Last gasp Baker strike earns 1-0 win at Redbridge
By Andrew Packer
Junior Baker scored a spectacular overhead kick in the fifth minute of added on time to give Grays a vital win in a match they dominated away to Redbridge
Grays almost made the perfect start to the game when in only the second minute the ball came to Joao Carlos in the Redbridge area. He was fouled from behind leaving the referee with little option but to award a penalty. Danny Bunce stepped up and fired low but Neil Dean guessed correctly and pushed the ball around the post.
The first chance from open play came in just the 4th minute as Lee Flynn crossed from the left, finding Danny Bunce unmarked at the back post but his header was over the bar.
Grays continued to press forward but struggled to find a way past a determined Redbridge back line and goalkeeper.
The away side had to wait until the 28th minute for their best chance of the game as the ball was played through the middle of the Redbridge defence before falling to Jack West in the centre of goal. His snap shot was on target by Neil Dean was out well to smother the shot.
Grays forced a corner in the 32nd minute which fell to Hammond in the area. His shot was parried by Neil Dean and the rebound was headed over from close range by Danny Bunce.
As half time approached, Grays earned their ninth corner of the half but could not find a way to goal and despite dominating the first half and not facing a shot on their own goal, the sides went in level at the break.
Redbridge did manage their first shot on goal in the 4th minute of the second half as Antony McDonald found space on the edge of the Grays area to fire towards goal but the ball went narrowly wide.
Grays won yet another corner in the 52nd minute which was swung into the six yard area. Dave East timed his run perfectly to meet the cross but his header was straight at Neil Dean who saved well.
Jared Small was introduced in place of Danny Bunce just after the hour mark.
The eleventh corner for the away side came in the 70th minute which was played to the back post. Jack West fired across goal with the ball falling to Jared Small. His low effort was towards the near post but was blocked and cleared.
With fifteen minutes remaining, Jack West was replaced with Joe Sweeney.
As the game entered the final ten minutes, Grays continued to press forward but the game looked to be heading towards an unlikely goalless draw.
In the 84th minute, a corner from the right was fired along the six yard box at head height and this time Junior Baker rose highest to head the ball towards the far corner of the net. The ball looked to be in all the way until the last second as Neil Dean dived full length to get a fingertip on the ball and push it over the bar for another corner. This one was cleared to the edge of the area where Joe Sweeney volleyed towards goal but it went high over the bar.
Grays fourteenth corner of the game in the 87th minute yielded another chance, again to David East, but as before his header was directly at Neil Dean who saved well.
Daniel Subuola was brought on in place of Leon Lalite as the game entered added on time.
In the second minute of added on time, a reckless moment from Neil Dean arguably changed the game in Grays favour.
The ball was played through the centre of the Redbridge defence which Jeff Hammond chased down. Neil Dean was off his line well to collect the ball and he felt Jeff Hammond kicked out at the keeper as he ran passed. Neil Dean chased down Jeff Hammond and lashed out leaving the ref no option but to send him off. As the ball was still in play at the time of the incident, the Grays fans rightly expected another penalty, but were left irate as Redbridge were inexplicably awarded a free kick.
Just as Grays fans and players alike appeared to be resigned to a draw, the breakthrough finally came, unsurprisingly from a corner, Grays fifteenth of the game.
In the 95th minute, an in swinging corner from the right was half cleared to the penalty spot and Junior Baker reacted quickest to turn and fire an overhead kick towards the bottom corner of the net. Where Neil Dean had been on hand to repeatedly thwart the away side all night, he could only watch helplessly from the side-line as the ball flew passed attackers and defenders alike to nestle in the bottom corner.
The mass celebration between players and fans as the goal went in showed the kind of unity and spirit within the club that will help chase down Maldon & Tiptree at the top of the league.
Grays Athletic: Lamar Johnson, Craig Pope, Junior Baker, David East, Lee Flynn, Joao Carlos, Kenny Beaney, Leon Lalite (Daniel Subuola 90), Danny Bunce (Jared Small 67), Jack West (Joe Sweeney 74), Jeff Hammond
Unused Subs: Ryan Kirby, Luke Marshall