Lalite’s stunner and Carlos late show take Grays to top

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Grays Athletic 3, Leiston 2

NEVER say die Grays recorded a second successive victory to continue their excellent start to the Ryman Premier League season tonight (Wednesday) and they sit proudly on top of the table.

It was a battling performance from the Blues, who were twice pegged back by the visitors from Suffolk, but won with a solo goal from livewire Joao Carlos four minutes from the end of a hard fought clash on their debut at Aveley’s Mill Field.

The game started well for Ryan Kirby’s team and their early enthusiasm paid off after 11 minutes when Jeff Hammond latched onto the ball and fired an angled shot past Shaun Phillips.

The lead last just six  minutes when Grays floundered when dealing with a cross and Joe Jefford pounced to force the ball past a flat-footed George Kamurasi.

The game was played at a frantic, end-to-end pace, with little measured football. Leiston tried to introduce an element of control with some short passing but both sides were guilty of poor final balls and real chances were few and far between.

Grays suffered a blow when Hammond limped out of the action after a poor challenge from behind but the highlight of the half – and indeed the match – came four minutes before the break when Leon Lalite was gifted the ball by a Leiston defence that was hesitant in clearing their lines. There was lots for the Grays midfielder to do but he produced a thunderous shot from all off 25 yards that flew inside the angle of post and bar, beating the full length dive of Phillips.

The lead lasted less than ten minutes into the second half as Leiston came out fired up and Grays’ reluctance to attack the ball in defence proved their downfall again as Jefford nipped in between defence and keeper to prod the ball home from close range.

The visitors always looked the more likely to score as the half wore on and they spurned several half chances as their pace outstripped a laboured home defence.

However, there was always a sense that Grays were in with a shout and in the closing stages they came back into it, firing a couple of efforts over the bar before Carlos picked the ball up on the left with four minutes to go and raced away from defenders and skipped past Phillips to slot the ball home.

There was still time for Leiston to have one final fling and they were denied a good shout for a penalty when the ball appeared to strike a blue arm, but having ridden their luck with enthusiasm and hard work throughout the night Grays probably deserved the break and the final whistle was greeted with a mixture of relief and elation by the players and most of the crowd of 214 – though Leiston’s sizeable contingent probably felt a little hard done.

Grays: George Kamurasi, Craig Pope, Lee Flynn, Junior Baker, Joe Nightingill, Alex Cruickshank, Aaron Ramos-Gonzalez, Leon Lalite, Jack West, Jeff Hammond (Usama Hamden 32), Joao Carlos. Subs not used: David East, Brian Moses, Phil Anderson, Ryan Kirby.

Leiston: Shaun Phillips, Blake Saker, Kye Ruel, Joe Jefford, Adam Tann, Luke Hammond (Callum Dougdale 90), Stuart Boardley, Gareth Heath, Ryan Crisp (Liam Barrett 64), Leon Ottley-Gooch (Rhys Henry 72), Joe Francis. Sub not used: Matt Webster.

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