Football: Grays Athletic are desperately unlucky

Grays Athletic 1 v 2 Needham Market

Ryman League Premier

Report by Scott Lanza

YOU just have to feel sorry for Grays Athletic at the moment. The Blues simply can’t buy a win and yet they don’t look like a side that sit bottom of the table. Losing, just like winning, can become a habit and once a team get themselves in a bit of a rut they often find it difficult to get out of it. Last night the cold and frosty conditions meant that Lady Luck, who hasn’t been too kind on the Blues in recent games, decided to give Mill Field a miss altogether and as a consequence Grays’s recent run of misfortune continued as they had a penalty given against them that was nonsensical to the extreme; had two strong penalty appeals of their own turned down; fell behind to a goal that was a direct result of a goalkeeping error; hit the post in either half and on top of that even had the audacity to be the better of the two sides as Harry Watkins, Nathan Campbell and Adeyinka Cole played neat passes in midfield to their frontmen, while their play-off chasing visitors elected to bypass the midfield area by launching long balls to their forwards.

Recent signing Kieran Bishop made his first appearance in front of the home fans and almost gave them something to cheer in the ninth minute when he pounced on a back pass to Daniel Gay that required the Needham Market keeper to pull off an act of bravely to save his side’s blushes by diving at Bishop’s forward run to claim the ball.

It took the Marketmen fifteen minutes before they mustered an attack on the Blues goal when a through-ball over the top was knocked away for a corner by Terrell Forbes. The corner loitered around the Blues penalty box and required Forbes and Jordan Aghatise to pull out all the stops to block incoming shots before the ball was lofted clear of the penalty area. Ollie Snaith was starting to find the range with his balls over the top, with one of his pinpoint crosses from the right flank very nearly meeting the head of the onrushing Luke Ingram.

The Blues however were more than matching their higher-placed opponents and a blissful four man passing move that started with Cole, then quickly on to Lheureux Menga, who in turn knocked it on to Harry Watkins carved open the Needham defence. Watkins then elected to sweep the ball to Alexander Cunningham on the left wing. Cunningham then zipped over a cross that was aimed at Bishop but the ball unfortunately was a little too near to Gay who gratefully gathered the ball in his arms. Although Bishop did give chase it was too much of a lost cause but had the ball been perhaps a little more closer to him then it may well have been a different story. The Blues frontline of Menga and Bishop looked hungry and they tore into the Needham defence who had to work hard to keep them at bay. It looked only a matter of time before one of them would find a way through.

However it was Needham Market who took the lead in the twenty-fifth minute when Callum Harrison banged a long range effort that totally tricked Amadou Tangara. It seemed that the Grays custodian misjudged the speed of the ball and it somehow sneaked through his body to end up in the back of the net. Needham’s fans hadn’t had too much to cheer about up to this moment and they certainly enjoyed it. However straight from the re-start the Blues went on the attack as Jamie Mascoll and Menga were involved in a tussle for the ball with two Needham players by the left corner flag that ended up with Grays winning a corner. The corner was met by the head of Nathan Campbell but the Blues captain wasn’t able to direct it goalwards. Despite being a goal down the Blues did not drop their heads and Bishop forced Gay to pull off a fine save on the half hour and then three minutes later went on a run that saw him whistle past three defenders before having his cross turned away by Darryl Coakley for a corner. There was little respite for the Needham defence as the corner loitered in their penalty box and ended up with Cunningham letting fly from the right of the goalmouth that Gay knocked away, conceding yet another corner in the process. Now Needham had a heart in mouth moment, as the final corner dropped nicely for Bishop, who directed a powerful header towards the bottom left hand corner, which needed a top drawer save from Gay to keep out. Bishop then once more gave his marker the slip as he chased a through-ball and he cracked a left foot shot that beat the Needham keeper; this time it was the post that stopped him from scoring.

Bishop, who was making his first starting appearance, finally got the equalising goal in the forty second minute. Yet another corner had been won moments earlier and this time it wasn’t properly dealt with by the Needham defence. The ball fell kindly to Bishop who swivelled and smashed home from close range. Having scored his first goal in a Blues shirt he almost added his second two minutes later. Darting into a dangerous position, he cracked off a shot that was blocked by Gay. The half ended with the ball in the Blues’ box as Mascoll was forced into some mopping up to make sure his side did not go in at half-time trailing. They had been the better of the two sides but at the break it was odds even.

