Blues close in on league leaders with win over Brentwood
HAKAN Hayrettin was beaming from ear-to-ear as he followed his side off the pitch on Tuesday night.
Jack West’s 43rd minute goal saw Grays Athletic beat Brentwood Town on a cold, damp evening. The 1-0 win extended Blues’ unbeaten run to nine in all competitions.
The Grays manager then looked anxiously at his phone to see if Sudbury had held on and clinched victory over Grays’ title rivals Maldon and Tiptree. They had and the smile widened. The gap between the top two is now ten points, but Grays still have three games in hand.
The rather untidey game at the Brentwood Centre hadn’t seen Blues at their incisive, free-flowing best. But it was another demonstration of the side’s willingness and ability to grind out a result.
It was another demonstration, too, of a well drilled, organised and spirited defence. Blues got another clean sheet, their seventh in nine games, testament to the work of Lee Flynn, Junior Baker, Ryan Kirby, Craig Pope and keeper Lamar Johnson - though the hosts were missing Alex Read, their talismanic striker.
As Grays go-about hacking away at Maldon’s lead, one telling stat which stems from the defensive superiority Blues are showing of late is that Terry Spillane’s north Essex side have conceded 10 goals in their last five games. Grays have conceded just two in their last ten.
With the title race hotting-up, Blues newfound ability to win games by narrow margins because they are defending well could be very significant.
But that is not to say they aren’t capable of scoring goals. West’s opener two minutes before half time came from the endeavour of striker Jeff Hammond, who has nine goals in eight appearances for Grays.
He collected a cross from the left and prodded a shot towards goal from a tight angle. The ball spun up for West to head home on the line, scoring his fourth goal in two games.
In the second half, Heyrettin’s men looked more likely to double their lead than they ever did to concede an equaliser. West had a number of chances but was misfiring after his first half goal. He had one chance of note late on that he put the wrong side of the net, after Richard Wray could only parry a Daniel Bunce effort into his path.
Hammond himself fired over on one occasion as Joao Carlos saw a long range effort flash just wide of the post.
At the other end, Town barely troubled Johnson, whose defence were more than comfortable clearing the odd long ball.
Speaking after the game, Hayrettin said: “I think the boys are looking tired if I’m honest. They worked hard but didn’t play particularly well. But in the right areas when we had to defend, we did the right things. And we’ll take another clean sheet.
“We’ve just upped the tempo since Christmas. We’re working a little bit harder for each other and we’ve got that belief that it’s going to be difficult for teams to beat us.
“Because of the history of Grays Athletic Football Club, being one of the biggest teams in Essex, with over 100 years of history, it’s still a big scalp for any team. When we play teams, I’m telling you now they raise their game by 20 per cent.
“Sudbury beating Maldon helps, but we’ve just got to keep our heads down and work hard and the boys are giving me everything that they’ve got.”
Grays Athletic: Johnson; Flynn, Kirby, Baker, Pope; Carlos, Beaney, Lalite, Bunce; Hammond (Small, 85’), West
Gazette MoM: Junior Baker
Elsewhere, Bury Town beat Thurrock 3-1 on another dismal night for Mark Stimson’s men. Town took the lead after ten minutes and although Fleet levelled five minutes later, they went in at half time trailing after a Bury goal in the 23rd minute. In the second half, the visitors were dead and buried after 77 minutes as Sam Reed made it 3-1.
East Thurrock United were beaten 2-0 at home to Wealdstone. Peter Dean gave Stones the lead after 35 minutes and Wes Parker made it 2-0 five minutes after the interval.
But Tilbury built on their weekend win over Waltham Forest as they beat Potters Bar 2-0. Sam Cutler opened the scoring from the spot early in the second half. Southend loanee Shamir Mullings then made it 2-0 in the 88th minute. The win pushed Dockers into eighth but they remain 12 points off the play off places.