Football: Grays Ath earn three points on opening day of the season

Isthmian League North

Brentwood Town 0 v 2 Grays Athletic

GRAYS Athletic made a very solid start to the season with an away victory at Brentwood on Saturday afternoon.

Blues clearly didn’t read the script when they spoilt big spending Brentwood’s day in front of a large crowd at the Brentwood Arena producing a well deserved and hard working performance throughout the 90 minutes. Brentwood were one of the fancied teams to compete for honours this season, but on the day Blues looked the more accomplished outfit with a text book away display, soaking up early pressure before taking control of proceedings and securing the points .

Talisman striker Tony Stokes with a typical poachers goal and then in injury time Moroyin Omolabi made sure of the points much to the delight of the large Blues travelling contingent. Last season an inability to keep clean sheets was evident throughout, but there is now a steeliness running through the team with players committed to the cause.

The hosts had made the early running, playing against a stiff breeze pinning Blues back and one wondered if this was going to be a difficult afternoon for Coopers’ men, but they were disciplined keeping their shape and slowly came more into the game.

Mitch Hahn and Lewis Dark went about their work calmly and established control of midfield, where the ever willing Joe Paxman had an early opportunity but his shot lacked power failing to trouble ex Blue Preston Edwards in the home goal.

Darrelle Russell was then the recipient of slick approach play when his header forced Edwards into the first save of the afternoon – he was again a threat when good work by Ryan Melaugh slipped a clever ball into his path but Edwards denied him again.

Hahn always looks threatening from distance and a 25 yard drive had Edwards beaten but drifted just wide of the upright.

Brentwood were looking to the flanks at every opportunity and came close to opening the scoring when a cross to the far post pulled Blues back line out of shape – it found Sam Bantick unmarked just five yards out but he put his header woefully wide of the goal.

Blues were edging possession at this stage using the wind to their advantage and nullified the oppositions forward forays where Pat Ahern and Lewis Clark looked a solid pairing winning the crucial battles where it mattered. Apart from the Bantick chance the hosts rarely troubled Danny Sambridge whose main employment had been to comfortably deal with speculative crosses into his box showing safe handling .

HT 0-0

The second half saw Town keeper Edwards emerge alone and engage in conversation with Blues fans behind the goal! Very odd.

As expected with the wind at their backs the hosts immediately pressured Blues goal, but again failed to create a clear cut opening – that was until Joe Wicks unleashed a thunderous drive from 20 yards which met with a superb save from Sambridge plunging to his right to turn the ball over.

As in the first half Blues rode out the early storm and created their own chances, a brisk passage of play set up Russell who drifted between two defenders advanced on the home goal but scuffed his shot, easily saved by Edwards.

The game was now evenly balanced both teams having periods of possession, but Blues still looked the more threatening going forward, Town tended to overhit their passes in the strong wind negating their forward progress. They did cause a stir though when Phil Roberts latched on to a through ball – pulling the trigger his effort was blocked by a brilliant challenge from no nonsense Ahern.

Just after the hour mark the exciting youngster Joe Agunbiade was introduced and straight away he was in the action – fed by Hahn he raced past his defender and whipped in a dangerous cross causing real panic in the home area.

In the 78th minute another quick break brought a corner played in by Hahn, Russell tried to connect, the ball looping into the air falling to Stokes who with his back to goal and a deft touch turned to slot the ball past Edwards a goal typical of his predatory skills.

The goal triggered an immediate response from the home side as they looked for an equaliser, but were repelled by a resilient Blues rearguard working tirelessly to keep their goal intact and when the ball did get through Sambridge was on hand to deal comfortably with any goal bound effort.

Despite being under pressure a swift break saw Russell come close to snatching a second when he drove forward, thwarted only by the legs of Edwards. But Blues were not to be denied when in injury time another forceful run from Agunbiade saw him slip the ball to sub Moroyin Omolabi, he was blocked off but the ball fell invitingly to Russell his shot was parried by Edwards and there was Omolabi on hand to roll the rebound past the prone keeper and make sure of the points. Adding to compound the hosts disappointing afternoon striker Roberts received a red for a second bookable offence.

Next up is the Emirates FA Cup on Wednesday evening when Potton United are the visitors which should be an exciting evening of cup football, Blues must guard against any complacency which I’m sure the management team will ensure does not happen.

Sambridge, Sammons, Joynes, Ahern, Clark, Dark, Russell, Hahn, Stokes ( Bartley 80),Paxman(Omolabi 86), Melaugh (Agunbiade 64)

Subs not used: Girling

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