TWO goals in the opening two minutes of the second-half gave East Thurrock a deserved - if laboured - win against Witham Town in the FA Cup on Saturday.
Rocks were on top for most of the game but Witham were a threat from set pieces and looked capable of a smash and grab when the teams went in at 0-0 at the interval at Rookery Hill.
But any jitters for the hosts were eased when Kris Newby took advantage of some slack defending seconds into the second half to fire them in front, before skipper Reiss Gilbey killed the tie off seconds later with a header following a mistake from visiting keeper Danny Sambridge.
After that Rocks were happy to soak up Witham pressure and hit them on the break, but neither side could find the necessary quality in the final third to alter the score-line.
East Thurrock manager John Coventry, who’s side were knocked out in a televised first-round proper clash with League Two side Macclesfield last year, admitted it was a relief to get their first win of this campaign and said they would love to rekindle the magic of the cup again.
He said: “This time last year we were 3-0 down to North Greenford – a lower level club than Witham – but we got it back to 3-3 and did a proper job on the replay and the rest is history because we ended up in the first round.
“But the FA Cup is full of stories like that so we’ll build on this and hopefully the fact that we’ve got a win with our worst performance of the season will let us kick on.”
Rocks started quickly on Saturday, pressing their visitors high up the pitch, and they almost took the lead when Witham’s Danny Lopez inadvertently toe-poked a ball into the path of Kye Ruel, but he was denied by Sambridge.
Sambridge was quickly called into action again, this time to deny Gilbey Sam Higgins with his legs after the striker had held off the attentions of Bradley Stopher.
And soon after only the woodwork saved Witham when Sam Collins steered a shot against the bar with the goal gaping from Higgins’ low centre.
Home keeper Richard Wray’s first test came on 20 minutes when a quick counter ended with Lopez stinging his hands with a rising shot from 20 yards.
Witham grew into the game as the half wore on and were winning the aerial battle in the Rocks box.
And they almost took advantage when central defender Tom Devaux’s header landed on to the top of the net from Joe Pearman’s 42nd minute corner.
Rocks sub Lewis Bentley - who came on for the injured Collins - tested Stambridge with a header from close range as the half limped to a goalless conclusion.
It was a roasting day at Rookery Hill but the temperature dropped mercifully at half-time and Rocks were two up within two minutes of the restart.
First the Witham defence was caught napping as Newby was left with acres of space inside the box to fire the ball under the body of Sambridge.
And Sambridge had a moment to forget 60 seconds later as Bentley lobbed up a ball which the keeper could only push against the post, allowing the arriving Gilbey to head into an unguarded net.
Witham responded well and former Grays and Tilbury man Jason Fontaine cut inside Ryan Sammons and drew a good save from Wray with a shot which was creeping inside the post.
Newby then forced Sambridge into a good low stop at the other end as the game became stretched.
Witham pressed hard but Rocks always looked dangerous on the counter and only a terrific double save from Sambridge stopped Newby stretching their lead.
The visitors’ goal started to lead a charmed life and only the post denied Rocks a third when Higgins sent a looping header over the keeper and on to the upright.
It might have been an interesting last five minutes had Ryan Sammons not managed to block substitute Rob Whitnell’s header on the line from Joe Pearman’s corner.
But he did, and Rocks saw out the game in relative ease to book their spot in the next round.
East Thurrock (4-5-1): Wray; Stephen, Peddie, Sheehan, Sammons; Collins (Bentley 39), Gilbey, Ruel, Parmenter (Hall 71), Newby; Higgins.
Witham Town: (4-4-2): Sambridge; Bacutt (Whitnell 50), Stopher, Devaux, Murfett; Fontaine, Godbold, Pearman, Lopez; Hunt (Yao 70), Emmanuel (Taylor 70).
Echo MOM: Ryan Sammons (East Thurrock).