East Thurrock United 4
Bognor Regis 2
ROCKS battled back from the brink of relegation to secure a priceless victory and retain their Ryman Premier League status on the last day of the season.
The complicated make-up of the final day meant John Coventry’s East Thurrock needed to match or better Wingate & Finchley’s result to stay up but, had they failed to do so, they would have been left relying on others’ results. Vauxhall Motors’ resignation from the pyramid meant one side in the third tier of the non-league would be given a reprieve.
However, in the end only a win would do for Rocks and that looked a long way away when they found themselves 2-0 down with just 15 minutes on the clock.
Goals from Ben Johnson and Ollie Pearce after swift counter-attacks put second-placed Bognor in the driving seat but Coventry’s men were not going down without a fight.
Rocks had hit the crossbar through the excellent Nick Symons in the aftermath of both away goals but failed to take advantage of some good openings.
They reduced arrears ten minutes before the break. A cross found full-back Ryan Sammons at the far post and his driven cross was put in by David Bryant.
Rocks came out firing in the second half and equalised within seven minutes – Sam Higgins pulling back for Mitchell Gilbey to side-foot home.
Lewis Smith went close to giving the home side the lead before the crucial goal came.
Smith shot at goal from outside the box with keeper Grant Smith pushing the ball to Higgins, who was also denied. However, there was Gilbey again to smash into the unguarded net.
The stands were rocking and, although Gilbey missed a great chance for a hat-trick, the hosts completed the turnaround with ten minutes to go as Higgins hit his 13th goal since his return to confirm Rocks’ Premier status.
Wingate & Finchley were relegated despite thumping Billericay Town 5-0 because of goal difference.
John Coventry said his players deserved the crucial win.
“It’s been a crazy season with so many highs and lows and not very much in between. We were so low after the first 45 and massively high in the second half.
“The first 15 minutes we didn’t have the confidence to use the ball. I don’t know if Bognor relaxed but we got at them and we made good use of the ball. We found spare men and there were some big performances out there.”