GRAYS ATHLETIC delivered.
They delivered the three points; they delivered two wonderful goals; and they delivered their promise to get the kids into the ground which created a wonderful atmosphere.
The only downside is the question of whether this is manager Gary Phillips’ last game or not? We will come to that.
Grays played what looked like an adventurous 3-4-3 formation with three attackers determined to get the elusive first goal.
For 30 minutes it was an unbridled mess and Grays were fortunate that Altrincham came to the match with no away wins this year and no ambition in the bank.
Early on, Jamie Stuart was imploring Gary Phillips to get Tony Dinning to sit back. The fact that Jamie shouted: “Oi midfielder” is half the problem.
Jamie and Stuart Thurgood got a yellow card for their troubles in the 4th minute as, beffitingly for so many primary school kids in the ground, there was a 20 man playground dust up.
It didn’t help that there was a ref with all the authority of Charles Hawtrey (am I showing my age here?).
Barry Cogan looked more comfortable back on the right but the three up front were squeezed in a lot of space.
Stuart Thurgood looked to get them in the game and produced a wonderful through-ball in the 13th minute that Andy Pugh couldn’t capitalise on.
But it was messy with every move running into a cul-de-sac. Tony Dinning threaded a lovely through ball to Jamie Slabber but he couldn’t find space.
Ishmael Welsh looked laboured as if he hadn’t shaken off Tuesday’s blow. In the 30th minute, he turned his ankle and Player-Coach Stuart Eliott picked himself to bring more steel to the midfield and revert to a 4-4-2.
Debutant Rob Beckwith was being kept busy. In the 21st minute, busy Chris Senior broke through but Beckwith did well to smother the ball.
The key to Grays survival has been to try and get that vital first goal. In the 45th minute, they got what they had been working so hard to get since Ebbsfleet on Jan 1st.
Bradley Hudson-Odoi received the ball on the left, the ball found its way to Barry Cogan on the right side of the box. Cogan who has bee profligate of late, made no mistake as he banged the ball past Stuart Coburn.
The key now was to stretch the lead. In the 50th minute, Grays did that spectacularly. Hudson-Odoi again got past the defender and sent in a beautiful cross which found Jamie Slabber on the right side of the box. Slabber shaped his body and struck a marvellous volley to put the Blues in heaven.
Slabber ran to the fans who were overjoyed. It could not have been a greater advert for the club and was only just desserts to a player who has been giving his absolute all.
Grays’ only problem was the players injuries. Hudson-Odoi pulled up with cramp and Tyrone Berry only lasted six minutes before tweaking a hamstring. For the last ten minutes, Grays played with ten men.
Grays had further chances to stretch the lead. Stuart Eliott had a fine shot just fly over the bar while Barry Cogan had a couple of chances down the right to put the game beyind doubt.
On the one hand Altrincham were awful – and beggared belief that they are mid-table – but at the same time, Grays defended manfully. Time after time, great tackles went in that could define the Blues’ season.
The drama wasn’t over. Joe O’Neill was fouled in the box on the 90th minute and as Matthew Doughty converted the penalty. It led to a very nervous five minutes of injury time in which Grays were very fortunate to not concede a penalty as Stuart Eliott handled in the box.
When the final whistle went, the players went over to the loyal fans to express their joy and gratitude.
The players then gathered in the middle for a firm expression of unity. The last time that was seen was with Tim O’Shea.
Let us make no bones about this. Gary Phillips is unhappy about the way he is being treated. It takes a lot for Gary to get upset. He had the experience of working under Stan Flashman.
His disappointment on Tuesday as the Torquay goal went in on the 86th minute was palpable. Gary clearly feels that his position is in doubt and the pain of a decent footballing man was etched on his face.
Some might say that everyone is making massive assumptions here.
The reason that there is disquiet is down to the presence of Roddy Collins at the game yesterday.
Mr Collins, brother of former Boxing Champ, Steve Collins brings quite a circus with him wherever he goes. His time at Bohemians, Carlisle and Shamrock Rovers have courted great controversy.
His recent forays have been associated with take-over bids including Gretna, Livingston and Rotherham with a variety of business associates including McMullen Properties (fronted by a 27-year-old Anthony McMullen). At the time all those clubs were described as “cash-strapped”.
Grays Athletic: Beckwith, Wilnis, Stuart, Beavan, Cogan, Dinning, Thurgood, Welsh (Elliott 38), Hudson-Odoi (Davis 76), Slabber (Berry 71), Pugh.
Subs Not Used: Arnold, Gier.
Booked: Stuart, Thurgood.
Goals: Cogan 45, Slabber 52.
Altrincham: Coburn, Smith, McGregor, Young, Densmore, Lawton (Peyton 58), Danylyk, Doughty, Senior, Little (Welch 78), Johnson (O’Neill 55).
Subs Not Used: Lane, Meechan.
Booked: Young, Danylyk, Peyton.
Goals: Doughty 90 pen.
Ref: David Coote (Newark).