Blues suffer defeat at league leaders
Blues were undone by two breakaway goals, as Maldon & Tiptree continued their unbeaten start to the season, inflicting a second league defeat for Grays Athletic.
Harry Agombar was making his last appearance for the club, with his loan spell expiring at the end of the day, whilst Danny Bunce again missed out due to suspension. After being ineligible for the recent FA Trophy matches against Whitehak, striker Jared Small replaced Jack West in the starting line-up, with the ex-Tilbury man unavailable.
It was Blues who started the brighter, with Small running clear as early as the fourth minute. With the ball seemingly heading out of play on the sideline level with the penalty area, Small poked the ball past the on rushing Joe Wright in the Maldon goal, but went down under his challenge. There didn't appear to be too much contact, but referee Pearse cautioned the keeper.
Hakan Hayrettin's side continued to have the majority of play, creating numerous chances, but failed to make the most of them. Carlos delivered a ball into the area which Small headed back towards the penalty spot, but no one was following up, and it was a simple clearance.
Agombar went closest to scoring the opening goal, first forcing an excellent save from Wright, and then hitting the bar with an effort, following the resulting corner.
The visiting defence appeared to be in control, pushing up on several occasions to catch a Maldon player offside, but that all changed ten minutes before half time.
Manager Terry Spillane brought a number of players with him in the summer as he switched from Redbridge, but it was Maldon's record appearance holder who put the home side ahead. Craig Pope was caught in possession as he went forward, and ex-Blue Jamie Guy played in Ollie Berquez who showed composure by slotting past George Kamurasi.
Blues ended the half with two good chances which Small spurned. First his shot weakly at Wright, before he headed over from a Lee Flynn cross.
The task of getting back into the game was made harder following two incidents inside the opening 15 minutes of the second half. Jake Hall saw red for two yellow cards in the space of six minutes, and Guy extended Maldon's lead.
At first, Hall's initial booking seemed harsh, and on further reflection it was equally as confusing as it was given for persistent infringement of the rules. The actual incident saw him tangled in the area with a Maldon defender, and as they were getting to their feet, there were further words spoken. If a yellow card was awarded to Hall, it should have been given to the defender, but it wasn’t.
From the restart, Guy received the ball just inside Blues half, and he had a free run on goal before calmly finishing low past Kamurasi. Minutes later and Hall received his second red card of the season (his third since joining the club), as he was booked for a late challenge. It was a poor lack of judgement from the young midfielder, having been cautioned moments earlier.
It could, and possibly should have got worse with 12 minutes left, as Kamurasi caught substitute Joe Gardner as he was through on goal. Somewhat surprisingly, the keeper’ only received a yellow card, and to compound the decision for Maldon, he then saved James Robinson’s spot kick.
Blues were resigned to shooting from distance, and after several efforts which failed to trouble Wright, Harry Agombar signed off his loan spell with a wonderful strike from fully twenty yards.
Substitute Brian Moses caused panic late on, but his header at the far post just went wide.
The match showed that there is more than one way to win, and for all the praise that is awarded to Blues when they win well, they must also come in for criticism when it goes wrong. Ask Arsenal or Liverpool fans what their gripe is, and more often than not, they wish for a plan b. Possession is all well and good if it leads somewhere, but there isn't a column in the league table which reflects this.
One should take nothing away from Maldon & Tiptree, who showed the qualities that have seen them open up a five point lead at the top of the table. With just a quarter of the season gone, there is still plenty of time for things to change, and Blues will be hoping for a return to form as they face Waltham Abbey, Ilford and Thamesmead Town in the league before the end of the month.
Grays Athletic: George Kamurasi, Craig Pope, Ryan Kirby, David East, Lee Flynn (Dan Fry 73), Jake Hall, Harry Agombar, Leon Lalite (Joe Sweeney 59), Kenny Beaney, Joao Carlos (Brian Moses 90), Jared Small
Unused Subs: Junior Baker, Tyrone Scarlett