IT MIGHT have seemed strange that Tilbury chief Paul Vaughan was so upbeat after watching his side draw 2-2 to Harlow Town in an ill-tempered and dramatic affair.
In the second half, Dockers squandered a two-goal lead and were reduced to nine men.
But for the first time since Vaughan took over in 2010, he had seen his side score on a visit to Harlow Tow and – more significantly – avoid defeat.
“If you said to me before the game we’d get a point, i’d have taken it. It’s the first time in five years i’ve got anything out of Harlow – i’ve always had a nightmare, here,” Vaughan pointed out.
But perhaps more notable, was that this is a well-oiled Harlow machine. They had won both of their opening two games, scoring six goals.
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Last year’s Division One North top goal scorer, Alex Read – known all too well to the Tilbury faithful after he topped the goal scoring charts for them three years ago – has picked up where he finished off last term.
Most pleasing though, for Vaughan, was that his side looked excellent going forward, a point the Tilbury boss agreed with, insisting: “Going forward, I think this is one of the best Tilbury teams I’ve had.”
And with Gary Henty and Jack Carlile in front of Sam West, Aaron Waters and Jake Pooley, the side looked balanced.
Young players Joe Christou, Tom Wood and Pooley looked assured and Harry Cook and Ben Hunt were linking up to near-devastating effect in the final third.
Dockers had two goals disallowed, struck the wood-work twice and – in truth – should have killed Harlow off at the start of the second half.
Sam West gave Tilbury the lead after 21 minutes, before Tom Wood doubled the lead on the stroke of half time.
In a bad-tempered second half, Michael Toner was sent off for flooring Cook with a head-butt while referee Daniel Richardson dealt with a foul on the halfway line.
And after 73 minutes, 10-man Harlow broke Tilbury down. Jared Small, signed from Grays Athletic this summer, brought Danny Chapman’s side level, striking the ball low across Dean Driscoll.
As the game grew scrappy, and Town more impatient for an equaliser, the lively David Cowley feigned to shoot from 18 yards, turned and then rifled a low shot at goal which cannoned off the arm of Pooley.
The 21-year-old defender was booked and Read stepped up.
Driscoll got down to his right and saved Read’s 89th minute penalty but was unfortunate to see the ball squirm back across the goal line and onto a plate for Read to leather home.
In the aftermath, Waters and Harlow skipper James Smith came together in the goalmouth. The former was shown a straight red for raising an arm, the latter shown a second yellow and also dismissed.
And in the dying moments, an aggrieved Pooley made a clumsy lunge on Read as he skipped off down the left wing.
Richardson skipped over and showed Pooley a second yellow, then a red – further infuriating the talented defender.
Vaughan added: “We had a plan. We left a few players out to go with the 3-5-2 and put five in midfield because we know how good they are here. They’re very good going forward.
“Even at 2-0, it was never comfortable. They always had a threat but the boys did very well.
“We’ve got to look at the positives, that if we keep making the chances and playing positively we’ll do well.
“It’s no good going after the lads. I’m not sure it was a penalty, it’s gone from knee to hand, the keeper was then unlucky not to save it.”
“We had a plan. We left a few players out to go with the 3-5-2 and put five in midfield because we know how good they are here. They’re very good going forward.”
Tilbury: Driscoll; Waters, Pooley, West; Christou, Wood, Henty (Aiken, 78’), Carlile, Cutler; Cook (Nightingill, 90’), Hunt.
Subs not used: Aldwinckle, Vaughan, Flack.
Gazette MoM: David Cowley (Harlow Town)
Tilbury boss Paul Vaughan spoke to the Gazette after the game: