Basildon United 1, Grays Athletic 2
THIS Bostik North clash wasn’t pretty but it’s points that win prizes as they say as Blues won ugly at local rivals Basildon, on a playing surface that was more appropriate for playing Rugby than free flowing football such was the length of the grass and uneven bounce.
As a spectacle for fans of both sides it was a turgid affair.
Blues struggled in the first half to adapt to the conditions,but the second period saw them go more direct which in the end payed dividends.
One bright spot of the afternoon was the goals from 18-year-old Robinson Wokoma, making his full debut and substitute 16-year-old Jake Hutchinson, both first goals for the club.
The only real downside of the afternoon were injuries to Joao Carlo, Wokoma and Clarke Bogard, who may have broken his nose in a sickening collision in injury time, forcing Mitch Hahn to don the jersey after Blues had previously used their three substitutes.
The injuries added to Blues’ bourgeoning list joining Dennis Oli, Correy Davidson. Ryan Mahal and Michael Finneran none of whom were able to start. The three points though were welcome, leaving Blues ninth in the table.
Blues started brightly and came close when a Mitch Hahn free kick was met with a glancing header from Craig Stone saved by Russell Harley. A quick riposte from the Bees came in the shape of Ashley Pibworth unleashing an effort deflected over.
Clearly the playing surface hampered Blues’ passing game and an uneven bounce added to their problems, which Basildon exploited by pressing the play. Blues still managed to engineer an opening when a Michael Toner cross forced Harley into a hurried clearance – finding Hahn whose deft lob floated agonisingly over. Hahn was involved again when a cross to the far post found the lurking Wokoma who nodded tamely over.
A period of pressure resulted in a number of Blues corners, but a failure to attack the ball allowed Basildon to repel the danger, but they created chances at the other end feeding the lively Callum Taylor. It was Taylor who broke the deadlock on the half hour mark – the goal coming from yet another mistake, the story of Blues’ season.
Teams do not have to work hard to score against Blues, this time Stan Muguo was the culprit, with a weak header straight to Daniel Cheema. He fed Taylor who was left clear on goal, slotting past Bogard.
Blues weren’t behind for long though. Just three minutes later they were level – another corner caused panic in the home defence and Wokoma slammed the loose ball home through a ruck of players.
On level terms Blues enjoyed plenty of possession but then mistakes crept in. Bogard made a smart save to keep the scores level and then a sloppy pass from Toner set up danger man Taylor who rattled the angle of post and bar with a fierce effort .Shortly after a collision between Carlos and Harley left the Blues winger hobbling for the rest of the half eventually replaced by Hutchinson just before half time.
Blues evident lethargy at this stage drew a response from manager Jim Cooper berating his team leaving them under no illusion that they needed to up their work rate.
Another Blues corner just before the break again caused panic but the Bees managed to clear the danger leaving the scores level at half time.
One minute into the second period and Blues could have edged in front when Nathan Okoye was caught napping – Hutchinson cleverly stole the ball leaving him one on one with Harley, who did well to block the youngsters effort and keep the scores level.
Basildon replied when Harry Norman tested Bogard and then another error let in Taylor who really should have scored when ideally placed, but he blasted his shot wildly over.
The game deteriorated as the half progressed with neither side able to build any meaningful passages of play, the heat and unforgiving surface getting the upper hand.
Blues though looked to have figured the way to play was using the direct approach, with the ball over the top of the home defence allowing them to gain the ascendency – it wasn’t pretty but it was effective. Hutchinson raced through on goal and was pulled back by Robert Hodgson bringing a yellow card when many thought a red was more appropriate.
But the long ball paid off when Blues went in front in the 69th minute. A cross from the right was met by the outstretched leg of Macauley Joynes wrong footing Bees defenders – Hutchinson was the first to react slamming the ball past Harley. It was just reward for the youngster who had shown some deft touches and movement in the second half.
Boosted by the goal Blues enjoyed plenty of possession, but failed to increase their advantage and in the final ten minutes Basildon launched a late surge coming so close to restoring parity when a quick break presented an opportunity for Cheema – his effort eluded the diving Bogard sliding inches wide of the far post, a lucky let off for Blues.
Bogard was the busier keeper in the closing stage, but remained calm and resolute with some confident saves.
Deep into injury time he went for a fifty-fifty ball with full back Eli Benoit, who had employed an agricultural approach throughout the 90 minutes. His sickening challenge on the Blues keeper was no different leaving Bogard clutching his face and unable to continue. Hahn donned the jersey but just seconds later came the full time whistle leaving Blues to claim a hard-won victory.