WHATEVER Julian Dicks said worked as Grays put in a braveheart performance to earn a draw at Stevenage.
It was a much improved performance from the Blues who matched the high-flying Boro in many departments especially defensively.
It was clear that the teams were poles apart in confidence and development. Boro were full of confidence, eagerly watching the Oxford and Luton scores as they sit second in the table.
Henry, Cole and Boylan spread the ball around and were on their toes while Grays were on their heels. Early on and for much of the game, Grays had an irritating habit of knocking the ball against each other, conceding possession.
In the 5th minute, Ronnie Henry produced a lovely turn and cross which Hoyte did well to sweep away for a corner.
Glen Poole started to find Daniel Charge at will and new boy Petar Rnkovich also looked sharp. It looked like the norwegian would and the norwegian did in the 14th minute when Charge peeled down the left, put the ball near the penalty spot and Rnkovich sped past skipper Roberts and keeper Chris Day to slot the ball into the back of the net.
Boro nearly equalised from the restart when Lee Butcher charged out to head the ball away but missed the ball but as the half progressed, Uddin and Hoyte became more and more assured. It was only Braham-Barrett who seemed to be in a team of his own and conceded possession at will.
But all the goodwill was undone as Boro gained a free kick in the 31st minute. Bostwick slotted the ball to an unmarked Boylan who from just inside the area exquisitely curled the ball past the outstretched Butcher and into the net.
This was now going to be a vital time for Grays as the bumper 1803 crowd expected Boro to surge into the lead.
At this point, it didn’t seem a question of fitness but thinking for Grays: far too many speculative balls, balls bouncing off each other and Braham-Barrett.
Grays did make some attempts at expansive football with Charge rifling a cross to the left but Glen Poole’s shot whistled high over the bar
Grays began the second half with a neat move linking Rnkovic, Davis and Charge who ended it with a neat turn and shot.
The game had changed to a rearguard action by the Blues. What was clear was the the midfield were putting in a shift, cutting down angles, charging balls down and heading away from corners. Perhaps Vernazza and Robson weren’t a great creative force but tonight this called for mettle.
Hoyte didn;t bend against Boylan and in the 65th minute produced a fine last ditch tackle to dispossess the ex-Blues striker.
Charlie Taylor came on for Rnkovic who had a great chance to slip it to Robson but found a Boro shirt instead. A minute later Charge’s shot was well parried away by Chris Day. Charge and others started to take the Boro on but It was just that final pass that was letting them down.
Boro came back, Boylan blazed over in the 69th and the game had “pressure came to bear” written all over it.
Taylor had the pace to strip skipper Roberts and a bit of vision could have seen him chipping the keeper but he hesitated.
Boro, with great support, could sense the three points but Grays players “playing for the shirt” were throwing themselves in front of the ball.
With ten minutes to go sub Peter Vincenti produced a cracking volley which Butcher beautifully tipped over the bar.
For the neutral, this was great stuff, as ball after ball, shot after shot was heroically defended by the Blues. Boro had three corners in injury time but couldn’t breach a stoic Grays defence as the referee blew time for a vital vital point.
Boro were just a bit too excited about the upcoming Luton clash (first in twenty years) and looked down disdainfully at Grays but this is a scrappers league not La Liga and Grays to a man fought for their point.
Dicks laid it on the line and there are subtle changes to things that augur well for the future. Possession was still a problem and creativity needs to come from the centre. Poole could supply the strikers and much more will be expected of the central midfield pairing on saturday.
In many ways this was reminiscent of the points Wayne Burnett’s team eked out but Dicks clearly has his own plan and it will be fascinating to watch.
Stevenage: Day, Henry, Albrighton (Drury 61), Roberts, Laird, Odhiambo (Vincenti 67), Bostwick, Byrom, Cole (Odubade 79), Boylan, Beardsley.
Subs Not Used: Bayes, Griffin.
Goals: Boylan 33.
Grays Athletic: Butcher, Mawer, Uddin, Hoyte, Braham-Barrett, Robson, Davis (Cutler 85), Vernazza, Poole, Rnkovic (Taylor 62), Charge (Jeffery 73).
Subs Not Used: Edwards, Beavan.
Booked: Vernazza, Jeffery.
Goals: Rnkovic 15.
Ref: S Long (Ipswich).