BLUES WIN SEVEN GOAL THRILLER
It was close but Blues did just enough writes The Mariner
On a cold wet afternoon Grays and Great Wakering Rovers served up an entertaining 90 minutes of football with goals a plenty and with Rovers mounting a second half fightback after being blown away by Blues high tempo first half performance. After racing into a 3-0 half time lead Blues failed to maintain the momentum in the second period - allowing Rovers to force their way back into the game, leading to a hectic finale and only a goal line save from Lloyd Anderson in the last minute prevented Rovers from snatching a draw. The first period saw Blues play with verve and invention bolstered by a gnarly and energetic midfield - and deservedly went into the break with a comfortable three goal cushion.
Blues have made a habit in previous games of making a quick start, taking the game to their opponents without making an early breakthrough. They started in similar style, when Ryan Mahal scampered forward and delivered a menacing low cross into the box, which just evaded a rejuvenated Dennis Oli. It wasn't long though before Blues went in front - in the 7th minute Shomari Barnwell helped the ball on to Oli , who took advantage of a slight deflection and slotted the ball past Tim Brown.
With their tails up Blues pushed Rovers back - Barnwell had a great opportunity to double Blues advantage when he found space in the box, but missed the target - his effort sailing wide of the upright. Rovers only real threat at this stage came from a series of long throws, always difficult to defend but Blues goal remained intact.
Blues kept foraging and were rewarded in the 19th minute when a measured and patient build up saw Oli send a low cross past the far post, finding the lurking Joao Carlos who unleashed an unstoppable volley past Brown, a goal similar in execution to his howitzer the previous week.
Rovers looked stunned and for a time had no answer to Blues onslaught, but gradually they saw more of the ball without creating any clear cut openings.
Normal service was resumed with Blues searching for a third goal, Mitchel Hahn and Barnwell were denied in quick succession, but then in the 39th minute Blues were rewarded from the penalty spot. Barnwell, who had worked hard winning a number of crucial headers stepped up and putting last week's miss behind him duly dispatched the spot kick - to record his second of the season that will no doubt boost his confidence.
It was left to Hahn to carve out Blues last chance of the half, when he struck a fine shot from distance into the grateful arms of Brown - shortly after Blues were dealt a blow when the influential Oli succumbed to injury, to be replaced by Michael Mignot.
Rovers looked sharper after the break, forcing an early free kick saved by Anderson. Now with the wind behind them they showed more going forward , Adam Vyse was proving a thorn in Blues side with Jake Gordon exploiting space wide on the left flank.
Blues in the shape of Mignot nearly snatched a fourth goal - when he reacted quickest to a Hahn long throw - impudently poking the ball just over from close range. At this stage Blues tempo and composure of the first half had dissipated and was further disrupted by the loss of midfield enforcer Stanley Muguo who picked up an injury - to be replaced by Adeyinka Cole in the 56th minute. The change although introducing the flair of Cole reduced Blues steely edge and Rovers seized the opportunity, applying pressure and controlling the middle of the park, reducing Blues to long punts forward.
Gordon again finding acres of space out wide caused a stir when his cross come shot appeared to deceive Anderson - shaving the crossbar. Sensing they could establish a foothold, Rovers continued to press and in the 62nd minute were rewarded when Ollie Woodhouse rose unchallenged from a corner , planting his header firmly past Anderson.
Clearly buoyed by the goal - Rovers came close when Vyse, who really should have done better when well placed clipping the upright with his drive. Blues were rocking and it was no surprise when Woodhouse again found space - touching home a second goal in the 68th minute.
To the relief of their fans Blues quickly replied just three minutes later, Carlos - picking the ball up wide outpaced his marker and funnelled the ball to Cole in the six yard box - with quick thinking he improvised with an audacious flick to turn the ball past Brown and restore a two goal advantage. It was to be the diminutive midfielders last meaningful contribution after he was cruelly hacked down, suffering what looked a nasty ankle injury - which should have but didn't receive a yellow card for the perpetrator. Jack Curtis replaced Cole and quickly established himself with some adept passing and movement.
With the clock ticking down Rovers claimed their third of the afternoon - and it was a goal that came from nowhere in the 89th minute - a long ball from Turner appeared to deceive Barry Cogan, who had time to intercept, the ball ran through the middle of a static Blues back line - Anderson left his line but hesitated, allowing Marcus Bowers a simple tap in to set up a hectic final few minutes.
Deep in injury time Rovers nearly snatched what had looked an unlikely point having been outplayed in the first period - a quick break led to a cross and header which Anderson managed to hold on to - just as it looked likely to cross the line.
The final whistle brought sighs of relief from the Blues faithful, who had seen their team run away with a masterful first half performance but fail to maintain that momentum into the second period, however, the three injuries did have a destabilising affect on Blues approach.
Anderson, Mahal, Okonkwo, Finneran, Toner, Cogan, Muguo (Cole 56, Curtis 77 ),Hahn, Carlos, Oli (Mignot 44), Barnwell,
Subs not used: Bogard, Gordon
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