Football: Great first day of the season for Grays Athletic

Bostik Division North

Witham Town 0 v 2 Grays Athletic

A blistering opening twenty minutes saw Blues race into a two-goal lead and although they endured some anxious moments in the second period they held firm to register their first win of the season and their first away win since December 2017. Debut goals from Shomari Barnwell and Mitchel Hahn were enough to ensure Blues got off to the best possible start to the season. The game itself was never a classic with both sides struggling to overcome a difficult playing surface which did not lend itself to free-flowing football.

From the whistle, Blues took the game to their hosts dominating possession and they were rewarded when they won the first corner of the afternoon. The resultant kick was only half cleared by the home defenders and fell invitingly to the lurking Barnwell who swept the ball through a ruck of players past keeper Luca Collins in the 3rd minute.

Buoyed by the early breakthrough Blues buzzed and swarmed around their opponents not allowing them to settle on the ball, Callum Thompson nearly provided Barnwell with his second goal of the afternoon when his searching cross just eluded the head of the Blues striker. Barnwell was proving a real handful and held the ball up well to bring other players into the game.

The long throws of Hahn were a potent weapon in Blues armoury at this stage and with the height of Barnwell and Stan Muguo provided some worrying moments for the home defence. The constant Blues pressure brought its reward in the 17th minute when a slick passage of play involving Hahn, Aron Gordon and Ryan Mahal saw the ball played into Gordon who fed Hahn who struck the ball sweetly past Collins. Blues could have increased their lead and only some desperate defending kept them at bay.

Witham won their first corner after 23 minutes and came close moments later when John Watson found himself unmarked on the six-yard line nodding the ball into the grateful hands of Lloyd Anderson. Blues appeared to take their foot off the throttle allowing Witham to see more of the ball but Perry Dunn and Geofrey Okonkwo didn’t stand on ceremony clearing the ball with gusto to keep the home side at bay.

As the half drew to a conclusion it became a more even contest providing chances at either end, Johnny Ashman nearly connected with a Luke Mallet cross and at the other end another Hahn long throw provided an opportunity for Muguo who headed head just wide.

HT 0-2

Blues were quick out of the blocks at the start of the second period forcing two quick corners in succession but it was Witham who now looked more incisive trying to reduce the deficit. Sam Ashford should have done better when he sent a free kick wide and a corner was then wasted when it drifted harmlessly over. Sam Owusu tried his luck but spurned the chance blasting wildly over.

Witham pressed forward but it was Blues who looked the more dangerous going forward, Adeyinka Cole was busy at the heart of Blues midfield, one move saw him burst forward and in a fifty-fifty challenge picked up a harsh yellow card when he was adjudged to have committed a high tackle the Witham man going down dramatically.

Anderson was called into action when he claimed a dangerous cross into the box, at the other end Hahn came close when a 25 yard drive whistled over with Collins beaten. Witham quickly replied a free kick saw Dunn come close to heading into his own net, fortunately the ball drifted wide of the upright. Ashford then found himself one on one with Anderson but the Blues keeper made a great block to deny the striker. Anderson was quickly in action again when he turned an Ashman drive behind.

Blues still held firm despite the pressure, Gordon used his pace to advantage down the right flank cutting the ball back to sub Dennis Oli whose clever flick failed to find a teammate. Having weathered the home pressure Blues remained disciplined and dogged and began to reassert control prompted by Muguo who tidied up in the middle of the park allowing them to run down the clock and claim the three points.

Manager Jamie Stuart will have been pleased with the three points considering the number of new faces in the starting line up and with Joao Carlos hopefully back from injury soon competition will be keen for places in the starting eleven.

Next up is Canvey Island at Parkside next Saturday.

Anderson, Mahal, Okonkwo, Dunn, Thompson, Muguo, Cole (Curtis 90) Hahn, Barnwell (Oil 79), Gordon, Adeniji (Jones 73)

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