East Thurrock coming to Summers Lane – a finely poised match seemed in prospect with both teams sitting on the same points and looking over their shoulders at the relegation zone. A mid-morning downpour saw a cameo appearance by my Luton Town supporting neighbour. “Who are you playing today?” “East Thurrock at Home.” “You sure it’s still on?” he asked – waving his umbrella at the glowering clouds and making splashes in a deep puddle on the pavement to emphasise his point. “It’ll be on” I said… “We never get rained off.” I pondered that fact over a very late breakfast – how we once played in monsoon conditions while every other match in the Ryman League was called off for waterlogged pitches. We lost 4-0 that day and I hoped it wasn’t an ill omen.
By the time 3.00pm came around the rain had subsided to a persistent drizzle – the kind that defies gravity and gets into just about everything including cameras. I’d have to start the game photographing from one of the stands and I opted for joining our resident fans behind the goal we were attacking. The game started in a lively fashion and an early attack saw Ola and Ross Parmenter turning each other inside out as Ola looked to outwit his opponent – It was a very even battle. Ross has played for The Blues and is a very skillful player. I suspect a stalemate was achieved because, unable to find a way round, Ola opted for cutting across field 😉
The game came alive on the quarter of an hour mark when East Thurrock launched a ball into the Wingate Penalty area and Bobby Aisien appeared to haul down a Rocks forward in the resulting aerial battle. It should almost certainly have been a penalty to East Thurrock but the referee waved play-on. I – in best Arsene Wenger tradition – didn’t see any of this although my excuse is that I was re-examining the light and exposure settings of the camera as the clouds got lower once more. It was almost a night game out there at 3.15 in the afternoon! However, I couldn’t ponder too long because, coming off the desparate defending in the box, the ball made its way out to Mark Henry in midfield. Striding forwards and checking his options he saw a long ball out to the right wing for Dean Mason. It looked to be over-hit and probably going out for a goal kick by the corner flag – He’s never going to get to that I was thinking. The inclement weather now played its part – the pitch by the corner flag had some standing water hiding amongst the blades of grass. The ball slowed like it had run into treacle and was stationary by the time Ghost Mason got there – a quick look up and he drilled in a low cross that eluded the defender at the near post and found Ahmet who tapped it home giving the keeper no chance. The Rocks were furious claiming that Mason was off-side – to the extent that after a minute or so of protesting their number 4 got a yellow card for his trouble. The key to understanding their consternation I think is that when the ball was struck Mason was played on side and his sheer pace carried him so far clear that they assumed he had started from behind their line. It was an inspired ball by Mark Henry that had opened The Rocks defence.
Why am I referring to Dean as Ghost Mason? Well, if you read the official report his role is not mentioned – Mark Henry puts in the ball from the wing. I can’t remember ever seeing Mark a long way forward on the wing – he’s a central defensive midfielder working in the least glamourous, most rarely photographed part of the pitch. I guess Dean was so fast he was invisible to our reporter in the manner of all those cartoon characters that disappear in one place and pop up in another 😉 Of course Mike, doing the report on the day and a member of the match report rota, has to get it written quickly to a deadline – notes written quickly at the time may not translate into the report. I don’t have a deadline for these reports and I also have the benefit of the photos to clarify the sequence of events. When you write about it afterwards it all seems to happen in slow motion. In fact it was the speed of events that was the undoing of East Thurrock: –
Mark Henry launches the pass from 10 metres into the East Thurrock half – 15:15:30s.
Dean Mason drills the cross from the corner flag – 15:15:33s.
Ahmet puts the ball in the net – 15:15:34s.
Given that Dean is very fast – probably close to being a 10s/100m runner without the ball – His starting point must have been around 15 metres inside the East Thurrock half and that almost certainly places him on side given that Ahmet lacks that pace now and had to be much closer to the goal to have any chance of being in position to net the cross. Therefore, whoever was marking Ahmet was playing Dean on side! Who was the player with Ahmet when the goal went in? – the East Thurrock skipper! Apologies if that is over long – just fancied doing a bit of analysis for a change 🙂
There followed a period where the home side had much the best of the game. Dean got another great cross in for Ahmet but his sharply struck shot was straight at the keeper and Hector running through the defence once again forced a save from Sam Mott. Keiron put in by Hector dazzled the defence with a mazy run but took it a little too far and his final shot was really from too tight an angle and went over the corner of the crossbar. Ahmet finished the half with an attempted chip over the keeper that landed on the roof of the net. It had been a good effort but there was a nagging feeling that we needed to convert at least one of those other chances.
