Blues Go Down Fighting
Blues lost out in this relegation battle and lost two keepers into the bargain writes The Mariner
Blues' boss Jamie Stuart must wonder what his young charges have to do to register a win in another frustrating afternoon which saw keeper Callum Thomas leave the field due to a head injury and his replacement Mikheil Kharshiladze red carded for handling outside the area and then denied what looked like a penalty late in the second half.
Grays fielded a weakened side with Lheureux Menga and Adeyinka Cole both suspended and Stephane Ngamvoulou unavailable but were able to give a debut to new signing Richard Pacquette and he showed in glimpses that he will be a valuable addition to the team.
Leatherhead saw a lot of the ball in the opening stages with Blues happy to concede possession in the opposition half, Kamara for the visitors was proving a real handful with his trickery and pace.
Pacquette showed what he is capable of when he created an opening in a tight situation with Godman saving his effort but it was the Tanners who made the breakthrough in the 20th minute. Danger man Kamara embarked on another mazy run which was rewarded with a free kick on the edge of the Blues’ area. Smith stepped up and struck the ball high and hard into the top corner past the diving Callum Thomas.
The goal brought a good response from the home side as they pressed for an equaliser. Good work by Mukanya Kababola saw Arron Wickham fire just over and then at the other end Kamara went close seeing his effort drift wide of the post.
A succession of Grays corners finally proved fruitful in the 43rd minute when Nathan Campbell registered
his first goal for the club, rising highest he saw his header beat Godman after taking a slight deflection.
As the half drew to a close Thomas had to leave the field after having sustained a head injury in an earlier Leatherhead attack he was replaced by Kharshiladze.
There was more urgency in Blues’ play as the half opened which brought them a succession of corners and from one of them they came close to going in front. The ball was played to the far post where Stuart nodded the ball down to David Fallah who prodded the ball forward only to see Godman produce a reaction save and turn the ball behind.
The miss was to prove costly when in the 49th minute Leatherhead broke quickly down the right. A deep cross to the far post should have been cleared by Kwabena Osei but he failed to get the ball away cleanly and it fell to Kamara who touched the ball home past Kharshiladze.
Yet again Blues’ shortcomings at the back had been exposed just as they were beginning to pressurise the visitors but to their credit unlike previous games their heads did not drop and they set about the task of restoring parity.
Harry Watkins was seeing plenty of the ball feeding Mukanya Kababola but too many times the wide man squandered possession or ran into blind alleys much to his team mates’ frustration.
Jamie Stuart limped from the fray to be replaced by Luke Hornsley and he made an immediate impact looking to take on his opponent at every opportunity. Blues continued to press forward but their attacks tended to break down on the edge of the visitors’ area where they elected to pass rather than try an effort on goal.
Mukanya Kababola is one of those players who can frustrate one minute, and then produce a moment of brilliance the next which he did with a fine run and fierce drive which produced a brilliant save at full stretch from Godman turning the ball over.
Leatherhead were coming under increasing pressure and resorted to some cynical time wasting which went unpunished by a too lenient referee.
Hornsley squandered a golden opportunity to bring Blues level, squeezing between two defenders he advanced on the visitors’ goal, drawing Godman he took the shot early only to see the keeper block his effort.
Leatherhead - despite Blues’ pressure - still managed to break quickly at times and the home side were indebted to Campbell who made a number of timely interventions to break up their attacks.
The 72nd minute saw the departure of Blues’ second keeper, a long ball was played over the top of the home defenders Kharshiladze advanced to gather the ball but in doing so strayed outside his area and as he was deemed to be the last man the referee had no option but to show him a red card with Osei forced to don the keeper’s jersey.
It was a cruel blow for the Blues who had been dominating proceedings and for a time Leatherhead took advantage of the extra man without testing Blues’ stand-in keeper.
The last ten minutes saw constant Blues’ pressure without producing a breakthrough. The closest they came was a strong penalty appeal when Pacquette appeared to be pulled back but the referee waved play on.
So another disappointing result for the young Blues against a side who are also mired in the relegation zone. A weakened starting eleven and the loss of both their keepers did not help matters, but a failure to convert possession into goals and fragility at the back is costing them dear at the moment.
They should be able to welcome back Cole and Menga for their next game on Wednesday which will be another stern test when they entertain league leaders Leiston.