FA Cup 1st Qualifying Round
Grays Athletic 3 v 1 March Town United
Blues progressed into the next round of the Emirates FA Cup, despite not being at their best against March Town, who though two leagues below belied that position with a spirited performance. The Hares capitalised on Blues nervy start going in front on 21 minutes, the goal did stir Blues from their slumbers coming back to lead 3-1 at the break. The second period saw them enjoy long periods of possession without adding to their tally due to a combination of gritty defending by the visitors and the hesitancy and accuracy of Blues passing game.
From the first whistle it was evident the Hares were not at Parkside to make up the numbers, they started brightly taking the game to their hosts. Inside the first ten minutes Jack Friend broke free and only a last minute block by Danny Sambridge prevented the visitors from taking a shock early lead.
The visitors continued to make all the running in the early stages, they were sharper, their passing crisper in contrast to Blues who looked tentative – dwelling on the ball, lacking urgency evoking memories of their performance last season against FC Romania. The carless passing presented an early opportunity for the Hares seized on by the lively Friend – engineering an opening he wasted the opportunity firing wide of the upright.
The Hares were rewarded for their early endeavours in the 21st minute, when Jamie Short out jumped Sambridge to nod home from a corner, the goal symptomatic of Blues early lethargy
The goal gave the visitors added impetus and clearly stunned Blues – a Tony Stokes header on 27 minutes was all they had to show for their early endeavours, but eventually realising they needed to increase the tempo they belatedly showed more urgency.
Blues tempo increase led to the equaliser on the half hour mark – from a short corner Macauley Joynes delivered one of his trademark crosses finding the head of Rob Bartley glancing the ball past Charlie Congreve. The relief around Parkside was palpable and that relief turned to euphoria a minute later when Joynes nodded the ball on to Joao Carlos who cleverly lifted the ball over Congreve to put Blues in front.
The goal injected real urgency into Blues play allowing them to establish their passing game, but they came up against a well drilled visiting defence, employing a high line compressing play and repeatedly catching Blues front runners offside.
Five minutes before the break Blues added a third to put daylight between the protagonists – it was a goal of simplistic execution, a long throw from Mitch Hahn saw Steve King rise highest sending his downward header past Congreve.
The Hares responded well on the stroke of half time when Short unchallenged powered a header tantalising wide of the woodwork.
A great early chance went begging when Carlos bounded forward delivering an inch perfect cross to Stokes whose normally accurate radar deserted him, side footing past the post with the goal gaping.
A flurry of activity saw Blues pepper the Hares goal – Carlos tested Congreve after breaking away, but still the visitors niggled away and had their own opportunities – Toby Allen caused consternation when he found himself in space – lacking composure blasting wildly over.
The visitors off side trap continued to frustrate Blues, who were not helping themselves by delaying their passes to the front runners. Nathan Fox did manage to spring the trap – driving forward he brought a smart save from Congreve. The Hares responded well when Friend, their main point of attack fired in a blistering 20 yard drive bringing a superb save from Sambridge turning the ball over.
Sensing the visitors were tiring Blues increased the pressure – a Joynes cross was met by Stokes nodding over – Joynes was the provider again when another cross found Bartley his header dropping just over. Manny Ogunrinde who had been strangely subdued throughout the game wriggled past a challenge testing Congreve, who did well to block his effort.
The final period of play saw Blues play down the clock, with the game firmly in their grasp they eased off the pressure – it was sub Denzil Adebiye who was involved in the last flurry of action when he set up Fox who fired over.
So Blues progress into the next round. Although not at their best they still had enough in their locker to grind out a result against a March Town side who put up a brave performance against their loftier rivals.
Sambridge , Fox , Joynes, McQueen, King (Muguo 56),Bartley, Ogunrinde M.,(Adebiye (81), Hahn, Dark, Stokes ,Carlos (Ogunrinde T. 89)
Subs not used: Pearce, Menga.