FOR MOST Grays fans, the season so far, has been a very pleasant surprise.
Even though Grays Athletic won the Ryman Div One North by a country mile, there were many who thought that Grays would struggle with life in the Ryman Premier.
Many of us reflect on the Essex Senior Cup final, back in May, where Grays faced Saturday’s opponents, AFC Hornchurch.
In that game, the gulf between a Conference South team and a Ryman Div One North outfit was patently clear. Hornchurch looked bigger, faster, more fleet of foot and mind.
This reporter thought that most games in the Ryman Premier would be like that. Actually, quite a lot of teams thought that as well. Leiston, Enfield, Bury to name just three, traipsed off the pitch with a look of “how did we lose against them” on their collective faces.
The reasons why Grays Ath sit just two points off the play-off places are manifold.
The primary reason appears to be that the management duo of Ryan and Steve Kirby are very good. Calm, thoughtful, incisive but not averse to the harsh word. Ryan seems to have taken a forensic view of how to survive and thrive in the Ryman Premier.
He is also getting the best out of his players. Joe Nightingill is Essex Senior League standard apparently but not under Ryan’s wing where he has been a calm and collected presence at the back. So is the keeper, Lamar Johnson (if he can keep his head…..).
Whereas Hakan had what (from the outside) appeared to have a fractious relationship with emotional players such as Junior # Baker and Joao “Joga Bonito” Carlos, Ryan seems to have captured their spirit.
Quietly, he is letting players such as Aaron Gonzalez and Ryan Maxwell come to the fore as well as getting, again, the best out of Jared Small and Jack West.
It will be vital that Jeff Hammond plays because if not, Grays will miss his speed, strength and ability to stretch a defence. They do look a forward light up front.
So, this will be a huge game. In many ways, Grays have nothing to lose and can only learn from the experience. AFC Hornchurch sit at the top of the Ryman prem and look like it may take quite an effort to dislodge them.
They have retained quite a number of players and will no doubt be very similar, in shape and form, to the team that beat Grays back in April.
It should make for a cracking derby,