Lacklustre Blues go down at Barking
A case of a bad day at the office for the Blues against new boys Barking
After suffering an early FA cup exit on Wednesday evening, a lacklustre looking Grays continued their poor week with a disappointing 3-1 defeat away at Barking. Two Grays changes from midweek saw James Folkes make his first start since a groin injury, coming in for Ade Cole, as well as Joao Carlos back on the wing instead of Kiernan Hughes-Mason. Barking’s line-up also featured a few former Blues players as Akwasi Marfo, Dan Gilchrist and Jay Knight starred in their new club’s victory.
There was a promising start to the fifth Bostik North fixture of the season for Grays as they took the lead just eight minutes into the game. Lamar Johnson’s long throw from his penalty area fell to the imposing figure of Suley Zuhdu who opened the scoring for the Blues. The powerful midfielder cut in from the left and fired a right-footed shot, from the edge of the box, which deflected into the opposite corner to the despairing Barking goalkeeper.
It was looking as though a fairly even game was taking shape as both sides enjoyed spells of possession and had opportunities to score. Shortly after the goal, good work from Ryan Mahal allowed Kieran Bishop to cross for the Blues. The striker’s lofted cross was met by the head of fellow striker Jamie Slabber whose header was no trouble to thankful Barking goalie, Ollie Bowles. This Blues attempt was followed by a one at the other end of the pitch. Ex-Grays striker, Jay Knight, who came through the GAFC youth system with teammate Gilchrist a few seasons ago, was causing both Perry Dunn and Glenn Wilson many problems. After wriggling free of his marker, Knight found himself through one-on-one with former teammate Johnson but he could only steer the ball just wide of the upright.
Just minutes later, Knight and Barking received the goal that they deserved. After a neat ball through to the striker, he evaded a challenge from Perry Dunn to find space on the edge of the Blues’ area. As the ‘keeper rushed out of his goal, Knight slotted a neat finish into the bottom left-hand corner to equalise.
Grays looked as though the 120 minutes on Wednesday night was taking its toll as many players looked off the pace. This showed when only four minutes after the score was levelled; Barking took the lead for the first time. A combination of one-two’s between Knight and the energetic right midfielder, Theo Ola, drew a sloppy foul from Dunn around 20 yards out from goal. Ola stepped up to take the resulting free kick casually and curled a beautiful strike over the tall Athletic wall into the top right corner past a stretched Johnson.
Unfortunately, the Blues never really looked like getting back into the game at the end of the first half which saw Zuhdu booked for a cynical foul in the centre of the park. His solitary efforts were one of the only positives for both the Grays management team and fans to take from the game as many of his teammates didn’t seem to apply themselves with the same amount of effort and passion as Zuhdu showed.
Barking’s relentless work-rate saw them finish the half the better side after squandering a couple of very good chances to score. Firstly, a low cross fell to Billy Jones but the Barking midfielder could only fire an attempt over the Grays crossbar from ten yards out. Another chance followed shortly after Barking’s number 10 Kreshnic Krasniqi, one of many former Billericay Town players to follow Gaffer Justin Gardner to Mayesbrook Park, forced a punch from Johnson in goal with his extremely dangerous long throw. The punch fell to goal scorer Knight, who this time headed just over the bar from close range and showed disappointment not to make the most of a good opportunity.
After a couple of half-chances for Grays before half time, the referee’s whistle signalled both teams to go into the dressing room at the break; Gardner would’ve been the happier out of the two managers as the Barking boss’ side led 2-1 at the halfway stage.
Jamie Stuart’s team talk may have momentarily inspired the Grays players as the Blues started the second half as the better side. Multiple early chances for Carlos, created by skipper Barry Cogan, saw Bowles in goal for Barking troubled for the first time in a while after a good one-on-one save from Carlos’ left-footed shot on the edge of the box. Subsequently, a long Cogan free kick was met by Carlos’ head but he couldn’t convert his first headed goal since a 4-0 win at Hendon in November as it flashed across the goal and wide of the post. Arguably, one of the most impressive plays of the day followed as Suley Zuhdu, a surprise summer signing from Manford Way, used his blistering pace and brute force to evade four Barking challenges after picking the ball up from halfway. Unfortunately, after reaching the 18 yard line, Zuhdu fired a shot across goal from the right hand side but his effort was watched wide by the Barking ‘keeper.
On a wet, grey day in East London, Grays who were wearing their brand new grey and yellow away strip for the first time allowed the foreshadowing of a grey afternoon to become even worse. The impressive Theo Ola stole the ball from his midfield position on the right at around halfway. He subsequently went on a weaving solo run, evading multiple weak Grays challenges, and slid the ball through to Dan Gilchrist. The striker-cum- attacking midfielder, who had an excellent goal scoring ratio for the Grays youth teams, showed composure to extend Barking’s lead against his former club as he coolly nestled the ball into the bottom corner from twelve yards past a helpless Lamar Johnson just eleven minutes into the second period.
Grays showed no real fight or determination to get back into the game after the third goal. Big gaps formed in the Blues midfield which lacked a tough holding henchman and Barking were allowed to sustain pressure. Akwasi Marfo, the former GAFC winger turned left back, was allowed to cut in from the left and fire a shot just wide of Johnson’s goal.
Despite the uninspiring performance, Grays did have a series of chances with a quarter of an hour left on the clock. Sam Cross’ whipped cross found substitute Kiernan Hughes-Mason on the right apex of the six yard box but the forward could only find the post, much to his and the Blues fans’ disgust. Consequently, a succession of corners followed with a Jack Fowler header and Cole shot blocked respectively; yet again there was no success.
As the game drew to a close, substitute Jack Fowler, who replaced Perry Dunn at half time after he suffered a hamstring injury, made a superb goal saving challenge from behind after Ernest Okoh found himself through one-on-one. Grays finished slightly the stronger side after a well-struck Bishop shot from the edge of the area was well tipped over by Bowles in goal and another Bishop effort was well blocked by Barking’s Jones from six yards following a neat Slabber flick.
Yet this was not enough to prevent Grays from a third league defeat in five games and the match finished 3-1. The comprehensive victory was the newly promoted sides first of the season and was thoroughly deserved.
Athletic need to rebuild and regroup as this coming Tuesday evening, Grays face Bowers & Pitsea FC in the league at the Len Salmon Stadium where an instant response is needed to take a much appreciated result away from home.