Maldon & Tiptree 1 - 3 Grays Athletic
Grays opened a five point gap with this victory against a team whose league position belies their work ethics.
The away side looked to move forward from the whistle as both David Cowley and Joao Carlos ran at the defence only to be denied a chance. Jared Small and Joe Sweeney worked hard to find space but were closed down quickly as the Maldon back four held together to stop their movement. The early exchanges showed a lot of commitment from both sides but with no real clear chance.
Cowley found space to run forward and was fouled on the edge of the box to be awarded a free-kick. Lee Flynn stepped up to hit a sweet shot into the net to open the scoring on 12 minutes with the first chance at goal and Grays were looking assured.
Maldon kept their heads and attacked from the restart to force a corner and the resultant cross saw a mix up in the Blues defence for Neil Cousins to find space and hit the ball past Andy Hall to level the scores on quarter of an hour.
Maldon upped their rate to take the game to Grays and had the better of the play for long periods. From a free kick Kevin McCleod found Ollie Berquez clear and his cross was met by the head of Sos Yao for Hall to pull off a smart save. A corner from McCleod dropped in towards goal only for Danny Bunce to clear off the line. McCleod was making his presence felt and forced another clearance with Grays under pressure as Maldon pushed forward.
Slowly the Blues worked their way back into the game as Kenny Beaney and Harry Agombar fought hard to win the midfield but with both sides working hard no solid chance could be found although the home side created two semi chances late into the half when Cousins hit the ball wide then Yao hit the ball to Hall when clear but the half finished level on score and possession.
Grays took control from the restart as Agombar played himself into the game and hit the ball wide. Bunce was finding extra space on the left but couldn’t find Small or Sweeney in forward positions. Maldon were trying to hit on the break and a long pass from Stevenson found McCleod clear but his wild shot went out of the ground. Grays were pushing to win the game but the home back four were giving no space as Carlos came back to his best but his passes were cleared to frustrate the forwards.
Cowley had the first chance, when put through by Bunce, when he twisted into space but his shot was cleared long. McCleod picked up the ball to place an accurate cross to Yao but his shot went just over the bar to the relief of Hall. The away side finally found some rhythm in their play as the Maldon players started to look tired. Bunce found Carlos clear to run at Marcus Milner only to be brought down in the box as Grays were awarded a penalty; Milner was red-carded for being the last man. Bunce stepped up and confidently hit the ball into the net to put the Blues back into the lead on 70 minutes.
Beaney and Small were subbed by Jean-Michel Sigere and Stuart Thurgood to consolidate their lead and took control of the game. Backs to the wall defending by the home side, as Stanley Muguo came on for Cowley, denied chances created by Carlos, Sigere and Agombar as Grays were playing ball to feet football.
It was a touch of class by Bunce who found the way through when his pinpoint pass to a fast running Sweeney arrived perfectly for the striker to hit the ball on the run into the net to put the game out of reach for Maldon. The final whistle sounded with the Blues in total control of the final quarter to stretch their lead at the top.
Grays Athletic: - Andy Hall, Lee Flynn, Grant Cooper, Bradley Thomas, Danny Bunce, Joao Carlos, Kenny Beaney (Stuart Thurgood 72), Harry Agombar, David Cowley (Stanley Muguo 82), Joe Sweeney, Jared Small (Jean-Michel Sigere 72)
Subs not used: - Charlie Brien, Louis Dennis.