Waltham Abbey 2, Grays Athletic 1
A poor second half display condemned Blues to a second defeat of this fledgling Bostik North season
Blues were short of four squad players when they travelled to Waltham Abbey on Saturday. Glenn Wilson and Callum Ibe were suspended, Sully Zuhdu on holiday and James Folkes out with a groin injury, but even allowing for these absences, Blues’ performance fell far short of the standards they have set themselves and were always second best against a well-organised Abbey outfit.
The opening 15 minutes saw play confined to the middle of the park with little goal mouth activity until Jamie Slabber rose highest in the box to glance a header over Lewis Lockyer, only to see the ‘goal’ ruled out for pushing. Abbey quickly broke away and had an opportunity when the lively Aron Gordon sent in a tantalising cross forcing Lamar Johnson into a one handed interception to nullify the danger.
With the game settling down there emerged a clear contrast in approach. Blues were content to build slowly through Barry Cogan and Ade Cole while Abbey were moving the ball at pace down the flanks and crowding the midfield so much so that they gradually gained the ascendency. Perry Dunn and Jack Fowler were working hard to keep Blues goal intact and were arguably the pick of the Blues on the day.
Blues had an opportunity when Slabber broke wide but his floated cross into the box was easily claimed by Lockyer. Cole then came close when the ball fell to him on the edge of the box but his first time effort skimmed the bar.
Grays showed resilience and came back into the game, so much so they opened the scoring on 25 minutes when Slabber threaded the ball behind the Abbey back line into the path of Kieron Bishop who drew Lockyer and stroked the ball home.
Abbey rallied after the goal and enjoyed a period of domination as they searched for an equalizer. The dangerous Christian Assambalonga came so close to a goal when he latched onto a pinpoint pass and slotted the ball past the advancing Johnson only to see Fowler clear his goal bound effort off the line. At the other end a flicked header from Slabber found Keirnan Hughes-Mason in space but he spurned the chance by volleying over.
Blues’ rearguard were by now working overtime to keep their goal intact , in the dying seconds of the half following a patient build up Assambalonga tested Johnson with a fierce drive which the Blues keeper did well to hold diving to his right.
From the start of the second half Abbey showed their attacking intent, launching some swift and menacing attacks. Grays, in comparison, were off the pace and finding it difficult to contain the speed and movement of the their hosts.
It seemed only a matter of time before Abbey would register an equaliser and that they did in the 53rd minute. Ryan Mahal was guilty of a clumsy challenge following a corner and the referee pointed to the spot. Up stepped Assambalonga who sent Johnson the wrong way to bring the teams level.
With their tails up Abbey looked the more likely to get their noses in front but in a rare Blues rally they thought they had a good shout for a penalty. Hughes-Mason looked to have been chopped down in the Abbey box but much to the amazement of players and fans alike he was given a yellow card for simulation, another strange decision among many on the day.
Abbey still looked the more dangerous and once again Assambalonga was the focal point, Rimmel Daniel swung in dangerous cross and the burly striker steered his header just over.
Cole who was already carrying an injury eventually succumbed to be replaced by Furo Gogo-Ibiami but it did little to stem the tide. Blues were not helping their cause by failing to retain possession, playing aimless balls forward when a simple ten yard pass would have been the better option and being too easily knocked off the ball. When they did manage to create an opening there appeared a reluctance to pull the trigger opting to pass rather than shoot.
Abbey had come close on a number of occasions so it was no surprise when they went in front in the 75th minute and the goal summed up Blues’ afternoon. A crossfield ball found Russell out wide on Blues left, bringing it under control he sent in what looked to be a cross shot, the flight of the ball appeared to deceive Johnson who stood motionless as the ball flew into the top corner.
Now a goal down and with little time left Blues at last showed some urgency and began to create pressure of their own, Joao Carlos was causing problems the flank, Bishop had an opportunity but shot weakly at Lockyer who gathered comfortably. A frenzied five minutes saw Blues create a number of openings but again a reluctance to shoot proved costly. Hughes-Mason was presented with a golden opportunity to bring the scores level in the closing minutes but fluffed his lines and allowed Lockyer to deflect his weak effort.
It was left to Assambalonga to have the final opportunity of the game bringing a good save from Johnson.