Meeting for the fourth time in two months this was always going to be a battle of strategy for the two managers and, judging by the result, they both got it right. For the first tme for more than six weeks, Hakan Hayrettin had a full squad to choose from, even then he chose to start with the two youngsters who impressed so much in the midweek win over the Rocks: Darren Duporte started in midfield with Mbiyeye Medine up front.
After some early sounding out, it was the Stags who had the early chances with Papy Kanyuka having the first shot on goal after nine minutes then Medine stole the ball on the edge of the penalty area going past defenders and drawing ‘keeper Mark Hardingham out of the goal before shooting past him only to see is shot rebound off the post and into safety.
In the same minute Ian Cooper broke through on the left side, made a jinking run towards goal and shot against the side netting. Although there was no score, the ease with which the Stags were getting through the home defence looked promising. However, dreams were dashed when a break through the right side of the Stags’ defence saw Rocks’ dangerman shoot home from close range.
The Stags fought back and soon East Thurrock had Lee Burns booked for cynically bringing Cooper down on the edge of their penalty area. For much of the next thirty minutes, the game melted down to a midfield battle with shots at a premium from either side. The Rocks had more of the possession and the Stags had trouble clearing the ball but neither side had a try on goal which could be given the name “shot”.
The game began to get slightly ugly by the end of the half with the Rocks throwing in more than a few weighty tackles. On the 41st minute Dewayne Clarke and Thurrock’s Chandler were booked after arguing over Chandlers upending of Medine. By now a couple the Rocks defenders were using the tactic of shouting foul language whenever a decision did not go their way, obviously trying to intimidate and obfuscate but this did not deter the visitors.
The second half was a quieter affair but started with Cooper almost latching onto one of Ameka Eneke’s long clearances and getting a good chance on goal. Thurrock forced up once more and pressed the game leaving the only way out for the Stags as down the wings. Paul Armand tried to capitalise on this and laid on an excellent cross for Kanyuka but he blasted wide from the far post.
On 62 minutes Stanbrook was lucky not to get a second yellow after elbowing Medine in the face: only a free kick was awarded but the ball was quickly lost to the Rocks who broke quickly and would have scored were it not for an excellent save from Eneke diving to his left to save the low hard shot.
The Stags began to make more and more use of the space behind Thurrock as they pushed up. On 70 minutes Medine was unlucky not to score when Hardingham had to come out to make the extra defender and was nutmegged by Cooper. Medine ran onto the ball and shot but Stanbrook managed to clear from the line. With the very next move Medine found himself bearing down on goal and should really have shot for goal instead of passing for Clarke who was defended out of danger.
With the match drawing to a close, Thurrock were looking to seal their win and almost did when they won a free kick on the edge of the penalty area. The shot was good but Eneke was more than equal to it making another great save diving to his right.
Thurrock pushed on and really should have sown the game up on 87 minutes when Vinnie John headed over the bar when in front of an open goal. He lived to rue the miss when on 90 minutes Marvin Walker and Medine combined on the right to allow Walker to swing in a beautiful cross for Kanyuka to head in the goal across Hardingham.
Even then Thurrock could have got the winner had Turnbull not fluffed a clear cut chance at the far post in the 92nd minute.
The Stags refeused to give up, continued fighting and, in the end, won themselves a well deserved point.