Great Wakering Rovers 1 v 2 Grays Athletic
THIS season the Blues faithful have experienced just about every emotion known to the long-suffering football fan. But those present in the furthest eastern reaches of Essex on Saturday, ran the full gamut from A-Z, with victory only secured after the 5 O’Clock news !
Great Wakering, fighting their own fight at the wrong end of the table, began the game on the front foot and in just the fifth minute Anjeolaoluwu Adamu took advantage of some slack Grays defending but his close-range shot was brilliantly kept out by Blues keeper, Danny Sambridge.
The pitch was far from perfect, making passing football very difficult to deliver. The home side’s more direct approach was much more conducive to the playing surface and it took Grays a long time to adapt their game. It took 20 minutes for the visitors to create any meaningful attempt, when Sam Bantick fed Roman Campbell but the ball just would not sit for him. The best Blues could conjure was half chances. Mitch Hahn, Callum Watts and Joe Gardner all tried their luck, but to no avail.
Great Wakering were starting to grow increasingly confident, seeing more of the ball and pushing Grays back. Adamu again called Sambridge into action and Freddie Moriarty should have done better after creating space for himself in the Blues box. But soon it was two Grays old-boys who came back to haunt them. In the 40th minute, Perry Dunn got his head to a corner but rattled the crossbar. The rebound caused panic in the Blues defence and David Knight was on hand to hook the ball home for a 1-0 lead.
The goal finally rose Grays from their slumbers. Just before the break, Campbell found the side netting. Then with the clock past 45 minutes, Sam Bantick produced a fine cross, onto the head of Callum Leahy for the equaliser.
Half time: Great Wakering Rovers 1 v 1 Grays Athletic
The second half started with Grays showing much more positive intent, passing the ball out better from the back and looking to run at the Rovers defence. But the home side were determined to battle to the last in their attempt to avoid the drop. Callum Watts had an early chance before Aron Gordon went on one of his long, mazy runs, but shot high and wide. On 65 minutes, a Macauley Joynes corner was headed goalwards by Roman Campbell, but home keeper, Harry Fairs got down well to shovel the ball round the post for another corner.
Soon after, at the other end Joynes was the saviour with a fine last ditch tackle to prevent Rovers re-taking the lead. Emergency right-back Marlon Agyakwa then did likewise, with Knight’s follow-up shot saved again by Sambridge.
Controversy then reared its head. Sam Bantick was bundled over in the box but was somehow deemed to be the guilty party by referee Mr Conn. He was about to show the Grays man the yellow card for his protestations, when Bantick realised the challenge had badly cut the back of his head and went down feeling concussed. The Blues trainer had to spend almost ten minutes carefully treating the wound and checking Bantick’s general well-being. Eventually swathed in bandage, he was helped to his feet and off the field, but not before Mr Conn ignored all the evidence before him and still brandished the card at Bantick.
The episode infuriated the Grays players and bench alike and they set about channelling their sense of injustice. Great Wakering were hanging on for all they were worth and defending resolutely. Three minutes into added time, Tom Stagg, off the bench, shot well and hit a post. Agyakwa then tried his luck from outside the box and just cleared the crossbar.
With 99 minutes then showing on the watch, and the Rovers defence out of position, Blues took a quick throw-in, Lewis Clark found Stagg and this time his attempt came back off the crossbar. The ball fell to Callum Watts, just inside the area, who picked his spot and fired the ball home for a 2-1 lead. Cue the wildest of celebrations for anyone in Blue and heartache for those in Rovers green.
With results elsewhere going Grays way, this was a vital three points that keeps Blues firmly in the playoff race. Another “cup final” follows quickly on Easter Monday at home to local rivals East Thurrock.