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Kirby vindicated as Blues defensive turnaround starts to reap reward
Grays Athletic 2, Harrow Borough 0
AFTER watching his side keep their fourth clean sheet on the bounce, Ryan Kirby was left feeling rightly vindicated.
In October, the Grays Athletic manager made the seemingly drastic decision to move on fans' favourite centre back Junior Baker after Blues conceded nine goals in two games.
Joe Nightingill was also shipped out in a reshuffle which saw Ian Gayle brought in and Phil Anderson made first choice centre half.
And on Saturday, Blues super win over Harrow Borough was built on an excellent defensive performance.
Joao Carlos and Craig Pope scored the goals - the former atoning for a dreadful penalty miss early in the second half - but this was a display that saw Grays nullify their visitors before inflicting on them their first away defeat since August.
"I felt those changes were necessary," Kirby said. "I've never played in any team at any level where we've let nine goals in back-to-back and that was a signal that I need to make some big changes that people would look at and say 'I don't know why you're doing that'. But people are starting to realise why I made those changes - it takes a bit of time.
"The players have got more understanding and belief. Performances haven't been as bad, there have been some good results."
The turnaround in Blues defence hasn't just been born from a better back four, though. All over the park, Grays battled and tackled. Kenny Beaney, in particular, was combative in front of Anderson and Gayle.
Carlos tracked back with purpose while Jack West made numerous crucial headed clearances in his own box.
Harrow were more incisive in the first half, but lacked imagination. There were several efforts in the box by Boro's front men, but they were blocked before troubling Lamar Johnson.
Simeon Akinola got between Pope and Gayle on the left after a dart down the wing late in the first period, but his shot was easy for the Blues stopper.
Grays were more threatening themselves in the second half. Joel Nouble won a penalty in the 58th minute, which Carlos tamely placed into the arms of James Shea, who until recently was playing in Arsenal's reserves.
In the 78th minute, Carlos made up for it by putting Blues ahead. Lee Flynn's cross from the left deflected into the air and to the back post. Carlos held off the defender before controlling the ball with a deft touch, turning and shooting under Shea from close range.
Kenny Beaney on the ball for Blues [Pic Mikey Cartwright]
In the last of three stoppage time minutes, Shea joined the Boro attack for a late corner. Blues cleared and charged off on the counter attack.
As Shea chased back, he stumbled, taking Jeff Hammond with him but the ball spun wide to Pope who was on hand to roll it into an empty net.
"We've stressed the importance of keeping clean sheets. We've had some average results - scoring as many as we're letting in but the defence was excellent today. The concentration was great and everyone took responsibility." Kirby added.
His side are scaling the Ryman Premier League - they now sit ninth with three games in hand on the three sides directly above them.
Grays Athletic: Johnson; Pope, Flynn, Gayle, Anderson; Carlos, Beaney, Lalite, Fry (Hammond); West, Nouble (Small).
Gazette MoM: Kenny Beaney
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