High-flying Fleet held by resilient Harlow

Harlow Town 1, Thurrock 1

By Matt Abbott at Harlow Arena

THIS hard fought draw at Harlow indicated just how tight it is at the top of the Ryman Division One North.

Rob Clark’s first half thunderbolt for Fleet was cancelled out by Daniel Brown’s second half penalty in a game which could have gone either way.

Harlow Town sit in sixth place in the division, six points behind Thurrock, with two games in hand over them.

On Saturday, the hosts played well against second-placed Fleet, the Ryman North’s form side, who in turn extended their unbeaten run to 11 games.

It was Thurrock who started the game the brightest, peppering the Harlow area with crosses. But Hawks grew into the game and had several half-chances themselves, none of which caused Andy Walker much concern.

Fleet began to turn the screw with around half-an-hour gone. First, after 28 minutes, David Knight made space for himself on the edge of the box and tested Darren Behcet with a low shot across goal. The keeper was equal to it, stretching to palm the ball round the post.

Four minutes later though, a half-cleared Thurrock corner landed at the feet of Rob Clark, who - 25 yards from goal - rifled a powerful shot into the top corner.

In the second-half Harlow’s Shane Stamp came to life and inspired a Harlow comeback. The tricky winger became engaged in an intriguing battle with Fleet’s impressive young full back Lewis Clark.

On the rare occasions Stamp got the better of Clark, Harlow looked likely to score. Eight minutes into the second period, superb skill saw Stamp leave Thurrock’s midfield standing, before he threaded a well-weighted through pass between Ricardo Santos and Clark to Stan Muguo, who proceeded to miss the game’s best chance.

But minutes later, when Stamp had got the better of Clark, Santos – Thurrock’s imposing centre-half – clumsily intervened and tripping the diminutive winger in the box. Referee Stuart Cheek - the subject of much fan criticism throughout the game - was left with little choice but to point to the spot and book Santos.

The game opened up a little after Daniel Brown stepped up to leather the ball past Walker but neither side could find a winner.

Charlie Stimson and Knight linked up smartly on the edge of Harlow’s area before the former – who has scored 13 goals since arriving at Ship Lane in October – poked the ball wide.

John Glowacki, Harlow’s hard-working midfielder saw a long range effort well saved by Walker in the 82nd minute, before Brown and Stimson squared up, with the game growing petty as the two sides frustrated one-another.

In the dying moments, Thurrock’s supporters behind the goal erupted in rage as Cheek failed to give a penalty for what they thought was a blatant handball by a Town defender, blocking Knight’s goal-bound shot.

After the game, Fleet’s assistant manager Tony Gay said on Twitter that the young side are keen to learn and that the atmosphere in the changing room is “unbelievable”. He said: “It was a good game with two good teams.

“We’ve got a team of top boys. They’re young, hungry and want to learn. It’s an unbelievable changing room.”

The result leaves Fleet five points off league-leaders VCD, having played two games more. Both Witham Town and Heybridge Swifts could overtake Thurrock if they win their respective games in hand.

Thurrock: Walker; L Clark, Sutton, Santos, King (Gilman); R Clark, Perkins, Spence (c), Warner; Knight, Warner.

Gazette MoM: Shane Stamp

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