Goals from Danny Harris, Ben Marlow and Alex Osborn earned East Thurrock United their first ever BBC Essex Senior Cup in front of over 1,800 spectators at the JobServe Community Stadium, avenging their 2017 defeat to the same opponents, Chelmsford City.
The Rocks lost by a single goal two years ago but two deadly strikes inside the opening five minutes set the tone for the evening. Michael Spillane dragged Rod Stringer’s Clarets back into contention on 72 minutes but Osborn restored United’s two-goal advantage within 60 seconds, meaning Manager John Coventry and his squad could celebrate making club history.
“I’m really pleased for the football club and for that group of players,” Coventry reacted. “It’s been brilliant! I think we deserved it. I’m not going to stand here and say by far we were the better side or anything like that. What I’m going to say is that we were the side that got themselves ahead by playing really well in ten minutes, by pressing high. We did that and it worked.”
And he said claiming the silverware was especially appropriate in 2019: “It just so happens it’s our fiftieth anniversary this year as a club. We’re a baby as a club. We’re having a little bit of a do over the Bank Holiday Weekend and that’ll be quite nice to have the cup there and all that stuff!”
Chelmsford would have been many peoples’ favourites ahead of the clash at Colchester United FC, sitting in fourth in the Vanarama National League South standings as opposed to East Thurrock’s position of second from bottom. Though matches between the two teams are rarely one-sided and this had the makings of a more evenly-matched encounter than the table suggested.
United did their cause no harm by moving into the lead just 34 seconds into the match. In an incredible start, Osborn sent a right-wing cross into the danger zone where Harris was lurking to poke into the near bottom corner. Barely a breath had been taken in response before The Rocks were further in front through former City player Marlow.
He dribbled into a central shooting position just inside the penalty area and a deflection gave his strike enough lift to loop over the head of helpless goalkeeper Nathan McDonald, dropping into the net. This gave Chelmsford, participating in their third straight final, an uphill struggle if they were going to repeat their achievements of 2017.
It wasn’t until the 13th minute that they enjoyed their first real chance. Chris Whelpdale was slotted through on goal on the right-hand side though his effort from ten yards brushed the side of ‘keeper Jack Giddens’ netting for a corner. From that dead ball Scott Fenwick went close in the goalmouth, though the attack was eventually dealt with.
City had plenty of possession for the remainder of the half yet they were unable to breach East Thurrock’s determined rearguard. Spillane’s 35th-minute nod straight at Giddens from a deep free kick was all they could muster, and Coventry summarised: “It was about how much we want to hang on there because Chelmsford came at us and they were patient in their build-up.”
“We knew they would be - they’ve got good players and they’re a good side. But we were determined not to concede. Our back four were brilliant and the people in front of them defended well but our two centre-halves were really, really good. There weren’t many headers into the box they didn’t get on the end of.”
That reliable defence and midfield continued to keep the Clarets at bay until well into the second half, too. In fact, it was the Rocks who went closest when a right-flank delivery was just out of the reach of prolific striker Sam Higgins in the box. But the contest was to spring into life when Spillane got on the end of a cross to head his team a lifeline.
Coventry recalled: “Going 2-1 with not long to go there would have been people sitting here thinking ‘oh here we go again’ because we’ve been there in so many league games. But it was different tonight because we hit them straight back and I think that killed them then because I wouldn’t have liked to have played the last ten minutes only leading 2-1.”
That apprehension was swiftly eased. Higgins chased down a through ball and, when his attempt ricocheted to Osborn, another ex-Claret, the midfielder accurately arrowed the loose ball high into the top corner. That was a crucial immediate response from East Thurrock.
City were aggrieved not to have been awarded an 82nd-minute penalty as Jordan Chiedozie was bundled over with Stringer’s team seeking an opening. Then, in the closing stages, a tame roll at City ‘keeper McDonald by Shaun Batt was book-ended by a chance cleared off the line at the other end plus a Jonathan Giles zipper from distance which forced a diving Giddens save.
That meant East Thurrock United’s name would be etched on the imposing BBC Essex Senior Cup silverware for the first time in their 50-year existence.
Chelmsford City: Nathan McDonald, Jazzi Barnum-Bobb, Michael Spillane, Jonathan Giles, Anthony Church (C), Scott Fenwick (Max Porter, 68), Chez Isaac, Chris Gregan (Elliott Omozusi, 60), Aaron Cosgrave (Jordan Chiedozie, 60), Adrian Cascaval, Chris Whelpdale. Unused Substitutes: Joe Anderson, Matthew Young.
East Thurrock United: Jack Giddens, Lee Burns, Ibrahim Sori-Diallo, Ben Marlow (Jonathan Nzengo, 54 [Shaun Batt, 75]), Ryan Scott, Steve Sheehan, Alex Osborn (Calvin Ekpiteta, 88), Reece Prestedge, Sam Higgins, Harry Lee, Danny Harris. Unused Substitutes: None.
Referee: Elliott Kaye (Epping Forest).
Assistant Referees: Rob Hyde (Brentwood) and David Harrison (Basildon).
Fourth Official: Karl Sear (Braintree).