The temperature may have dropped towards freezing as the night bore on but the second half was on the boil straight away. Menga pounced on a loose ball in the Needham box and hit a wonderful volley that resulted in an even more spectacular save from Gay. Needham Market responded with an attack of their end which ended with Snaith unleashing a long drive that Tangara tipped over the bar.

The Blues faithful believe they have suffered some bad refereeing decisions in recent weeks and they suffered another one midway through the half. A ball swept in from the middle was being chased by Harrison and Aghatise but Tangara was wise to it and smothered the ball into his hands. Or so we thought. Harrison ended up tripping up over the keeper and that was enough for Mr. Richardson the referee to award a penalty. A yellow card was also issued to the Grays custodian but to most of those in attendance it looked like the ball was in Tangara’s hands before Harrison took a tumble. It was a bizarre decision to say the least but at least there was some degree of normality when Tangara got a hand to Jack Curtis’s penalty who then followed up his strike to poke the ball home. This time Mr. Richardson sided with the Grays keeper, who had both hands on the ball before Curtis had his shot and therefore disallowed the goal. It was no different to the situation that lead to the penalty in the first place, so much for consistency!

Having had some luck of sorts – they could have been trailing 2-1 had the penalty been scored – they now carved up a wonderful opportunity to take the lead themselves but fluffed it. Mascoll drove his way into the Needham area and set-up Menga, but with the whole goal in front of him somehow managed to steer the ball wide of the left post.

Such wastefulness came to hurt them as the next Needham attack saw them re-take the lead. The ball was played long over the top in the direction of Luke Ingram who gathered the ball under his command before steering it past Tangara.

The Blues roused themselves once more and Bishop used his pace to beat the Needham backline and his cross towards Menga was only inches away from reaching him. Having beaten Gay and Coakley it would have been a likely equaliser had it reached the designated target. Cunningham continued to deliver deep crosses, one of which fell to Fellah who turned and volleyed but his shot was diverted away by Gay. Tangara wasn’t totally left out in the cold as he had to dive high to his right to keep out a Harrison howitzer from range; he was however well beaten by a dipping shot from Curtis that sailed over his head but struck the cross bar. Fortunate at least favoured the Blues for a moment.

However the curse of not getting the rub of the green from referees then reared its head again in the seventy fifth minute as Cunningham moved into the box before being upended. Much to the home fans’ annoyance Mr Richardson elected to turn the appeal away, booking Cunningham in the process for stimulation. A cross from Bishop also looked like it had been suspiciously handled in the box by Joe Whight, but not according to Mr Richardson who pointed his hands towards his chest to indicate that he had seen things rather differently as play continued. In either case a penalty would have been justified; when you consider the penalty that was awarded against them, you can certainly feel that the Blues have some justification in feeling that officials aren’t giving them fair treatment.

If it’s not referee decision going their way its agonising bad luck, as was the case when Luke Hornsley ghosted his way into space, latched onto a ball into the box and dinked the ball over Gay. It would have been a lovely goal but the post came to Needham’s aid for the second time in the game. With time running out the Blues frantically went looking for an equaliser, desperate to get a least a share of the points. Fallah had an effort sail over the crossbar and right at the death a Grays free-kick fell to keeper Tangara, who had gone up the other end, and he flashed a weak shot across the goalmouth. Moments later the final whistle went meaning that Grays ended the night pointless, while their endeavour and work rate had deserved all three. They go again on Saturday when they travel down to Sussex to take on a Burgess Hill Town side that are also in the relegation zone. If they play like they did against Needham Market then they could be returning to Essex with a welcome three points posted to the table.

Grays Athletic: Amadou Tangara, Arron Wickham, Jamie Mascoll, Nathan Campbell, Jordan Aghatise, Terrell Forbes, Harry Watkins (David Fallah 65), Adeyinka Cole, Lheureux Menga (Luke Hornsley 79), Kieran Bishop, Alexander Cunningham

Scorer – Kieran Bishop (42′)

Needham Market: Daniel Gay, Jake Dye, Darryl Coakley, Billy Holland, Ian Miller (Emmanual Osei 81), Joe Whight, Ollie Snaith, Callum Harrison, Luke Ingram, Jack Curtis(Kemal Izzet 86), Reece Dobson (Max Booth 69)

Scorers – Callum Harrison (25′), Luke Ingram (59′)

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