Everything a neutral could ask for – loads of goals and incident and, until the last five minutes, played in a good spirit, given so much was at stake.
Harlow must be on the floor after being pipped by a point for the title and automatic promotion to the Ryman League Premier only to be beaten by a side which finished fifth, 19 points adrift.
A hatful of chances missed and that was the difference between the sides.
Nine hundred turned up at the Harlow Arena and it was a better atmosphere than at many league matches I’ve been to.
Barely had the ref blown the whistle and most of the 900 were stunned by an own goal.
Slippery number seven Leslie Thompson scampered down the right and crossed low to the six-yard line. Home centre-half Warren Goodhind had to play the ball and turned it in at the far post with Harlow keeper moving the other way, anticipating an attacker’s touch.
Fifteen seconds and Thurrock were 1-0 up.
He gathered a loose ball in the Thurrock box forcing a good save from Madden but 40-goal hotshot Alex Read – not the one once married to Jordan – tapped in the rebound.
Thompson then had a one-on-one but Andy Walker saved well – after a Goodhind error gifted the Thurrock player the ball.
And home skipper David Cowley hit the post with a shot from outside the box.
Dadson then marmalised the visitors’ number three Lewis Clark to cross for Read’s second and at half-time 2-1 looked like it would be enough, with Harlow now in their stride and starting to gain the upper hand.
But after 65 minutes Charlie Stimson equalised and Thurrock held on for the full 90 minutes to send the game into extra time.
Highlights, I ain’t gottem. Missed all seven goals on this vid – but it gives you a flavour of the night, if nothing else. And it captures the missed penalty.
This took the match into the ‘epic’ realm, if such a thing exists at this level.
The 3G pitch came into its own here. The game continued to produce good passing football although the Hawks understandably started pumping long balls into the box towards the end.
Thurrock’s Thompson got it off to a roaring start when he was once again put through on goal and clipped a delightful chip over Walker.
Everyone in the ground held their breath to see if it would dip under the bar to make it 3-2. It did. A quite tremendous goal.
He was almost immediately crocked and departed gingerly. A local snarled unsympathetically: “Welcome to Harlow.”
Then Stimson was fouled and Walker stepped up to take a penalty that looked like it would spell curtains for Harlow.
He hammered it wide of the left stick to great cheers – that IS on the ‘highlights’ reel.
The Fleet then broke and Ross Wall scored from Steven Carvell’s cross.
It was 4-2 with one period of extra time to go. Harlow looked dead but Dadson netted the Hawks’ third and sparked a veritable tsunami of crosses, shots and headers on goal.
One went in, but was ruled out for a push.
Stimson and Goodhind then got sent off for a stupid scrap after a Goodhind foul. That sparked a lot of stupid argy-bargy between most players, a regular Ryman ritual this season.
Harlow keeper Walker spent the last 90 seconds in attack as the riveting final minutes crawled past. it was exhausting to watch. Picked the right game to go to – the other semi-final, Sudbury-Brentwood ended 0-0. Thurrock went wild at the end and I fancy their uncanny ability to take most of their chances to get the better of Brentwood on Sunday.
A ruthlessly tough, maybe unjust, end for Harlow but it was a Thurrock-ly enjoyable night out.
* Top pic supplied by Scott Thomas