Bostik Div North
Dereham Town 2 v 2 Grays Athletic
BLUES extended their unbeaten run to five games at windswept Aldiiss Park with a gritty performance to earn a point thanks to a late leveller from sub Aron Gordon .
A blustery wind and an uneven playing surface certainly affected the quality but not the entertainment value on offer, Blues who had looked to be heading for defeat produced a spirited fight back after the introduction of Dennis Oli and Aron Gordon by manager Jim Cooper, the substitutions energised Blues play – with Gordon netting for the second week running to ensure Blues shared the spoils. Cooper elected to start with a 3 5 2 formation with two wing backs allowing Blues to play out from the back – it worked to a degree but was hampered by a surface that made control difficult.
Playing into the strong wind Dereham made a positive start pushing Blues back and were rewarded for their efforts in the 8th minute when Owen Murphy weaved his way into the Blues box drawing a challenge from Michael Toner – there appeared to be minimal contact but the referee thought otherwise awarding a penalty – Hipperson stepped up to dispatch the spot kick.
The Magpies employing a high line caught Blues straying offside on a number of occasions but they did manage to spring the trap when Joao Carlos nodded the ball through to Kieran Bishop who drew a smart save from Elliot Pride turning the ball behind.
Hipperson was proving a real handful, nearly doubling his tally when another penetrating run and shot produced a plunging save from Clarke Bogard . The keeper was in action again with another quality stop from a free kick.
Manager Cooper was clearly unhappy with Blues sluggish start berating his charges for their lack of urgency – it clearly worked as at last they started to ask questions of the home defenders. The more spirited approach paid off when they got back on level terms in the 31st minute – a move involving Bishop and Macauley Joynes saw the latter deliver a low cross forcing Pride to beat the ball away out to the lurking Correy Davidson who adjusted his body to volley into the bottom corner.
The remainder of the half was a disjointed affair with neither side able to conjure up a clear cut opportunity – the wind again a major factor in proceedings.
The start of the second period saw the Magpies in control again – as early as the 47th minute Blues had a lucky let off when a Joe Gatting diving header whistled over the top. They were not to be so lucky just three minutes later in the 50th minute, when the hosts doubled their advantage with a goal that was similar to so many conceded by Blues this season. David Hinton picked the ball up out wide cutting across the park he was allowed to run unchallenged and roll the ball past Bogard via the upright. The goal was symptomatic of Blues vulnerability at the back this season where the opposition were again presented with an easy opportunity to score.
Omens were not good after the goal with Dereham dominating proceedings – Bogard had to be at his best to thwart a number of raids on his goal – on loan Craig Stone was demanding more from his team mates in an effort to stem the tide with Dereham sensing they could cause more confusion for the Blues defenders.
Cooper had seen enough and made his first substitution of the afternoon, making the positive move of replacing Jamie Hursit with Gordon adding more pace to Blues forward momentum. A more direct approach was employed to take advantage of Blues pace up front and it appeared to work with the pendulum swinging in Blues favour on the hour mark.
Bishop was released by Carlos, driving into the home box he should have pulled the trigger but elected to pass and the chance was lost. He was involved again when he capitalised on a weak back pass – his first effort blocked and the rebound saved by Pride.
The Magpies who had looked comfortable earlier in the half were now rocking under the increasing Blues pressure, Cooper sensed this and sent on Oli at the expense of Michael Finneran, the move worked – the Blues veteran using all his guile to bring other players into the game . Gordon now enjoying himself out wide was seeing plenty of the ball – in one raid he jinked his way past his marker delivering a penetrating cross into the box, which just eluded the head of Bishop.
The home goal was leading a charmed life, Blues frustration grew as the ball would just not fall kindly for them, but in the 86th minute their fortunes changed – a ball into the box caused confusion between Pride and his defenders, the scavenging Gordon eagerly seized on the loose ball and prodded the ball home to level the scores. Moments later Carlos nearly put the Blues in front when the ball just evaded his outstretched foot.
The goal stung Dereham into action setting up a tense closing few minutes for Blues numerous and vociferous travelling fans. Hipperson who had been the hosts danger man was left unmarked at the far post and could have registered a late winner, but he lacked composure blasting wildly over. Shortly after the same man embarked on a weaving run and thought he had notched the winner, only to be denied by a brilliant save from Bogard plunging to his left to turn the ball behind.
The final whistle was met with a great roar from the Blues faithful on a result ground out under difficult circumstances – for manager Cooper it maintained his unbeaten start to his tenure, no doubt though he will be reflecting on Blues continuing trait of conceding preventable goals.
Bogard, Hursit (Gordon 64), Stone, Finneran( Oli 68), Toner, Joynes, Muguo, Allen (Pinto 83), Davidson, Carlos, Bishop
Subs not used Cogan, Okonkwo
The result leaves Grays Ath in eleventh place with eight games to go.
They return to league action on Saturday away at Heybridge Swifts.