Monday, January 30, 2023

Football: Grays Athletic extend unbeaten run

Bostik Div North

Grays Ath 3 v 2 AFC Sudbury

Blues extended their unbeaten run to six games and presented Jim Cooper with his first win of his fledgling tenure as Blues boss . The 3-2 scoreline mirrored the earlier fixture in November and curiously Mitch Hahn and Michael Toner were on the score sheet for Blues that day! Once again, as last week a howling gale blowing across the park made life difficult for both teams but the conditions did not detract from what was an entertaining encounter with attractive free flowing football illuminated by another wonderful strike from Hahn, adding to his tally of outstanding goals this season. A young Sudbury team contributed to a game played as it should be in the right spirit pushing Blues all the way, even mounting a late rally to try and snatch a draw. Both teams were rightly applauded off the field at the final whistle, for Blues supporters Cooper’s influence at this early stage could be clearly seen.

A portent of what was to follow came in the opening minutes, when a good build up presented Correy Davidson with an early opportunity resulting in the first of many fine saves from visiting keeper Paul Walker.

The football on offer in the opening quarter was easy on the eye considering the conditions, so it was out of character when the visitors opened the scoring in the 13th minute. A long ball forward held up in the swirling wind deceiving Craig Stone, Michael Finneran covering behind managed to get his head to the ball nodding back to Clarke Bogard, but again the wind played a part taking the pace off the ball allowing Callum Harrison to steal in and lob the Blues keeper.

Boosted by the goal Sudbury held sway controlling play, they were helped by a Blues midfield that stood off allowing the opposition time and space to build their attacks. A quick word from Cooper seemed to make a difference, Blues showed more urgency making it a more even contest. A slick passage of play set up Hahn forcing Walker into a block save, two further opportunities were blocked. Adalberto Pinto glanced a header just wide of the upright and then Davidson brought the save of the match from Walker when he somehow turned over his blistering drive from close range.

Sudbury were still posing a threat with balls over the top of the home defenders, another error this time by Stone saw Ben Hunter flash a shot agonisingly wide . But it was still Blues who looked the more dangerous in front of goal – Walker though was keeping his team in the game thwarting a number of Blues raids

It would take something special to beat the heroic Walker – that something special arrived in the 44th minute when Hahn, the scorer of some great strikes this season levelled the scores. Picking the ball up he took a touch and unleashed a 30 yard howitzer that arrowed into the top corner past the flailing arms of Walker.

HT 1-1

Blues were forced into a change after the break when Joao Carlos suffered a tweaked hamstring, Cooper shuffled the pack bringing on Michael Toner at left back and pushing Macauley Joynes into midfield. Buoyed by the goal just before the break Blues looked eager to capitalise further – Aron Gordon was denied by another Walker save, now playing into the wind Blues enjoyed a period of territorial advantage but had to be on their guard, illustrated when Harrison capitalised on a mistake coming close with his effort. Blues replied when Gordon fed Joynes who blasted over.

With an hour gone and with both teams conscious of the importance of the next goal the game became a cautious midfield battle, neither side gaining the ascendency, the stalemate however didn’t detract from the quality of fare on offer. The lively Davidson wriggled free created space blasting over, but in the 77th minute a similar move saw him as the architect of Blues second goal. Driving forward into the box he drilled a shot which Walker did well to turn onto the post, picking up the rebound Davidson played the ball back to an unmarked Gordon who side footed the ball past the prone Walker. Three minutes later and Blues went further in front when Michael Toner swept the ball home from a corner.

With the two goal cushion Blues looked good value for their lead visibly relaxing and playing with a freedom that had been missing in recent weeks. But with the clock ticking down the visitors made a concerted effort to salvage something from the afternoon building pressure on the Blues goal – it was rewarded in the 90th minute when a speculative ball forward deceived Finneran allowing Phil Kelly to poach a consolation goal for the visitors.

So a first win for Cooper, an extended unbeaten run and a move up to 9th place in the table proved to be a satisfactory end to the afternoon and sets Blues up nicely for next weeks trip to promotion chasing Heybridge Swifts.

Bogard, Mahal (Muguo 62),Stone, Finneran, Joynes, Davidson, Hahn, Pinto, Carlos (Toner 45), Gordon, Oli

Subs not used; Pearce , Okonkwo


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