Football: Tony Stokes hat trick inspires Blues

FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round

Grays Ath 5 v 2 Heybridge Swifts

LAST season Blues ignominious exit at this stage of the competition against FC Romania was in stark contrast to their performance against Heybridge Swifts on Saturday and once again it was the Blues strike force and clinical finishing which was the difference between the teams. Whilst Swifts enjoyed plenty of possession and created a number of opportunities it was Blues who converted their chances with lethal precision. Stokes,Joao Carlos and Manny Ogunrinde caused real problems for the visitors back line throughout the afternoon – Stokes rewarded with a hat trick making it five goals in three starts.

Blues started brightly winning an early free kick, but it was Swifts who engineered the first goal scoring opportunity – Alex Teniola heading tamely into the arms of Danny Sambridge when well placed.

Alarm bells rang for Blues fans when Evans Kouassi exploited space in behind Macauley Joynes – Sambridge had to be alert making a smart stop with his legs .

Heybridge continued to threaten, but with Blues first meaningful attack they broke the deadlock in the tenth minute. Carlos showed a clean pair of heels to Jayden Randell cutting the ball back to Ogunrinde who was bundled to the ground in the penalty box, Stokes converting from the spot.

Undeterred Swifts mounted a series of raids helped by their hosts careless use of the ball out of defence – Teniola capitalised on a stray pass only to be denied by Sambridge. Teniola squandered another chance planting his header wide of the upright, but then on 26 minutes Swifts probing was rewarded when a Toib Adeyemi pass set Chatting free to slot past Sambridge.

The game was now finely balanced, Blues seeing more of the ball – Carlos and Ogunrinde combined well from a short corner the youngster unleashing a fierce effort flashing inches wide. At the other end Chatting broke clear, but once again was denied the ball scrambled clear.

With half time approaching Blues edged in front in the 42nd minute through Carlos, left clear beyond the Swifts back line he lifted the ball over the advancing Luca Collins. Three minutes later Blues made it three when a sublime lofted pass from Mitch Hahn fed Stokes slotting past Collins with Swifts defenders appealing for offside.

HT
3-1

After the break it was clear the next goal would be crucial to the outcome of the afternoon, Swifts would have been looking to make a quick start to try and reduce the arrears, but Blues had other ideas and within two minutes of the restart they moved further ahead and what a finely crafted goal it was. Stokes played a clever one two with Carlos, racing to the byeline he sent over an inch perfect cross onto the head of Ogunrinde, rising highest he planted his header firmly past Collins.

Swifts were clearly stunned and came close to conceding again when Ogunrinde danced forward forcing Collins to push out his goal bound effort, the ball scrambled away eventually finding Chatting who played in Emmanuel Osei-Owusu who failed to hit the target.

On 56 minutes Blues effectively put the game beyond Heybridge when a great run and low cross from Nathan Fox found the lurking Stokes who stooped low to nod past Collins.

To their credit Swifts still looked to salvage something from the tie, but were finding a steeliness in Blues resistance combined with their own failure to capitalise on the openings created. Blues offside trap was working well with Steve King, Ashley Miller and Jack McQueen calm under pressure.

Blues were content to protect their lead not forcing the pace, but one moment of carelessness gave Swifts a glimmer of hope – when King needlessly gave the ball away – Daniel Walker raced forward, Stokes challenge was clumsy a free kick was awarded, but after consultation with his assistant the referee awarded a penalty. Sambridge saved Walkers’s initial kick, the striker nodding home the rebound in the 78th minute.

Buoyed by the goal, the visitors looked for a third – Elliot Ronto wasted an effort firing wide – Osei – Owusu blazed wildly over and in a final effort a corner flashed dangerously across goal. Sub Tim Ogunrinde had Blues last chance of the afternoon when he used his blistering pace testing Collins from inside the box.

Blues then progress to the next round after overcoming a difficult opponent with a competent performance that bodes well for the future.

Sambridge Fox, ( Hession-Harris 67), Joynes, McQueen, King (Martin 79) , Miller, Hahn, Dark,. Ogunrinde M , Stokes, Carlos ( Ogunrinde T. 74)

Subs not used: Pearce, Bartley, Doyle, Taylor