Grays Athletic 2, Barking 2
GRAYS manager Jim Cooper alluded to his frustration with Blues unforced errors costing goals and points in his programme notes, so he must have been tearing his hair out at more of the same, when his charges contributed to both Barking goals.
It was all the more frustrating for him and Blues fans who witnessed slick attractive passing football in the first 45 minutes – only to see them produce a lacklustre second half lacking fluidity and drive.
One bright spot of the afternoon was the performance of 16-year-old Jacob Hutchinson who took both his goals well and showed intelligent running and movement beyond his years.
In the opening minutes there was a sign of things to come when a Robinson Wokoma error let in Alexander Teniola, testing Clarke Bogard who made a comfortable save.
Ominously Barking sensed Blues’ uncertainty at the back and only another fine block from Bogard prevented the speedy and elusive Ola Ogunwamidi from putting the visitors in front.
In contrast to their fragile defence Blues looked formidable going forward, illustrated when Joao Carlos burst through rattling the woodwork with a fierce drive and both the experienced Dennis Oli and his young strike partner Hutchinson were causing real problems for the Barking back four.
It was Hutchinson who was rewarded for his enterprising play, when slick build up saw him control turn and slot ball into the bottom corner past Tim Brown in the 14th minute.
The lead didn’t last just three minutes – as so often has been the case this season – the warning signs were there earlier in the half when Blues overplayed the ball at the back creating pressure on their goal and so it proved – Wokoma failed to control the ball cleanly, it ran loose and a clumsy challenge led to a free kick just outside the box – up stepped Rashid Kamara to drill the ball past Bogard.
The goal inspired Blues who took the game to their visitors, their control passing and movement was easy on the eye – in contrast, their second goal in the 22nd minute was from the Wimbledon route one school of football.
A long punt forward from Bogard was nodded on by Oli, it was covered by Ryan Cosson who made a hash of his back pass allowing the predatory Hutchinson to steal in and roll the ball confidently passed Brown.
What followed was entertaining depending on which team you supported – chances came and went at either end – another Blues unforced error and pass presented a shooting opportunity – much to the relief of Blues fans the woodwork came to the rescue – a similar slack pass forced Bogard into a diving save turning the ball behind, then just before the break Carlos tried his luck from distance, Brown saving well.
Barking created the first scoring chance of the second half, Teniola bringing another smart save from Bogard – Craig Sone replied for Blues after a cleared corner, he tried to lob Brown who did well to hold on to the ball.
That was as good as it got for Blues for some time, the swagger and controlled passing dissipated, Barking looking sharper, more committed and dominating the opening period of the half.
That control and another unforced error- the ball again given away cheaply led to Abs Seymour converting a cross with his head in the 51st minute.
A rare opportunity presented itself for Aron Gordon saved well by Brown.
It was Barking who were now in control – stretching Blues at every opportunity, forcing them into more errors and making poor decisions – inviting further pressure and only desperate defending prevented Barking from going in front .
The work rate dropped to such a degree that manager Cooper had seen enough – making a double substitution bringing on Correy Davidson and Mitch Hahn for Oli and Wokoma. The change seemed to work – Davidson injected energy into Blues midfield finally snapping out of their lethargy, but without really threatening the Barking goal.
Blues’ final substitution, bringing on Michael Finneran for Nathan Livings and reverting to a back four gave more security at the back. Stan Muguo pushed into midfield – the move only partly working when he gave the ball away on a number of occasions, one which could have cost Blues the game when it lead to a free kick, which fortunately flew harmlessly wide.
Muguo came close to making up for his errors when he was presented with an opportunity by Davidson, seeing his effort deflected and dipping just over.
The closing stages became a frenzied affair as the combatants looked for that elusive winning goal – Blues came close to claiming the points when a Davidson effort was hacked off the line in injury time, but it would have been unfair to Barking after their second half efforts and on the balance of play the draw was probably the right result.
How the Blues management team can solve continued defensive errors will be their biggest headache – going forward Blues are always likely to score, but this is offset with the knowledge that at the other end they are always likely to concede and concede unnecessarily – answers on a post card please!