GAFC 2 – 0 Heybridge Swifts
Grays recorded their fifth win in a row to keep their play-off dreams alive in this tough encounter.
Grays started the game with a determination to take the game forward and should have been one up inside two minutes when Joao Carlos tapped home from a Kenny Beaney header only to be adjudged off side. They made amends three minutes later a Carlos cross caused panic in the away defence and James Bunn picked up the loose ball to strike it home past Yil Aksoy.
Grays were on top and the lively Nathan Gordon was unlucky when he hit the bar from a Bunn lay-off then Jake Hall shot just over from a Bunn cross. Aksoy was at hand to tip a Carlos cross away from Hall as the Blues kept up the early pressure.
A long ball from Chris Moore put Luke Callander clear but Tony Tucker was penalised for handling outside the box as he cleared. The free kick was hit just wide as the danger passed.
Stephen Ikumelo continued his form with some good overlap play and released Beaney to hit a hard shot just wide and a free kick from Lee Flynn went the same way as Grays continued their first half dominance. Heybridge had to use long ball tactics to find a way through and Tucker saved from the feet of Dan Foakes and held a shot from Edwards as the long balls got past the home defence.
Another attack from Grays saw a cross from Beaney drop into the goalmouth and the ball was bundled over the line in the melee but the goal was disallowed due to a foul on Aksoy. This seemed to unbalance and frustrate the home side as up to the half time whistle their passes were going adrift and their play became disjointed but they went into the break having controlled the play.
Grays came out for the second half in a more controlled state of mind and pushed on from the whistle and an early chance saw a long pass from Grant Cooper find Gordon in space and his cross was headed just over by the advancing Bradley Thomas as the Blues went looking to score the goals to kill of the game.
A pass from Flynn found Carlos in space but his accurate cross was held by Aksoy with Gordon in close attendance then Flynn hit a free-kick wide. Grays could not break through a solid Heybridge defence although they controlled the first part of the half and it looked as if the away side might level when they started to get back into the game and Edwards found space from a long throw but mishit his shot wide with only Tucker to beat.
A Callander free-kick found a way through the Blues back four and Tucker showed his best form to dive low to his left to hold the goal bound ball. Grays brought on Joe Sweeney for Ikumelo to change formation back to a 4-4-2 shape to try to disrupt the Heybridge revival and a classy move between Carlos, Bunn and Hall saw a fierce Carlos shot held by the away keeper as Grays started to inpose themselves again.
A late substitution brought on Jean-Michel Sigere for the hard working but tiring Bunn and his interplay with Carlos allowed the winger more space to get the ball forward. With the minutes running down Flynn passed to Carlos for the ball to fly low into the box. Sigere managed to control the ball and guide it into the path of Sweeney and the forward turned the ball past Aksoy to double the goal tally and make the result more realistic of the control afforded by Grays.
The game ended with a solid performance by the home side and a springboard to push on into the last six games.
Grays Athletic: - Tony Tucker, Stephen Ikumelo (Joe Sweeney), Grant Cooper, Bradley Thomas, Lee Flynn, Nathan Gordon (Jason Fontaine), Kenny Beaney, Jake Hall, Danny Bunce, Joao Carlos, James Bunn (Jean-Michel Sigere)
Subs not used: - Joe Smallwood, Anthony Ryan.
Report by Steve Allen.