GRAYS fought long and hard to earn this point in a stout and manful display at Kettering last night (Tuesday).
The statistics may show that Grays dropped down a place in the league but the positive spin is:
– Ebbsfleet appear in the relegation zone for the first time;
– Grays picked up a point on Woking and have the two games in hand;
– Weymouth are still stuck on 42 points.
The 23 travelling fans witnessed a mightily impressive first half as every move they practiced on the training ground was executed on the field of play.
Up-front Southend teenager, James Lindie looked strong and willing as he came in for ailing Andy Pugh. He closed down, he gathered and he was always looking for the ball. A Lindie-Pugh or Lindie-Taylor partnership could be a force.
At the back, the experience of Wilnis, Stuart and Dinning was and is going to be vital.
This was a potent Kettering force who had won their last four at home and looked strong, well-organised and the smart money was on them grinding Grays down.
But the smart play was with Grays and in subtle ways. In the 10th minute, Tony Dinning saved the ball from going out for a corner. He then cleverly played it against the Kettering player to give Grays the throw.
That is experience and that may be the difference between survival and the drop.
Stuart Eliott and Stuart Thurgood were snarling and spoiling at every opportunity. This was Eliott’s first full 90 and he kept going and going in a stoic display of midfield pugnaciousness.
Kettering had Plan A with Exodus Geohaghan’s long throws but Grays had it covered while the swift Marna was being effectively shackled.
In the 15th minute, Bradley Hudson-Odoi produced a specualtive shot from distance that didn’t trouble the keeper but symbolised the free play of the Hereford striker.
Grays became a little hesitant in the final third as they approached half time and Kettering gave off the air that the goal would come. What they were in fact doing was standing off Grays far too much.
Jamie Slabber should have scored on the half-hour when Barry Cogan slipped his marker, produced a pin-point cross but Slabber’s diving header went just wide.
Kettering went for it in the second half as they needed the three points. All three subs came on including ex-Nottm Forest Jason Lee and ex-York City Chris Beardsley but the defence was robust and Kettering could not find a way through.
In the 56th minute, the overwise reliable Rob Beckwith dropped a corner but soon gathered up.
Grays for a time were running out of ideas up front as Slabber and Hudson-Odoi visibly tired.
If there is a question about Gary Phillip’s management it is simply on the timing of his subs. Cogan and Hudson Odoi were turning it into 4-2-4 and Kettering should have exploited that. Then again, he had an excellent defence who saw off The Poppies.
In the last five minutes, Grays should have taken the three points. Sub Andy Pugh latched onto a glorous pass from Barry Cogan but it was turned round by Harper for a corner while Stuart Eliott blasted another one wide in injury time.
A tremendous performance in the trenches by Grays Athletic. Yes, the results didn’t go for them around the country but fans will know that there isn’t a lot to choose from, from top to bottom.
Cambridge are thundering on, Burton limping to the title but many others are spluttering. Histon seem to have run out of steam and so Grays will go their next Tuesday with good heart. Oxford have been on a great run but lost at home against Torquay and then made heavy weather of a draw at Forest Green.
Twelve games to go and so many twists and turns on the way. YourThurrock did not draw Gary on the Roddy Collins saga. We are sure in our minds what happened. We will be concentrating in harnessing the positive team vibe that Gary has imbued the Blues with and follow the story down to Sunday April 26th.
Kettering: Harper, Bennett, Dempster, Geohaghan, Luke Potter, Westcarr, Solkhon, Boucaud, Wrack (Jason Lee 59), Marna (Richard Graham 53), Seddon (Beardsley 65).
Subs Not Used: Alfie Potter, Whatsize.
Grays Athletic: Beckwith, Wilnis, Stuart, Dinning, Beavan, Cogan, Elliott, Thurgood, Hudson-Odoi, Slabber, Lindie (Pugh 75).
Subs Not Used: Arnold, Davis, Quistin, Gier.
Ref: R Fletcher (Derbyshire).