THURROCK'S non-league football sides kickstarted their Ryman league campaigns yesterday, as temperatures soared to their highest of the year.
Mark Stimson suffered a harrowing start to life as Thurrock boss with a 4-1 defeat at Harrow Borough.
The new-look, young fleet side was 3-0 down after just 17 minutes. Harrow then scored from the spot six minutes after half-time before Joel Barnet nabbed a consolation goal after 65 minutes.
In the Ryman League Division One North, Tilbury conceded a 93rd minute goal to draw 1-1 at highly fancied title challengers Brentwood Town.
Tom Wraight, the former Chelmsford City forward, gave Dockers the lead in the 74th minute, heading home Emiel Aiken's cross.
But Brentwood salvaged a point from the close game at The Arena, as Steve Butterworth collected Neil Cousins flick before coolly beating Tilbury stopper James Marrable in the dying moments.
Grays Athletic continued their fine pre-season form, beating Waltham Forest 3-0 at Cricklefields. Despite losing forward Jake Hall to a facial injury early on, Grays took the lead from the spot after Joao Carlos was felled in the box. Daniel Bunce converted the penalty.
Blues then had a Junior Baker shot cleared off the line and Joao Carlos hit the post before James Bunn spun and hit a half volley to seal the deal for Grays on 70 minutes.
Joao Carlos then slipped in a third eight minutes later to give Hakan Heyrettin's men a resounding win.
Ten-men Aveley battled to a 2-2 draw as they welcomed Maldon and Tiptree to Millfields.
The Millers bid to bounce straight back up to the Ryman Premier after being relegated last year got off to a flying start when Junior Dadson shot low and hard across the Maldon keeper to open the scoring in the second minute.
An Ollie Berquez header drew Maldon and Tiptree level 20 minutes later but Paul Burnett then put Aveley back in front in the 63rd minute as he got on the end of a long ball.
Millers boss Justin Gardner was sent to the stands for his over-zealous celebration, which saw him run from his technical area to rejoice with his players.
In a destructive two minutes though, Aveley were reduced to ten men and conceded their lead when Ellis Sands was dismissed for a professional foul. Jamie Guy then stepped up to rifle the resulting free-kick into the top corner.
With ten minutes to go, Millers hung on to take a hard-fought draw.
On Twitter later in the evening, Gardner said: "So proud of my team, to play one of the favourites for the league off the park, and with 10 men, to draw 2-2, i'll take that, love my team."
Paul Burnett, also on Twitter, said: "You know when you score a banger and bring out the cockroach celebration and the gaffa's running down the line like Mourinho!"