Grays Athletic 2 -1 Brentwood Town
Blues trailed at the break but a much improved 2nd-half performance and a late Jay Leader header secured a 2-1 win at The Academy tonight
Jody Brown's preparations for the new season took a significant step forward tonight. For various reasons a number of players were unavailable, travel disruption affected the arrival time of others and the exertions of Monday night's game at Chelmsford shaped a starting eleven that allowed the new gaffer to take players out of their comfort zone as they took on their third game in four days, once again in hot conditions.
While pre-season results can be taken with a pinch of salt, Brentwood Town had earned a good 3-0 win against Billericay Town recently and were certainly up for adding another Ryman Premier League scalp to their collection.
The home side started with a number of trialists as well as new signings Jay Leader and Glenn Little joined by Zippo Mtyanda, Ruddick Yala and John Mbamarah with Jared Small leading the line.
Blues looked off the pace from the start and the visitors could have been ahead in the second minute. The defence was slow to recover after a lumbering forward move was broken down and the Brentwood striker had time to bamboozle the 'keeper and had he released the ball half a second earlier it would have been in the back of the net instead of going out for a goal-kick.
It was an early let-off for Grays who looked second-best all over the park but with seven minutes on the clock they strung a few passes together and a good high cross found a trialist unmarked in the six yard box but his header didn't trouble the 'keeper. Leader and Yala were kept busy but were comfortable dealing with the long lofted balls that came their way, but it was when Brentwood played into the channels that the home defence looked stretched and far too often the visitors were in behind the full-backs.
Going forwards, Blues movement at times offered little or nothing in terms of an available pass and when the ball was played into the final third Brentwood closed it down very quickly and denied any space or openings to the Grays attack. Blues only other decent chance of the first half saw a tame shot hit straight at the keeper from around ten yards.
Brentwood took the lead after 37 minutes. Two players dummied a short corner and when the ball was rolled goalwards from the edge of the box a defender stepped over it and the keeper was helpless as the ball crossed the line to give the visitors a deserved lead. A frustrated Blues held on to keep the score at 1-0 going in at the break.
No changes were made at half time but Blues were a little more organised after stern words during the half-time interval. The visitors weren't offered the same space in the midfield and were unable to find the same penetrating passes as they had before the break but with the home side not posing any real threat to the Brentwood goal Jody Brown made a mass-substitution just under 15 minutes into the half.
Jey Siva, Jordan Wilson, Chris Benjamin, Aaron Wickham, Chris Bryan, Leroy Griffiths and two trialists (one in goal) were all introduced while Mtyanda, Mbamarah, Little, Small and four trialists were withdrawn. The impact was immediate. Chris Bryan hit the outside of the post after wriggling through the defence and within a minute Aaron Wickham had forced the keeper into a save.
Blues were very much on the front foot and Brentwood started to look nervous and their football became ragged. The Blues attack pressed the ball much quicker and the visitors back four, having been able to pick out their passes earlier in the game, were desperately smacking the ball anywhere up the park. Jordan Wilson and Chris Bryan chased after everything in the middle of the park and there was an air of inevitability as Brentwood started to drop deeper under the mounting pressure.
Grays levelled the scores on 70 minutes after Wilson's lofted ball into the box was headed against the bar by a trialist and as the ball bounced clear Aaron Wickham met it with an overhead kick which flew past the keeper and into the roof of the net.
Blues were largely well in control for the remainder of the game and a number of half chances came and went but the quality of the football and the promising signs of things to come made up for the lack of goals. Hopeful balls forward by the visitors were met with clumsy challenges and Brentwood had a couple of free kicks late on in dangerous areas which could have put a different complexion on the game but they didn't trouble the Blues goal.
In stoppage time a corner on the right hand side was met by an unmarked Jay Leader on the edge of the six yard box who stooped to head the ball home and make it 2-1 and secure another pre-season win.
Another good workout and a great test for the players who have worked hard in training and played three games in four days, two of those games in testing conditions. To say Grays were poor in the first half would be harsh on Brentwood Town who played well. In the second half the fresh(ish) legs and quality of the players coming on for the Blues changed the game entirely and no doubt manager Jody Brown will have some sleepless nights now as he looks to finalise his squad for the forthcoming pre-season games and the start of the league season on the 9th of August.