WITHAM Town suffered a narrow 1-0 defeat at Grays Athletic to bow out of this season's FA Cup at the preliminary round stage, writes JIM PURTILL.

An evenly-contested encounter was decided by an 89th-minute own goal at Parkside, Aveley.

Witham’s starting eleven featured seven new faces including the experienced Ernest Okoh and Charlie Portway.

The visitors started impressively and came very close to scoring when Portway’s hot was beaten away by goalkeeper Danny Sambridge and Albert Perry put the ball just the wrong side of the post.

Both sides settled into an even contest and there was little between the teams.

Okoh and Perry were both lively for Witham and the side had a good balance.

Witham suffered a blow when Charlie Portway suffered what appeared to be a rib injury and needed extensive treatment.

After playing on for less than five minutes, he needed more treatment and had to leave the pitch for a premature end to his debut, replaced by Jack West.

Both defences were proving hard to breach.

Joe Mackenzie was particularly impressive for the visitors as neither goalkeeper was called into meaningful action for the first half hour.

As half-time approached, Grays took control and goalkeeper Rhys Madden twice came to Town's rescue.

Grays' Darrelle Russell was causing problems on the right wing and the home side should have scored when Michel Hahn shot over the bast from a Russell cross.

On the stroke of half-time, Madden pulled off a great save when he parried Russell’s fierce shot.

The half-time break afforded a welcome break to Witham and they began the second half strongly with Perry, Akpele and Ollie Emsden combining well to attack down the left flank.

It was still very even but the contest changed as the game stretched.

The Witham defence was coming under increasing pressure and Mackenzie twice headed the ball from danger areas.

Madden was the busier of the goalkeepers and he saved good shots from Hahn and Paxman.

Albert Perry tired and was replaced by Jeffrey Cobblah on the left and the new entrant proved tricky.

He was pulled down as he broke from the half-way line but Nathan Okoye’s free-kick was disappointing from a promising position.

Within seconds Madden saved well at the other end.

Cobblah came very close to winning the tie when he made space for himself in a run on the left and his low left-footed shot was palmed away by Sambridge.

Penalties were due after 90 minutes but the deadlock was broken in the 89th minute when Okoye unluckily deflected a cross from the right into his own net.

It was scant reward for the defender who had performed well throughout.

Witham manager Marc Benterman can take comfort from other bright individual performances from the new players and he will seek to build on the positive aspect of the squad’s performance as attention turns to the season’s opening fixture against Hullbridge Sports, on Saturday.