East Thurrock 1 (Harris 17′)
TUFC 2 (Janneh 54′, Keating 90′)
United ground out three vital points as they came from behind to beat East Thurrock at Rookery Hill.
East Thurrock dominated the first half and were full value of their 17th minute lead, as Danny Harris punished a hesitant United start. Although never at their vintage best, United improved immeasurably after the break, and after Saikou Janneh equalised 9 minutes into the 2nd half, it was left to substitute Ruairi Keating to crown a match-turning display with a 90th minute winner.
After a scrappy start, it was The Rooks who pounced first on 17 minutes. The ball was pumped into the Torquay box, and with United’s defenders unable to clear their lines, it was Harris who reacted fastest to give the home side a shock lead.
East Thurrock had done their homework and were not allowing Torquay any space in the opening stages. United’s failure to deal with the home side’s boisterous aerial tactics meant they were in constant danger of falling further behind, and manager Gary Johnson acted quickly.
On went Keating on the right wing with Jamie Sendles-White making way. Asa Hall dropped into the resultant gap in the back four, with Jake Andrews partnering Connor Lemonheigh-Evans in the centre of midfield.
The move took some time to inspire United, although Hall’s powerful presence in the centre of defence did manage to quell some of the danger caused by East Thurrock’s direct approach.
As the Gulls headed for the dressing rooms at half-time, it was clear a dramatic change was needed to change the course of the game.
United began the second period decidedly brighter, with Keating at the centre of everything positive. After the Irishman forced keeper Giddens into his first save of the game, the Gulls won two quick corners as they finally began to exert some authority on proceedings.
The equaliser wasn’t far away. On 54 minutes, Keating drove forward before spreading the ball into the direction of Janneh, who lashed the ball into the corner of the net at the second time of asking.
United were back on level terms but still weren’t getting it all their own way. The Rooks always looked a danger on the counter attack, and Ben Wynter had to come up with a brave block to prevent Higgins from firing Thurrock back in front.
As the game wore on though, United’s superior fitness began to show began to force their opponents back as the game wore on, although clear-cut chances though were still at a premium.
Into the last ten minutes, and at last the Gulls were beginning to create some chances of real note. First Janneh failed to find the finish with just the keeper to beat, and then Andrews couldn’t quite convert after rounding the keeper, as a defender cleared the ball away with little to spare.
Torquay now were the side looking for the winner, and two minutes later minutes they thought they had found it. Neat interplay from Kalvin Kalala and Janneh left Wynter to finish from close range, but United’s right-back was flagged offside.
As the clocked ticked down, both sides began to threaten a winner, but it looked like time would deny United. Not quite.
With 90 minutes showing, United won a free-kick as Lemonheigh-Evans, on the run, was brought down. The ball was sent out wide and back into the danger area, where from point-blank range, Keating was well placed to bury the ball and send United’s travelling support into wild celebrations.
United had to deal with a succession of corners in five minutes of injury time, but held on to record three points that tasted better than they looked.
United now face Weston-super-Mare at home on Saturday, with a further reminder that there is still everything to play for – but that nothing can be taken for granted.
East Thurrock: Jack Giddens, John Nzengo, Ibrahim Sori-Diallo, Ben Marlow (Reece Prestedge 67′), Lee Burns, Steve Sheehan, Danny Harris, Harry Lee, Sam Higgins, Amos Nasha, sam Ashford (Osborn 84); SUBS NOT USED: Shaun Batt, Daniel Olaniran,
Bookings: Nasha (30), Prestedge 89
TUFC: Shaun MacDonald, Ben Wynter, Liam Davis, Jamie Sendles-White (Ruairi Keating 33), Asa Hall (c), Saikou Janneh, Connor Lemonheigh-Evans, Jean-Yves Koue Niate, Jake Andrews (Frank Vincent 86), Jamie Reid, Kalvin Kalala SUBS NOT USED: Olaf Koszela, George Burton, Ryan Dickson.
Bookings: Hall (22), Andrews (85), Kalala (87)