The rain cleared up for the second half although the light wasn’t getting any better. I had taken the opportunity to change over from the 7D to the 5D in the bar at halftime so was better equipped to handle the darkness. The Blues started as they had finished the first half – attacking down both wings. Another cross by Dean found a heavily marked Ahmet who cleverly backheeled the ball to Tommy Tejan-Sie – unfortunately he was unable to find the target and sent his shot high and wide.
This couldn’t go on – we were riding our luck by not getting a second and, sure enough, The Rocks broke free and won a corner. In the resulting scramble in the penalty area the ball came out to Tom Stephen who hit it low and hard through the crowd of players to score the equaliser with 11 minutes of the half gone. Worse was to follow 4 minutes later when at 16:15 Thurrock having won another corner put in a high floating ball to the edge of the six yard box where Leon McKenzie out jumped Jasper to nod the ball down at Bobby’s feet – the absolutely worst place for a keeper to get down to. It passed through Bobby’s legs and into the net to give The Rocks the lead. Worrying times for the Wingate & Finchley faithful.
Almost immediately though the Blues equalised. It was Ola this time who hooked up with Ahmet, whipping in a pacy cross from the right wing which Ahmet rose majestically to glance into the top left corner of the goal giving Sam Mott no chance. It was a beautiful header which I didn’t get the opportunity to take because I was still walking back from the other end where I’d photographed the East Thurrock goal – The Cameraman’s Curse strikes again 😦
The game became quite stable for the next 20 minutes as the sides caught their breath and no doubt did their best not to make any mistakes that might tip the balance and a 2-2 draw started to look the likely final outcome. Spencer McCall gave way to Josh Kennett and Leon Smith came on for Hector Morante. Then with 3 minutes to go a ball coming out from the defence found Leon free from any marker – the East Thurrock defence were too busy with Ahmet I think – and before they could close him down he let rip a vicious strike from just outside the area. Leon has been struggling to score this season but from the look on his face as he struck that shot he clearly knew it was in as it left his foot. He must have found the brown box with ‘shooting boots’ written on it – it was probably under the baby’s cot 😉 Sam Mott got nowhere near it and The Blues had the lead.
With the way that the game had gone it was guaranteed that it wouldn’t be the end of the twists and turns. From the kick off East Thurrock sprayed the ball out to the right wing and a low brisk cross passed across the front of the Wingate & Finchley goal. Only it didn’t – it went in and I couldn’t for the life of me see how. Nor, it seemed, could any of the other supporters standing in my part of the ground. It took till after the match and a chat in the bar with Bobby to get a full understanding. As the ball whizzed across the area Kurt Smith had slid in and glanced it into the net leaving Bobby stranded. I never saw him – or at least I don’t recall seeing him. Another ghost in the machine? And it had all happened as quickly as the Wingate & Finchley opener. So – 3-3 with just a couple of minutes left of the 90 and 3 minutes of injury time to be added on.
Dean and Ahmet had one last part to play in the second minute of injury time, only they were to be the supporting cast. Dean put in a well weighted forwad ball to Ahmet on the edge of the area. Ahmet, doing his best to get onto it with three Rocks defenders surrounding him succeeded in lofting the ball and a shower of clods across the area into the path of Leon who once again had been forgotten by the defence. As they closed him down he scuffed a shot across the goal. It seemed to take an age and for most of the distance it travelled it looked like the ball would pass outside the far post. The Keeper desparately tried to get his foot to it (though he would probably have put the ball in for an own goal if he had succeeded). The defenders stood and watched, helpless, too far away to influence things. There was a collective holding of breath by the fans behind the goal. The ball reached the post and, almost like a billiard ball on the lip of the pocket, seemed to hesitate before deciding that today would be our day and crept over the line to make it 4-3 to Wingate & Finchley. If that seems like slow motion – it truly was. From Leon scuffing his shot to the ball crossing the line was almost 3 seconds and that is a lifetime in a football match!
All thoughts expressed are my own and do not represent the views of Wingate & Finchley FC. Please click on the Wingate & Finchley Badge to visit the Official Club Website.