GALLERY: Leiston 4 Grays Athletic 1
- Credit: Lucy Taylor
Four weeks ago Leiston were sitting precariously close to the Ryman Premier Division relegation drop zone.
Now they are eyeing the upper echelons’ of the challenging Ryman Premier Division.
It’s no coincidence that the appointment of new manager Steve Ball has coincided with the north Suffolk side’s revival and Saturday saw a fourth consecutive win for Ball and his charges.
This win was not as impressive as Tuesday’s high energy defeat of sixth-placed Bognor but Leiston won’t mind that.
The in-form Joe Francis began and ended the scoring on a freezing cold afternoon at Victory Road and continues to impress since the arrival of Ball in the hot seat.
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While not as fluid as Tuesday the home side dug deep but were indebted to a fine display from Danny Gay who repelled the Essex visitors at crucial times of the contest.
The home side opened strongly and in the opening quarter led with two goals in a three-minute spell.
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The opener came when Nnamdi Nwachuku flicked-on Stuart Boardley’s pass for Francis to race clear and arrow his shot beyond Lemar Johnson with the game barely ten minutes old.
Grays were incensed claiming Nwanchuku was offside but their protests had hardly fallen silent before the same combination conjured the second goal.
Francis releasing the young Colchester United loanee who expertly rolled David East before striding forward to plant his shot low to Johnson’s left. Two down the visitors finally grabbed a foothold in the game and a stunning finger-tip save from Gay denied Jared Small from a 25-yard free kick.
The visitors began to increase the pressure and Gay again excelled with a brave block to deny Small and then, as the half closed, the Leiston stopper was at full stretch to thwart the Grays danger man Joao Carlos.
Ahead at the break, the home side needed to navigate the second half against the wind and the rejuvenated visitors.
The home side dug deep, doggedly holding off the visitors and protecting their home goal.
With the next goal vitally important it was Leiston who claimed it in somewhat fortuitous circumstances as Grays defender Phil Anderson diverted Francis’ whipped centre past his own keeper.
The home side thought they were now home and dry but the visitors gambled and threw on an extra striker and when Carlos fired home a response through a sea of legs and past the unsighted Gay, they sensed a glimmer of a revival.
However, their hopes were extinguished as the impressive Francis rounded off the scoring with a beautifully-executed free-kick that Johnson in the Grays goal – like the majority of the Victory Road crowd – could only admire as it hit the net just beneath the bar. A fitting finale to three hard earned points for the revitalised home side.
Leiston: Gay, Saker, Brothers, Head, Jefford, Simmons, Boardley (Redgrave 87 mins), Heath, Nwachuku (Crisp 77 mins), Parker (Tann 81 mins), Francis. Subs not used – Hammond and Rossis.
Grays: Johnson, Pope, Flynn, Anderson, East (Cruickshank 85 mins), Osman (Moses 77 mins), Small (Tamburini 79 mins), Beaney, West, Hammond, Carlos. Subs not used – Hutchings and Kirby.
Referee: Mr Stobbart (Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk)