Grays Athletic 2 v 1 Norwich United
Report courtesy of David Seaman
A vintage Joao Carlos strike was enough to beat Norwich United writes The Mariner.
Blues made it four league wins out of four after this victory over Norwich United with a stunning winner from Joao Carlos after playing for 65 minutes with ten men following the dismissal of Jack Fowler . It was a real test of character which they passed with flying colours demonstrating the great strides they have made over the last few weeks showing determination and hard work to overcome the loss of Fowler. Earlier in the season Blues would probably have capitulated going a goal behind and a man short but not today. They showed real resilience and eventually came out on top to deservedly claim all three points.
Stan Muguo,Sam Cross and Jamie Slabber returned to the starting eleven after being rested for the midweek cup tie against Dagenham & Redbridge.
A characteristic of Blues upturn in form has been their ability to play at a high tempo right from the first whistle and today was no different taking the game to Norwich . Prompted by the experience and guile of Barry Cogan and Glenn Poole Blues created numerous opportunities in the opening twenty minutes, Slabber just failed to connect with a Poole cross to the far post glancing a header just wide.Stan Muguo made a typical forceful sortie down the left flank crossing to Ade Cole whose back header drifted just wide.
Norwich were by now working overtime to stem the tide of Blues attacks but as so often happens when they did break free of their defensive shackles they could so easily have snatched a surprise lead.A quick ball out of defence was met by Jackson who powered to the edge of the Blues box unleashing a sweet strike that Lamar Johnson found too hot to handle pushing the ball out but Fowler came to Blues rescue clearing the ball to safety.
It was a rare opportunity for the visitors as Blues continued to press forward,Slabber should have done better when he created space but his shot lacked power and was easily saved by Wilton.Kieran Bishop nodded over from a Cole cross and then Slabber missed a golden opportunity to open the scoring when he somehow failed to hit the target from six yards nodding a Cogan cross over.
At the other end Johnson made vital interception from a Henery , but Blues continued to look dangerous Cogan saw his chip beat Wilton but not the crossbar .
In the 36th minute came the moment which could have changed the final result.Cogan gave the ball away on half way Fowler managed to win the ball but then gave it away needlessly allowing Jackson a clear run on goal, he was clattered to the ground by a reckless challenge from Fowler who was shown a straight red.From the free kick Hipperson wrong footed Johnson to give the visitors a surprise lead.
The goal and the sending off forced Blues into a change of personnel, Cogan was sacrificed to allow Joe Bruce to slot into the back four it also gave a boost to the visitors who had been under constant pressure. Blues were rueing the missed chances and made their task all the more difficult. Their problems increased when Poole was struck in the face and looked groggy as the half drew to a close.
Poole failed to appear after the break and was replaced by Kai Brown in midfield but such is the youngsters recent form it did not weaken Blues midfield.
Once again Blues made a bright start to the half and just like previous weeks they struck an early goal in the 49th minute to bring them back into the game. A great run from James Folkes took him into the visitors box where he was unceremoniously scythed down ,after a few second of deliberation the referee pointed to the spot allowing Bishop to step up and slot the ball past Wilton.
it was just the start Blues wanted momentarily knocking the visitors out of their stride. Folkes had another opportunity when he tried his luck from the edge of the box firing over but Norwich had other ideas and for a time they began to shade possession and look for a winner.
With better finishing Norwich probably should have gone in front, first Henery tested Johnson with a pile-driver but the keeper who was clearly carrying an injury throughout the game turned the ball over. A free kick delivered to the far post found Easthaugh unmarked and five yards out but he missed the target and then the hapless Henery again found space at the far post and with the goal at his mercy missed the target.
Surviving these scares Blues regrouped and created their own opportunities, Brown made space for himself and fired just wide. Now playing percentage football and retaining possession Blues took the sting out of the visitors advances, Bruce and Richard Halle worked well together calmly mopping up at the back .
Blues made a change on 65 minutes,Carlos replacing Slabber to strengthen the midfield allowing Bishop to play down the middle the move certainly worked . Just ten minutes after coming on Carlos was to prove the match winner. the move started with Cole picking the ball up in midfield he saw Carlos running into space and played a perfect pass, without breaking stride Carlos raced past his marker cut inside and unleashed a thunderbolt which flew past Wilton into the top of the net.It was a typical Carlos goal one of many he has scored over the years in a Blue shirt and was just reward for Blues never say die approach to the game.
Norwich pushed forward looking for an equaliser and applied pressure but Blues held firm playing possession football and knocking the ball into the corners to run down the clock.They could have increased their lead when Cole breezed into the box and sent a howitzer just wide but minutes later came the final whistle to bring to an end another well earned victory.
A few weeks back going a goal and a man down may well have seen a different outcome but Blues are now a much more resilient and hardworking outfit ,the turnaround in fortune has seen them make steady progress up the table where they now sit just three points off the play off places .As long as they guard against complacency then given their current form leading into the Xmas period they could see themselves moving into the playoffs.
Next Saturday sees them travel to Bury Town when they will look to extend their winning run.
Johnson, Folkes, Cross, Cogan,Fowler (Bruce 35), Halle,Muguo,Poole(Brown 45),Cole,Bishop, Slabber(Carlos 65),
Subs not used:Zialor,Monsheju