Halloween Horror for Blues
More penalty shoot-out misery sends Grays tumbling again writes StewieG
After the heavy defeat at Coggeshall last Saturday, and despite the loss of several first- choice players due to injury or being cup-tied, manager Jamie Stuart named a strong line-up for the Blues first appearance in this season’s Essex Senior Cup away at Southend Manor, who currently lie in the lower reaches of the Essex Senior League. The travelling faithful saw a side on the team sheet easily capable of progressing in the competition – but unfortunately games are won and lost out on the pitch not on paper.
And yet it all started so brightly for Grays, with the visitors dominating possession. In particular, Aron Gordon and Jack Curtis were seeing a lot of the ball, with Gordon beating the Manor’s left back, David Monk, with increasing ease. In the first 15 minutes, Tommy Wade, the returning Keiran Bishop and Gordon himself all saw good chances well saved by keeper Klinton Makayabo. With Barry Cogan pulling the strings in midfield, the Blues were using the wings to great effect, creating a string of efforts. It was only a matter of time before the deadlock was broken. On 27 minutes, Bishop used his pace to great effect down the left, and pulling the ball back into the 6-yard box, leaving Jack Curtis with a straightforward finish into the net for a 1-0 lead.
Five minutes later Aron Gordon went on a mazy run into the Southend Manor penalty box, beating three defenders en route. The chance then fell to Bishop, whose shot was deflected onto the upright and hacked away to safety. On 40 minutes, Gordon again took the ball into the box, choosing to stay on his feet and get a shot away under heavy attention rather than go down. Again, though there was no-one on hand to put the chance away.
Southend Manor had produced little, apart from one early skirmish on the Grays goal. But just before the break, and completely against the run of play, the home team’s liveliest player, Mohamed Kargbo, set off down the left wing, unchallenged towards the visitor’s penalty area and from 20 yards out curled a shot into the opposite corner of the net.
Half time 1-1
At the start of the second half, Jamie Stuart brought on two graduates from the reserves, Luke Sackey and Robinson Wokoma for their first taste of first-team action, replacing Ryan Mahal and the already-booked Adalberto Pinto. However, things quickly turned from bad to worse for the Blues. With just two minutes played, the ball again broke to the ever-willing Kargbo, who unleashed another shot from outside the box into the Grays goal, giving Southend Manor a lead that few had seen coming.
With the rain setting in, making it increasingly difficult for your reporter to keep a dry notebook, it became harder to control the ball on a slippery surface. Although pressing forward, Grays’ play lacked the intensity of the first half, with little in the way of a quality ball or sharp finish. Even a succession of corners on the hour failed to elicit a clear-cut chance, with Manor’s central defenders repelling everything thrown at them.
Ade Cole was brought off the bench with 25 minutes remaining, in place of the tiring Aron Gordon, which brought some added pace to the Grays attack, but with the clock ticking down, everything was fast becoming more haphazard instead of playing the football that had looked so good earlier in the evening. With less than 15 minutes to go, Bishop again used his pace and skill, this time down the right, cutting into the box, with Jack Curtis on hand again to apply the finish and draw Grays level at 2-2, a scoreline that had seemed increasingly unlikely.
Just before the final whistle, Southend Manor made a rare incursion into the Grays area, forcing a corner – and from the resulting scramble in the box, full-back Dylon Bradford, saw glory but blazed high and wide towards the nearby River Thames. Then, in the last minute of injury time, Manor launched one final attack causing a melee in the Grays goal area, and somehow, substitute Dylan Jones managed to launch the ball over the crossbar from about 2 yards out, when scoring seemed much the easier option. Increasingly, it had become difficult to wonder which of the two sides played in the higher league.
90 minutes: 2-2
The rules of the competition took the game, level after 90 minutes, straight to penalties. The shoot-out quickly took on the quality of farce, with only two of the first seven spot-kicks finding the net – Curtis, Bishop and Cole all having their efforts saved by keeper Makayabo with whatever limb he could get to the ball. Lloyd Anderson was also doing his best in return, saving two and seeing a third save come off the woodwork and go behind the line. Only Wade and Toner could score for Grays and it was left to Southend Manor’s David Monk to score with the final kick and send the Blues tumbling out of another cup competition at the first hurdle.
Penalty shootout: Southend Manor win 3-2
This was a performance that fell way below what the sizeable Blues contingent in the crowd had expected. Whilst Saturday’s local derby against Tilbury on Saturday should see the return of several players to the starting XI, fans will be hoping for a better all-round performance against our oldest rivals.
Grays Ath: Anderson, Mahal (Wokoma 45), Toner, Cogan, Okonkwo, Gordon (Cole 66), Pinto (Sackey 45), Bishop, Curtis, Thompson, Wade.
Subs not used: Adebiyi, Barnwell