BLUES LATE FIGHTBACK SALVAGES A POINT
Two goals late in the second half saw Blues share the points with Maldon and Tiptree
Grays showed great character to come back from two goals down with a fighting second half performance - equalising in the dying minutes with debutant Tommy Wade notching his first goal for the club. The draw was all the more satisfying considering they played for an hour with fullback Ryan Mahal donning the keepers jersey after Charlie Burns succumbed to injury. Also making his first appearance since the clubs Conference days was Dennis Oli.
The opening minutes saw both teams playing attractive passing football with neither side creating a clear opening until the sixteenth minute when James Folkes sent in a tantalising cross which just eluded the head of Wade. Maldon employing a high line were compressing the play and caught Blues offside on a number of occasions. The visitors saw their first opportunity fall to Ryan Clampin who rather ambitiously tried his luck from 35 yards but failed to trouble Burns.
The 30th minute saw the first incident of note when Burns succumbed to a dead leg. There then appeared to be confusion on the bench when back up keeper Joe Simmonds stripped ready to replace Burns, but following intervention by the referee, after consultation with a Grays official, Mahal was forced to don the keepers jersey due to an administrative error on the team sheet! All manager Jamie Stuarts' plans were now disrupted, Callum Thompson came on to slot in at left back with James Folkes moving to right back.
The change had an unsettling effect on Blues and shortly after Maldon went in front in the 36th minute. A quick break saw Renee Joinville send in a dangerous cross which was deflected behind. The corner kick was delivered to the edge of the Blues box finding the unmarked James Shepherd who struck the ball past Mahal who managed to get a hand to the ball but it nestled in the top corner. Without being harsh on Mahal a regular keeper would probably have saved it.
Blues were dealt a further blow two minutes from the break when Thompson suffered what looked initially like a serious foot injury and was stretchered off to be replaced by Joao Carlos .
Blues made an aggressive start to the half, winning two early corners and seeing two goal bound efforts blocked as they looked to get back into the game, but in the 51st minute Maldon doubled their advantage. A quick break and shot from Clampin looked bound for the net until Jack Fowler intervened at the expense of a corner. From the kick Joe Ellul found himself unmarked at the far post and looped a header over Mahal.
Two nearly became three when Joinville was played in, but Mahal came to Blues rescue with an unorthodox save sticking out a boot to deflect the ball behind.
The near miss was the catalyst for a Grays fightback, they took the game to their visitors with Ade Cole prominent, Maldon were now coming under a lot of pressure as Blues continued to probe for an opening. A number of free kicks and corners rained in on the visitors goal, Kieran Bishop was denied with a last ditch block and then fired into the side netting . With pressure building Blues finally made the breakthrough in the 79th minute. Cole won a free kick out wide, the ball was floated in and keeper Haigh came, flapped at the ball and after a scramble in the box skipper Stan Muguo stabbed the ball home.
The goal stunned Maldon, who had looked so calm and composed earlier and were now fighting a rearguard action, in contrast Blues with their tails up went searching for an equaliser, but Maldon nearly increased their advantage when Emmanuel Katundu broke clear and tested Mahal, but Blues stand in keeper saved well.
With the clock ticking down it looked as if Maldon would hold on for the win but in the 87th minute a deep cross from Joe Bruce into the visitors box caused confusion, Haigh rushed from his line failed to gather the ball and in the ensuing scramble Wade managed to force the ball home via a deflection and salvaged a well deserved point.
Blues, despite the setbacks through hard work and tenacity earned a point against a useful Maldon side with the added bonus of bright performances from new signings Oli and Wade. Credit must go to the defence who protected Mahal, denying Maldon shooting opportunities especially in the second half.
Next Saturday sees Witham Town visit Parkside where Blues will be looking for a repeat of their victory earlier in the season.
Burns (Thompson 30, Carlos 43) Mahal, Folkes, Fowler, Bruce, Poole(Cogan 67), Muguo, Cole, Oli, Bishop, Wade.
Subs not used Stuart , Zialor.
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