GRAYS ATHLETIC dug very very deep to unearth a hard earned 2-1 victory against Mansfield Town.
Before the game, Mansfield staff were clearly incensed by what they understood as the Grays Chairman’s decision to not allow former Blues Aaron O’Connor into the ground.
The first half was one of the poorest displays this season but that is the pitch and may have be a major aid for the Blues as Mansfield like Altrincham just couldn’t get their game together.
The Blues started brightly in the spring sunshine with Bradley Hudson-Odoi putting in a fine cross in the 3rd minute that Paul Mayo did well to head away.
Two minutes later, Stuart Thurgood fired in a shot that was well saved by Alan Marriott.
David Holdsworth’s team have been in fine form and may well be one of the contenders next season but not today as they just couldn’t fire on all cylinders.
For Grays a palpably overweight debutant Tommy Black put in shift in midfield and brought a sense of shape and direction. He clearly helped George Beavan whose confidence has been dented.
It doesn’t helped that Beavan is left exposed by Hudson-Odoi who in his defence is a striker playing out of position.
For both sides, the odd piece of skill was followed by unforced errors and the midfield could have joined Aaron O’Connor outside as the ball pinged up and down the park.
The Stags started to come back. In the 7th minute, Curtis Woodhouse should have done better with a free kick but a minute later Mark Callard round the back of Jamie Stuart but his shot was parried away by Rob Beckwith.
Beckwith was a rock all afternoon exuding calmness and authority.
Grays went in at half time pleased that they had kept a clean sheet but knowing that the points were there for the taking.
From the kick off, Grays should have gone in front when Andy Pugh shook off his marker in the box but his header went wide.
Mansfield started to assert themselves. In the 57th minute, Scott Garner rose to meet a corner but his glancing header went wide. The Grays defence were working hard with key interceptions. Fabian Wilnis has a way of shaping his body to clear the ball and a magnificent defensive manoevure in the 69th minute illustrated what a fine player he is.
Grays shifted to a 4-5-1. Elliott had been inconsistent at right back moved to do the same at midfield
Mansfield brought on the prolific Daryl Clare who had vowed to score on his debut and he disappointed. In the 73rd minute, he found himself in space on the right of the box and powered a shot so hard that it went straight into the net and hit the advertising hoarding.
Grays reacted, brought Jamie Slabber on and refused to quit. Gary Phillips has often quoted work ethic and it came to fruition in the last fifteen minutes.
In the 82nd minute, Hudson-Odoi put in a fine cross from the left and Jamie Slabber rose high and handsome to head into the net.
Grays relief was palpable and certainly now felt a magical three points could be extracted from the game. Slabber went close again but in the 94th minute, Andy Pugh took his second bite as he met Jamie Slabber’s cross to produce a deft header into the right hand corner of the Stags net to send the Blues fans into rapture.
Grays are now only four points behind Weymouth with nine to play. They have leapt over Woking and this win will have buoyed the players.
Gary Phillips is in a difficult position with which no employee should have to put up.
YourThurrock.Com has been condemned by the Chairman of only producing 99% bad news about Grays Athletic.
It’s important that we all try to keep Gary Phillips and the players in the shirts as the centre-point of the news reporting.
The expulsion of Aaron O’Connor, the heightened police presence in the ground, the presence of the Chairman on the sideline, the speculation that Grant Beglin will be the next Chairman of Grays Athletic are all peripheral issues until April 27th.
Grays can escape from this one. Onward to the English Riviera.
Grays Athletic: Beckwith, Elliott, Wilnis, Stuart, Beavan, Cogan, Black (Davis 67), Thurgood (Slabber 75), Hudson-Odoi, Taylor (Dinning 69), Pugh.
Subs Not Used: Quistin, Batchelor.
Booked: Elliott, Thurgood.
Goals: Slabber 82, Pugh 90 + 4.
Mansfield: Marriott, Silk, Moses, Garner, Mayo, Arnold (Briscoe 67), Woodhouse, D’Laryea, Williams (MacKenzie 89), Stallard (Clare 67), Duffy.
Subs Not Used: White, Havern.
Goals: Clare 73.
Ref: I Cooper (England).