Grays Athletic vs Waltham Abbey - Match Report – 23/12/17
By Charlie Skinner
After their first defeat in seven matches away to Maldon & Tiptree on Tuesday, Grays welcomed Waltham Abbey to Parkside for a Bostik League fixture. Jamie Stuart made five changes to his side from midweek with Johnson, Bruce, Poole, Brown and Slabber coming in for Simmonds, Fowler, Mahal, Cogan and Carlos.
A lacklustre opening to the game saw Abbey take the lead just eight minutes in. A long ball over the top of the Blues’ high backline found Shad Ngandu in acres of space out wide on the right. Ngandu took the ball to the byline before crossing for Christian Assombalonga who scored a free header from 6 yards out, powering it under Lamar Johnson in goal.
Athletic looked threatening going forward with Kai Brown and Kieran Bishop linking up well but susceptible at the back with both full backs often caught too far up field, resulting in dangerous crosses being allowed into Johnson’s area and both centre halves struggling to deal with Assombalonga’s pace and physicality in the final third. Despite this, Grays and Bishop had two of the best chances of the half. Firstly, a ball over the top of the Abbey defence was controlled well by Bishop, who showed good strength to shrug off two challenges, but he could only fire into the side netting from 12 yards out. Similarly, Bishop found himself in another threatening position just minutes later but the shot was deflected out for a corner.
As the first half came to a close, the visitors had a free kick from a wide position fall to the edge of the box where a blocked shot ricocheted perfectly into the path of Jack Daveney but an outrushing Johnson made a fantastic save from ten yards, sending the ball out for a corner with his outstretched right foot.
Stuart made a much needed change at half time with Joao Carlos coming on for Glenn Poole and the impact was instantaneous. Carlos provided the hosts with width and pace and caused the Abbey right back endless problems throughout the second half. An early chance saw a great whipped cross in from Sam Cross met by the head of Jamie Slabber but his glancing headed effort just looped over the bar.
Carlos continued to force the issue with a blatant foul on him resulting in a Cross free kick gathered comfortably by keeper Hugh Rossetti followed by a great run to the byline where Carlos cut the ball back to Ade Cole on the edge of the box, although the usually clinical midfielder could only drag wide.
Against the run of play Abbey won a corner after Cole cleared an inviting cross. The delivery from the left was floated to the back post with Rimmel Daniel rising highest and steering a towering header past Johnson into the top right corner to take a 2-0 lead for the visitors. Unlike the recent Grays side of the past few weeks which has shown grit and character to pull through from losing positions, on this Christmassy afternoon the Blues capitulated like they had done earlier on in the season. Just minutes later a soaring run from Waltham Abbey substitute, Mitch Hahn, parted the Grays defence as he strolled through 3 challenges on his way to the edge of the box, before slotting a shot into the bottom right corner, clipping the post on its way in.
Subsequently, a couple of good chances followed for the Blues. A nice piece of skill from Carlos saw him evade his marker and his shot from the left apex of the box was parried by the keeper but a pouncing Bishop could only force another save from Rossetti in goal. Shortly after, Carlos again burst through the gap between the Abbey centre-half and right back before powering a shot towards the top left corner but another great save from Rossetti saw him tip it behind for a corner.
The visitors rounded off their convincing victory in the dying moments when they caught Grays on the counter, resulting in Assombalonga being fouled in the box after a tired challenge from Richard Halle, causing the referee to signal towards the penalty spot. Ngandu stepped up and comfortably dispatched high into the top right corner rounding off their 4-0 win.
After slumping to their heaviest league defeat and first consecutive goalless defeats of the season, Grays will look to bounce back on Boxing Day when they coincidentally play away at Parkside against Aveley and will hope to replicate their 4-2 victory from the reverse fixture earlier this season.