Lowestoft Town 1 East Thurrock United 0
By Terry Bullen
Lowestoft secure their place in the play-off final for the third season running with a 1-0 win over East Thurrock United.
Lowestoft Town: Reynolds, Gleeson, Williams, Crane, A Smith, L Smith, Fisk, Okay (Francis 66 mins), Mitchell, Henderson (Frew 90+ mins), Araba. Subs; Frew, Francis, Eagle, Benjamin, Plummer
East Thurrock United: Justham, Sammons, Stephen, Peddie, Sheehan, Parmenter (Lawson 87 mins), Ruel, Clifton, Higgins, Bryant (Menga 75 mins), Collins. Subs; Wood, Lawson, Keith, Menga, Barnes
In a poor and compact game of football all that mattered was the result and with Henderson firing home from a scramble, Lowestoft beat East Thurrock United 1-0 to progress to the play-off final on Monday at the Crown Meadow. Their opponents on Monday will be Concord Rangers, who beat Wealdstone 2-1 after Extra time in the other semi-final play-off.
The game as a whole was far from a spectacle but the Lowestoft crowd played their part, singing loud and proud from behind the goal and in the stands.
The first half was a cagey affair with both sides quick to shut each other down and with there being no width to the game, space and time on the ball was at a premier.
East Thurrock came close early doors with Sammons sending in a sharp cross from the right and Clifton connecting with a bullet header from 6 yards out but luckily for Lowestoft it flashed past the upright, when he should have done better.
Mitchell was on the left for Lowestoft but was tucked inside, as Lowestoft's tactics appeared to be aimed towards making it very narrow and tricky for East Thurrock to take any control. Unfortunately this also meant it was tricky for Lowestoft to get much going in such a tight area of the pitch.
With the lack of width and compacted nature of the game, Lowestoft were looking for the long ball up to Araba and hoping that Henderson could pick up the scraps. A long ball is what presented Lowestoft with the chance to take the lead, coming from a huge kick by Lowestoft keeper Reynolds. His pumping kick caught the East Thurrock defence out and with Henderson coming off the defenders shoulder to latch onto the kick, he was clean in on goal but put a glorious chance wide and held his head in his hands in disappointment.
It was welcomed news before the match to hear that the referee was the Ukrainian Oleksandr Saliy, who had impressed in the two Lowestoft matches he'd officiated before. He's a no nonsense referee who allows the game to flow, while also showing excellent authority but he had a tough decision to make with Okay slightly showing his studs in a high tackle on Parmenter but after assessing the situation and having a good chat with Okay, he brandished the yellow card.
Both teams were quickly on to each other and as a result the game really wasn't showing much appeal to the 1182 supporters in the ground. However, Adam Smith looked like he was going to break the deadlock with a special strike but with him stepping forward onto a dropping ball, he hit a volley with the outside of his boot which looked like it was dipping in but ended up going fractionally wide of the upright.
East Thurrock looked to have more width than Lowestoft when going forward but with each team missing a great chance and nothing much happening in between that, halftime was reached with it looking like being a long night.
The Lowestoft fans were in full voice again as the second half started but it was East Thurrock who nearly took advantage of an Adam Smith slip but the delivery across the box wasn't latched onto and Reynolds gathered for Lowestoft.
At the other end Araba showed great strength for Lowestoft to get in behind but with him putting way too much fizz on the ball, it flashed across the area and past Mitchell.
It was still proving to be a tight game but Lowestoft hearts were in their mouths when a lovely ball from the right landed right on the head of Collins at the far post but from a few yards out he was denied by Reynolds, reacting superbly to tip the header over from close range.
East Thurrock had caught Lowestoft out with a few quick breakaways at the start of the half and if not for the Reynolds save, Lowestoft may have been behind. However, Lowestoft started to have a spell themselves but with the game still being so narrow it was difficult to find the space to make much happen. As a result Lowestoft were first to turn to the bench with Francis replacing Okay (66 mins).
Francis, who had played really well down the left against Hendon on Saturday, took up position on the left while Mitchell took up a central role alongside Fisk.
As a result of the change and both sides also needing to break what was becoming a stalemate, the game started to open up more with players finding a little more time on the ball.
Following a free-kick East Thurrock sat one up in the area and Bryant was guilty of missing a free header and as a result was substituted shortly afterwards and replaced by Menga.
At the other end a delightful pass by Gleeson found Francis on the left side of the area but his delivery couldn't pick out a blue shirt, as the Lowestoft crowd picked up the volume and Lowestoft started to see more of the play and a bit more width.
In the 79th minute a ball was sent into the East Thurrock area and with it pin-balling about, Henderson latched onto the ball and fired it home, sending Lowestoft 1-0 up (79 mins) and the Lowestoft faithful into raptures. It hadn't been a great game and it was a scramble in the area but it was a goal and it was the lead for Lowestoft, who's supporters were now chanting "Hendo, Hendo, Hendo". Henderson had put in a tiresome display all game and with the goal and supporters chants lifting him, he was involved again, being brought down just on the edge of the area, as the game started to get a bit feisty.
East Thurrock understandably now had to push men forward and with two players coming together there were strong shouts for a penalty but the referee waved them away in an incident which appeared to be six of one and half a dozen of the other.
East Thurrock made a late change with Lawson replacing Parmenter, as they pushed numbers forward, desperate for an equaliser. Lowestoft were trying to maintain possession though and with four minutes injury time shown and the East Thurrock goalkeeper coming up for one last corner, Lowestoft held on as the final whistle sounded.
It hadn't been a picturesque game of football by any stretch of the imagination but play-offs are all about getting the result and Lowestoft had certainly done that. Putting themselves in the play-off final for the third season running, hoping that it's finally going to be third time lucky.
It wasn't one of those games were many individuals stood out above the rest but one player in particular for Lowestoft just kept giving and giving. There wasn't much space on offer but he kept working and trying and after missing what could have been a costly chance in the first half, Henderson was in the right place at the right time to snatch the all important goal for his side.
My Man of the Match is the "Duracell Bunny", Chris Henderson.
The support tonight was excellent and much of the same will be required on Monday (6th May 2013), as we need just one more push against Concord Rangers to gain promotion.