DARREN Manning was unable to enjoy a winning return to Grays Athletic as his Hullbridge Sports side suffered a 2-0 defeat at Parkside.

Manning enjoyed a stint as assistant manager of Grays and also grew up watching the club.

But strikes from Joao Carlos and George Purcell proved to be enough for the hosts to overcome Sports in the Isthmian North encounter.

Grays opened the scoring with 15 minutes on the clock.

Jack McQueen’s fine cross-field pass was cushioned across goal by Macauley Joynes. Mitch Hahn then chose against going for goal and instead found Carlos, who worked some space before firing into the bottom corner of the net.

Purcell, who made the move to Parkside from Canvey Island earlier in the campaign, then forced Hullbridge goalkeeper Lewis Greene into a fine save after the frontman had cut inside and beaten defender Michael Agboola.

Carlos, having already got on the scoresheet, rose highest to meet a cross from ex-Bowers & Pitsea and East Thurrock United full-back Ryan Sammons but his header was comfortably held by Greene.

Hullbridge’s first meaningful attempt came on the stroke of half-time as captain Matt Rose let fly from long range, but the strike sailed over the crossbar.

Grays should have doubled their advantage within four minutes of the resumption.

Purcell broke clear of the Hullbridge defence and unselfishly squared to Hahn.

But, with the goal at his mercy, Hahn saw his close range effort impressively blocked by Jamal Allen.

Greene then made a stunning save as he pushed Sammons’ drive over the crossbar.

Dan Gilchrist, who made his Sports debut in the midweek Isthmian League Cup defeat at Great Wakering Rovers, came off the bench and forced Grays shot-stopper Danny Sambridge into action with a right-footed strike.

Luke Hornsley then fired over moments later as the visitors searched for a way back into the contest.

However, there was no way back for Hullbridge as Purcell rifled a free-kick into the bottom corner of the net with eight minutes remaining.

Jamie Salmon volleyed wide of the target after some fine wing-play from substitute Callum Fitzer and Sports were unable to stop Grays keeping a clean sheet.