Town captained by David Allen took to the field with a strong side at Thurrock's Ship Lane ground, featuring 8 first team squad members including the returning Ronnie Watson. The game kicked off a few minutes late even though match referee David Axcell was still stuck in traffic. After some cajoling, Peter Hammatt was persuaded to run one line with senior assistant referee Derek Coe swapping his flag for the whistle.
Although Town started with the benefit of the wind behind them, its gusting and strength made it very difficult to take any real advantage. A series of Town corners in the opening minutes failed to create any real opportunities. In the 8th minute a low Luke Marshall shot slipped wide of Thurrock ’keeper James Hussey's left hand post. Thurrock's main point of attack was to play Earl Johnson in early on the left flank, but he was being kept at bay by Robbie Carroll and Marshall tackling back well. In the 10th minute Dave Hunt went down with what appeared to be a knock to his lower back, and although soon up he was obviously in some discomfort and three minutes later was replaced by John Lane. Town were having the better of possession at this point but were being thwarted by a Thurrock defence well marshalled by the imposing Ludo Dje.
Town continued to press forward, Dean Nyman being adjudged narrowly offside form Lee Smith's clever through ball. Carroll's long throws were now causing some difficulties for the Thurrock defence, especially when they managed to avoid Dje! For its part Thurrock were continuing to look to use Johnson's pace, but David Allen, Dave Bastian and Carroll were on hand to clear away a series of balls played into Billy Byford's penalty area.
After 15 minutes, the game suddenly became more physical. Andy Jones was on the receiving end of a nasty looking tackle, but thankfully showed restraint when it appeared he was about to retaliate. Another long Carroll throw put Ronnie Watson in behind the home side's back line, but there was nobody on hand to meet his squared ball across the penalty area. Thurrock responded with a quick break that was snuffed out on the edge of the Town box. After 20 minutes Watson went up front, with Smith dropping back into midfield. Almost immediately, Watson found Nyman who was bundled over on the edge of the box. Town players looked imploringly at Peter Hammatt to signal a penalty, without success. The resultant free kick form Kojo Ofori skidded across the face of goal, with nobody on hand to connect.
On the half hour, John Lane did very well to get a cross in from a very tight angle but it was cleared away by the Thurrock defence. A Jones shot on target was comfortably held by James Hussey in the home side's goal. A spell of Thurrock pressure that resulted in a series of corners was broken when the ball was moved quickly forward for Nyman, but he was unable to control it on the touchline. Jones shot well over, before a Nyman corner caught the goalkeeper slightly in two minds but he managed to gather at the second attempt. With 40 minutes gone, neither ’keeper had been unduly troubled. Following some good build up play, Watson shot straight at the goalkeeper from the edge of the box. Town were working hard to keep the ball on the floor, as Dje continued to impose himself on the Town forward line. Watson's through ball found Nyman fractionally offside 20 yards from goal.
As half time approached Byford was called into meaningful action for the first time, Johnson shooting straight at him from 8 yards out. At the other end, Ofori's shot was deflected away for a corner. While Town had had the greater amount of possession, neither side had managed to create much by way of clear-cut chances.
Half time 0-0
The only change at half time was the appearance of the delayed Mr Axcell, Peter Hammatt being relieved of temporary assistant referee duties*. Town started with Ofori and Marshall pushed further forward in an attempt to stretch the Thurrock defence. A series of Thurrock free kicks outside the area culminated in a powerful shot going well wide. Ofori was crowded out when found by a Nyman free kick resulting from another Caroll long throw.
Thurrock had started the half more confidently and seemingly better able to take advantage of the swirling wind. The Town midfield was working hard to rest the initiative from Thurrock, John Lane by no means looking a junior partner to Smith & Jones. At the back Carroll was looking every inch a potential first team centre half as he fitted in well with Allen and Bastian, while still finding time and opportunity to get forward. On 53 minutes a Thurrock free kick appeared to inadvertently strike a Town hand in the box, but Mr Axcell waved away the muted appeals for a penalty.
On 55 minutes and after working very hard up and down the right flank, Luke Marshall gave way to Dale Archer (another Town debutant) as Nyman moved to the right side to allow Archer to take up a central striking role and try to take his chance to impress Jim Chandler and the now watching Peter Hammatt. A brave tackle by Nyman on Dje saw both players receive treatment; both were soon able to carry on their rather one sided battle. At the other end a close range header from Ojelabi Olawale went straight into Byford's hands.
