THERE WERE enough positives in ten-man Grays 3-3 draw at home to Barrow for boss Julian Dicks to believe that they will survive this season.
For the first twenty minutes, Barrow simply weren’t in the game. The main problem for them was Grays 6ft 7 inch striker Fola Onibuje. The Under-23 Nigerian 400 metre runner certainly ran rings round the Barrow defence.
Combining with Jamie Slabber, they created chaos in the Barrow defence.
“The big fella was certainly a handful” said Barrow skipper Paul Jones after the game. “He could certainly go through the gears. The challenge for a player like that is to do it week in week out.”
Grays deservedly broke the deadlock in the 14th minute when a route one ball found Onibuje in space and he made no mistake hammering the ball past keeper Stuart Tomlinson.
Naturally, with a team being managed by the combative Julian Dicks, Grays were keen tacklers but this approach was going to cost them dear. Both Billy Crowther and Daniel Bunce were booked in the first ten minutes.
Barrow were toothless. Two Gareth Jelleyman free kicks from good positions landed safely in the arms of Grays keeper Preston Edwards.
Barrow started to plough a furrow down the left with Paul Rutherford and Robin Hulbert combining well. A Rutherford shot was well blocked in the 22nd minute while another three minutes later was again easily saved by Edwards.
But from nowhere, Barrow were suddenly level. In the 33rd minute Andy Bond sent through a long ball, Jon Shaw latched onto it and made no mistake smashing it past Edwards.
Worse was to come for Grays as minutes later, defender Billy Crowther handled the ball receiving a second yellow and his marching orders.
Barrow have learned to be ruthless of late and made Grays pay. In the 38th minute, a goalmouth scramble saw the ball at Marvin Kamara’s feet three yards out and he slipped it in to put the Bluebirds in front.
With Grays shipping goals of late, many fans were expecting a landslide but it didn’t happen.
Grays got back on terms in the 50th minute. Defender Mike Pearson slipped, Jamie Slabber pounced, shrugged off the Barrow defenders, rounded Tomlinson and slotted the ball home.
He could have made it a hat-trick when a sweet curling shot looked destined for the far corner but keeper Tomlinson produced an outstanding fingertip save.
On the hour, Onibuje produced a blinding short run to the dead ball line, pulling the ball back to Slabber who hit the ball high into the net.
Barrow looked like they were running out of ideas. Sheridan and Bayliss rang the changes, with Carlos Logan and Andy Cook coming on. They stretched Grays but couldn’t find a way through.
In the 83rd minute, Logan induced a foul from Daryl Robson. His flighted free kick found sub Andy Cook free at the far post but he agonisingly headed wide.
Grays tiring defence was finally breached when an unmarked Paul Jones headed home in the 86th minute from close range to make it unbeaten in seven and the reputation as a never-say-die team intact.
Grays Athletic Barrow
Shots on target
Shots off target
Star man: Jamie Slabber, Grays Athletic
Ref Rating: Mr R Fletcher 7/10
Edwards P 7, Mawer C 7, Uddin A 8, Crowther B 5, Bunce D 8, Poole G 7, Leahy C 6 (Logombe 38) 8, Robson D 7 Graham R 8 , Onibuje F 8 Charge 80, Slabber J 8
Subs not used: Anderson L, Rnkovic P, Agombar H
Tomlinson S 7, Jelleyman G 7, Jones P 7, Pearson M 7, Dugdale A 6, Walker J 6, Kamara M 8, Bond A 6, Shaw J 8 (Cook 77), Rutherford P 7 (Logan 65) 8, Hulbert R 8. (Boyd 71) 7