orders - the youngster walked off the pitch furious.

Thurrock Gazette:

Melée - Pooley reacts angrily to his red card, while Read recovers from the foul