EAST Thurrock United boss John Coventry admits he always suspected his side would leave it to the last day to seal their survival.
Rocks must beat Bognor Regis Town at Rookery Hill tomorrow to guarantee they will remain in the Ryman Premier League next season.
They thought they had done enough with a cavalier 5-3 win over Enfield Town on Monday, only for their direct rivals Wingate & Finchley to get a surprise win at Leiston and take it to a nerve-shredding conclusion.
“I think I always knew it would come to this,” admitted Coventry. “This is typical of our season and I had a feeling that Wingate would win on Monday. To be honest, the way we have played this season, we probably deserved to have to go to the final day.”
The equation seems simple enough for Rocks: Win and they survive.
Both they and Wingate are locked on 46 points with Rocks out of the drop zone thanks to a much superior goal difference to Wingate.
While Rocks face a tougher test on paper tomorrow – Bognor are second and hoping to stay there to secure home advantage in the play-offs – Coventry will be hoping his Essex neighbours Billericay Town do them a favour by winning at Wingate.
But there is a further twist that complicates the matter somewhat and which could see both Rocks and Wingate stay up.
Due to Vauxhall Motors’ resignation from the Conference North, the knock-on effect down the pyramid means the best placed finisher in the drop zones of the three step three divisions – Ryman Premier, Calor Southern and Evo Stik North – will get a reprieve as part of the re-organisation of the divisions.
No team in the Southern League appears likely to get close to the 46-point tally East Thurrock and Wingate currently have, but Frickley Athletic of the Northern League have bizarrely an identical record to Rocks.
It won’t change Coventry’s team-talk tomorrow. He will tell his players to go out and get an early goal, but it does mean the Rocks boss will have one eye on what is going on not just at Wingate but 170 miles away in Worksop where Frickley go looking for their own salvation.
“I will definitely know what’s going on elsewhere tomorrow,” said Coventry who has sent a man to Wingate and will rely on his phone for information from Worksop.
“I thought about sending someone to Worksop,” laughed Coventy. “I will have my phone with me to check the scores from elsewhere and will get information from Wingate.
“I think it’s important to do that because you might have to change things according to what’s going on.
“Our job is to win the game. I have got good players who enjoy the big games. Anyone who has seen us play over the past six weeks will have seen we create a lot of chances.
“We scored five against Enfield and, no dis-respect to them, we have created a lot of chances against better teams than them in recent weeks, like Margate and Wealdstone.
“An early goal is key. If we can get one or two, Bognor might start thinking about the play-offs they have got coming.”
Coventry says the club is working hard to make Rookery Hill packed out tomorrow as they try to get all the support they can get.
The Rocks boss admits it has been a testing season but is hoping it will all be forgotten with a crucial win.
“If I’m honest, I’ve struggled with the highs and lows of it this year,” he said. “We have gone from playing great to not re-producing it the next game.
“Even when we were 4-1 up against Enfield on Monday I was thinking ‘what if they get another?’ They did and it starts to get nervy again. Those thoughts don’t happen when you are winning regularly.
“No one wants to go down and we don’t want to be back in the Ryman One North.”