Grays closed the gap on Maldon at the top of the table with a 4-1 win at Chatham Town on Saturday.
Goals from Junior Baker, Jeff Hammond, Jared Small and Joao Carlos secured a comfortable victory for Grays as they controlled the game from the first whistle to the last.
Chatham Town’s day got off to a bad start as both of their goalkeepers reported injured for the game. As a result, winger Gary Tilley had to stand-in and performed admirably for his side.
Grays took the lead with their first effort on goal in the 6th minute. A corner from the left was cleared to the edge of the area where Joao Carlos picked up the ball. He beat a defender and crossed to the ball to the back post where Junior Baker was left unmarked for a simple header passed Tilley in the Chatham goal.
The away side almost doubled their lead in the 12th minute as an incisive break away allowed Jake Hall to find space in the middle of the park. He played the ball out to Jeff Hammond who drew a defender before laying the ball across to Jared Small. His first time strike was heading for the bottom left hand corner, but Tilley was on hand with a smart save.
Grays did finally double their lead in the 35th minute as a free kick from the left was swung into the area by Harry Agombar. As the ball reached the six yard line, Jeff Hammond rose highest, beating Tilley to the ball and heading into the empty net.
Harry Agombar looked in superb form, controlling the midfield and he almost put Grays out of sight on the stroke of half-time. His fierce shot from the edge of the area was heading for the top corner, only for Tilley to make a superb diving save, tipping the ball over the bar.
Grays started the second half much the same as the first, attacking from the first whistle, as the Grays management refused to let their team take the foot off the gas.
In the 55th minute, a free kick from Harry Agombar was pushed over the bar by Tilley as the ball was heading for the top corner, before then punching the resulting corner to safety.
A minute later a cross from Joao Carlos found Jared Small with his back to goal. He played the ball to Harry Agombar on the edge of the area but his shot went inches passed the right hand post.
Grays got the third goal their play deserved in the 61st minute as a simple ball through the middle of the Chatham defence found Jared Small through on goal. He raced towards goal and fired low into the bottom corner, leaving Tilley with no chance.
It was four just three minutes later as Joao Carlos worked his way through on goal passed the Chatham defence. He ran toward goal, cut inside a defender and hammered home, the ball hitting the net before the keeper had dived.
Grays made a string of substitutions replacing Jeff Hammond, Jared Small and Harry Agombar with Joe Sweeney, Jack West and Luke Marshall respectively, to give the Chatham defence a break for the final twenty minutes.
Chatham did grab a late consolation in the 82nd minute with their first shot on target. Matt Newman collected the ball on the left wing before cutting inside two Grays defenders and firing over George Kamurasi and into the roof of the net from the edge of the area.
Grays closed the gap to twelve points behind Maldon & Tiptree at the top of the table, who did not play Saturday, and with a game still in hand and a visit to Rush Green to come, a potential six point lead does not look that insurmountable.
Grays Athletic: George Kamurasi, Lee Flynn, Junior Baker, Ryan Kirby, Danny Bunce, Joao Carlos, Harry Agombar (Luke Marshall 81), Kenny Beaney, Jake Hall, Jared Small (Jack West 78), Jeff Hammond (Joe Sweeney 72)
Unused Subs: Dave East, Tyrone Scarlett