On the hour Carroll's chip from outside the area seemed to be heading for the top corner, only to be palmed away acrobatically by Hussey for the save of the night. Thurrock's Dan Turburville replaced Madine Mbiyeye shortly afterwards. Hussey was forced to gather smartly at the advancing Nyman's feet; then Nyman's free kick went through to Hussey with no Town players closing in quickly enough to pressure the goalkeeper. It was then Watson's turn to do battle with Dje, picking up a blow to the back of his head following an ariel duel. Then it was Archer's turn to take on Dje, with no more joy than others had had. Dje then showed his skills on the floor, stabbing away Jones's dangerous free kick across the Thurrock penalty area.
Town now seemed to have wrestled the initiative away from Thurrock, but were still unable to create clear goal scoring opportunities. On 75 minutes, Watson swept the ball wide to Nyman in space but he was unable to control the ball cleanly. Papy Kanyouka broke into the Town box, but went down too easily under a clean challenge to have any chance of claiming the penalty he was all too obviously seeking. Jack Chandler replaced John Lane on 82 minutes. It was good to see Chandler, who both Tony Corrigan and Mike Smee anticipate to progress further towards the first team squad in due course, make an appearance following the injury he picked up during the Maldon Town that kept him out for a month.
Finally, Watson got the better of Dje on the ground and turned the ball inside to Archer who was promptly upended by Olawale. The resultant free kick, from a promising position on the fringe of the penalty area, found its way harmlessly through to Hussey. Although Ofori had managed to get further forward throughout the second half, he had also been required to make a number of timely headed interceptions as Thurrock sought to play the ball into the space behind him. Nyman now found himself battling on the right flank with Akin Topal who had come on for Thurrock, using his strength and experience to win the majority of their tussles. On 85 minutes, the ball found its way to Smith whose flick just eluded the on rushing Ofori in the penalty area. Just a minute later Hussey was in action again, claiming a high cross from Jones with Nyman closing in menacingly. Ofori was then unable to make himself enough space to shoot from Nyman's cross. With the clock running down Watson cleverly dummied Archer's pass, but with nobody able to capitalise on the space he'd created. The game ended with a long free kick being taken comfortably by Byford, whose bravery (usually leading to injury) hadn't been tested all evening.
A good away point won against a strong Thurrock team who had comfortably won its previous 3 home Capital League fixtures. The game proved to be a very useful workout and opportunity for both the first team and youth players, with everyone contributing fully throughout the game. A special mention however to Robbie Caroll, whose elevation to a first team regular can't be far away now.
Town bowed out of the Capital League Cup competition at the first time of asking but could consider themselves unfortunate enough to encounter a Bishop's Stortford side packed with higher league and Conference South experience and being watched on the night by their first team manager.
Only five of the fourteen players named by the home side played any part in the league defeat at Coles Park a month earlier with a similar number having being named in the first team FA Trophy fixture against Molesey last weekend. It was therefore always likely to be difficult for a Town side comprised of Tony Corrigan's U18 team plus new first team squad member, Thomas Jones.
Early Stortford pressure was rewarded when an angled ball between Adu and the goal was sent across the face of the Town goal by Fuller for Ryan Lockett to find the net from close range. Stanbrook hit a post for the home side before Town had their first effort when Luke Marshall sent a shot over the Stortford bar in the 21st minute. It was to prove the prerequisite for Town to gain a foothold in the game as they began to compete better with their physically stronger opponents.
Robert Dalley equalised in the 36th minute with the move of the game when Town's one touch football was rewarded with a pin point cross from Luke Marshall into the path of Dalley who made no mistake in front of Wright. Town unable to hold onto their precarious but hard fought stake in the game fell behind shortly before half time when Ashley Fuller notched the first of his three goals in a similar fashion to Dalley's effort.
The second period saw Town compete beyond their years but unable to carve out any presentable chances of their own beyond a comfortably saved shot from Dalley and a shot driven wide by Nolan. Inevitably Stortford extended their advantage with a superb 25 yard shot from Lewin Ward atoning for his own effort five minutes earlier when unmarked he volleyed narrowly over.
After Stortford's third the remaining twenty five minutes slipped away from Town's grasp as a further four goals were added to the home side's tally. Fuller completed a well taken hat trick and Lewin grabbed a second before the seventh went in with a minute remaining.
Town have nothing to be embarrassed about the margin of this defeat and must view it as a huge compliment that Stortford fielded such a strong side in a competition which can hardly be a priority for them.
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