Hammond header hands Grays 1-0 win at Needham Market on Saturday
A first half Jeff Hammond header from a Danny Bunce corner ensured Grays recorded their first win at Needham Market in three years
Grays controlled the game from the first to the last minute and almost took the lead in the 5th minute as a Danny Bunce free-kick was fired narrowly passed the right hand post.
The away side again came close in the 12th minute as Jack West flicked on well to Joao Carlos who weaved his way to the edge of the area before firing at goal; however his shot went narrowly wide.
Grays did take a deserved lead in the 20th minute as an in swinging corner from the right by Danny Bunce was played into the near post. Jeff Hammond rose highest six yards out to flick the ball towards goal, which hit the underside of the bar and came down over the line before the defence could clear the ball.
Credit should go to the assistant who had no hesitation in flagging for the goal, unlike many officials in this league who struggle to award a throw in.
Danny Bunce almost doubled Grays lead in the 24th minute as he shot from the corner of the area. The ball was heading for the bottom corner of the net until Louis Johnson did well to tip the ball round the post for a corner.
Grays domination continued and in the 26th minute Joao Carlos worked space for himself in the area before driving the ball low towards the bottom corner. The ball looked to be heading in but hit the side netting of the goal.
Needham Market’s only real effort of the first half came in the 28th minute as a deep cross for the right hand side towards the back post found Jack Wilkinson in space but his free header went wide of the post.
This chance only seemed to spur Grays on further as they came inches from doubling their lead on the half hour mark.
Danny Bunce picked up the ball on the left wing and played in Jack West who made a good overlapping run. His cross to the penalty spot found Jeff Hammond in space and his header crashed off the cross bar before being cleared.
More good play by Jack West, having arguably his best game in a Grays shirt, in the 32nd minute saw the ball played out to Leon Lalite who fed the ball to Jeff Hammond, however, his turn and shot went narrowly over the bar.
The second half started much the same as the first, with Grays in the ascendency and Kenny Beaney and Leon Lalite bossing the midfield.
However, the first chance of the half went to Needham, who should have levelled the score line.
Good build up play saw the home side work their way through the Grays team before the ball was played through to Jordan Pavett who was clear on goal. The chance was wasted however as Pavett struggled to get the ball out of his feet and Lamar Johnson was out well to gather the ball at his feet.
Grays marched straight down the opposite end and Joao Carlos collected the ball on the right wing. He cut inside to the corner of the area and unleashed a curling effort towards the far post. The shot looked to be bending into the top corner all the way but went inches passed the far post.
Another chance fell to Jeff Hammond on the hour mark as Craig Pope drove forward for the right back position and threaded a neat pass through the Needham defence to Hammond but his shot was straight at Johnson who saved easily.
Grays best chance to put the game beyond Needham came in the 73rd minute as Jack West broke into the area down the left hand side and was brought down by a clumsy challenge.
The referee awarded a penalty which Jack West took himself. The penalty was weak and Johnson guessed the right way to save easily, and as Jeff Hammond followed up on the rebound, his shot was also saved by Johnson.
Grays were almost made to pay for all their missed chances in the final minute as a long ball forward broke to substitute Pat Bexfield at the back post but his curling shot went over the bar.
Grays win closes the gap on the teams above as Maldon & Tiptree drew 0-0 at home to Waltham Abbey and Heybridge Swifts were also held to a 0-0 draw away to Witham town
Grays Athletic: Lamar Johnson, Craig Pope, Junior Baker, Ryan Kirby, Lee Flynn, Joao Carlos, Kenny Beaney, Leon Lalite, Danny Bunce, Jack West, Jeff Hammond
Unused Subs: Jake Hall, Luke Marshall, John Docker, Joe Sweeney, Jared Small