Saturday, June 22, 2024

Football: End in sight for Grays after home defeat to Enfield

Ryman Premier

Grays Ath 1 v 3 Enfield Town

Grays Athletic 1 Enfield Town 3

Ryman Premier

Report by Scott Lanza

Grays Athletic are as good as down after this latest defeat. Having ended February with two back-to-back wins against big-spending Billericay Town and Harrow Borough, March has simply seen the Blues falter and this fourth defeat on the bounce virtually seals their relegation.

Enfield Town enter the final stages of the campaign with the play-offs still in sight. Both teams had plenty to play for but it was the Towners who came out the blocks quickest, testing the Blues defence early on, with Scott Shulton chipping over a quality cross in only the third minute that Nathan Campbell knocked away for a corner. Amadou Tangara was given some early work to do with a couple of crosses.

However Grays also showed some liveliness upfront with Isaac Layne, a loanee from Billericay Town, putting himself about the Towners defence. He held up the ball nicely before passing it on to Harry Watkins, who in turn sprayed it to the right of the goal, where Etienne Mukanya Kabobola took a touch, before lobbing Nathan McDonald but the ball dragged wide of the target.

Play-off chasing Enfield looked dangerous going forward with Nathan Livings being a constant threat. He had a shot that flashed wide before floating over a free kick that reached Harry Ottaway and his shot forced Amadou Tangara to dive low to his right to cut out. Another Living cross was met by the head of Mark Kirby who nodded the ball over the bar. Grays kept their defence solid and swelled the Enfield attack.

Enfield however took the lead in the 15th minute when a ball through the middle caught the Blues defence off-guard; allowing Shulton to creep into the box and poke the ball under Tangara. Shulton added a second two minutes later after Tyler Campbell had steamed into the box but on this occasion Tangara was able to knock the ball away. However Campbell retrieved the ball and knocked it towards the back post, where Shulton was on hand to stroke the ball home from close range. Towners now upped their game a wonderful passing move involving Campbell and Dernell Wynter broke the Blues defence but Tangara ended the attack with a fine save from an Ottaway volley.

Grays pulled one back in the 22nd minute after a corner caused some confusion in the Enfield box and Chidi Williams-Agunabor punished the indecisiveness from the play-off hopefuls by thumping the ball home from close range. Grays were now back in it and went at their visitors. Ryan Mahal sent over a deep cross that almost fell fortuitously for Kieran Bishop, but McDonald was able to come out and claim the ball under pressure. Enfield had been under the cosh since the Grays goal but they carved out another opportunity in the 33rd minute when a long throw was knocked into the path of Mickey Parcell, whose shot was blocked by Tangara’s legs.

Grays are more than capable of producing some fast forward play and spent the rest of the half trying to get on equal terms. Kabobola laid off Layne in the 38th minute, who then tore towards goal before Mark Kirby ended the chance by knocking the ball away for a corner. The resulting corner was met by a towering header from Campbell that beat the keeper but hit the underside of the crossbar. Harry Watkins, Campbell and Kabobola attempted to thread balls through to Bishop and Layne and enough got through to give the Enfield backline work to do. However the Blues did not create any further opportunities in the first half and spent the closing minutes defending themselves with Tangara having to tip away an Ottaway shot, after a fine corner was delivered by Livings to Wynters whose effort was blocked, with the rebound being struck by Ottaway.

Grays needed to get something from the game if they wanted to keep their slender survival hopes alive and they responded straight from the re-start with Campbell moving out of midfield and passing to Layne, who in turn laid it to Bishop. The Grays forward saw McDonald off his goal line and lobbed him but the ball ran past the target. The Towners responded with a sweeping forward move themselves. Shulton, who had caused damage with his finishing, was also the source for much of Enfield’s forward play and he was the instigator of the visitors’ first effort of the half. Picking up a ball in midfield, he played it to the left flank where Tyler Campbell was waiting. Running past his marker, Campbell then looped over a cross which Ottaway picked up and rifled towards the bottom corner forcing Tangara to pull off another good save. Ottaway then played provider, knocking a ball to Parcell which looked momentarily worrying for Grays; luckily for the Blues the Enfield forward couldn’t seem to get the ball under his possession and Joe Payne was on hand to end the move with a solid tackle and an even more solid punt to clear the ball away.

It wasn’t all one way traffic as Grays kept trying to get the ball into dangerous positions but the best chances of the half fell to the visitors. Ottaway was a constant threat and one of his searching runs into the box had to be halted by some solid defending from Williams-Agunabor. Livings also sent over a peach of a cross from the left flank that Watkins had to knock away for a corner and then Wynter dinked over a teasing shot that Tangara had to palm around the post.

Layne and Bishops both worked at creating openings but it was substitute Lartey Sarpong who created the best Grays chance of the half; barely seconds after coming on he found himself set-up by Joel Nouble but his shot was blocked by Harold Joseph.

The game slipped beyond Grays’ reach in the 80th minute when a corner fell to Ottaway, who had his back to goal before swivelling and getting enough purchase on the ball to sweep it past Tangara, giving Enfield Town a 3-1 lead. The Towners went for a fourth a few minutes later when a ball over the top set Bobby Devine free but Jamie Stuart put in a sold tackle to remove the threat.

Grays are not mathematically relegated just yet but they are looking close to falling over the precipice. It has been a season that has seen some good results, but sadly not enough of them and they go into the final five games looking to get some pride back before re-grouping in the close season. Off the pitch they find out about their new ground later in the month. Sadly they could be a Ryman North club by the time that news arrives.

Grays Athletic: Amadou Tangara, Ryan Mahal, Joe Payne (Matthew Baxter 83′), Jamie Stuart, Chidi Williams-Agunabor, Nathan Campbell (Capt), Etienne Mukanya Kabobola (Joel Nouble 59′), Harry Watkins (Lartey Sarpong 70′), Isaac Layne, Kieran Bishop, Joao Carlos.

Scorer – Chidi Williams-Agunabor (22′)

Enfield Town: Nathan McDonald (Capt), Jonathan Muleba, Ricky Gabriel, Harold Joseph, Mark Kirby, Scott Shulton, Tyler Campbell (Samir Bihmoutine 85′), Nathan Livings (Trey Williams 64′), Dernell Wynter (Bobby Devine 81′), Harry Ottaway, Mickey Parcell.

Scorers – Scott Shulton (15′, 17′), Harry Ottaway (80′)

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