A PATCHED up Grays defence, containing midfielders due to injured and cup-tied players, did well against a lively Southend side made up of youth and fringe players, who had recently beaten both Derby and Liverpool in the youth cup.
The pace of United’s forwards was obvious from the off as they caught out a hesitant Blues defence and took the lead inside the first minute. A mis-kick by Dean Pennant allowed Southend’s Louie Soars to put the ball through to Lee Sawyer for him to slot the ball past Steve Northwood into the net.
A shock for the Grays team and the fans feared the worst as maybe a goal glut would transpire. To their credit the Blues upped their game and played the better of the teams for the rest of the half. Danny Bunce immediately put the ball at the feet of John Docker, a pin-point pass found Alex Osborn through only to see his shot go wide. Within five minutes a mis-timed tackle saw Bunce go down with an ankle injury to be replaced by Tom Harvey. The Grays midfield started to stamp their authority, Docker and Steve Demetriou working hard to release the forwards. A Docker cross found Thomas but his scuffed shot went side ways to find Osborn, who shot wide.
A Demetriou pass to Osborn saw his on goal shot, acrobatically, saved by Daniel Bentley in the United goal. One of many saves by Bentley to keep Grays at bay. On the halfway mark, a touch of genius from Docker put the ball into the United penalty area for Si Thomas to hit the ball into the back of the net to level the game. Five minutes later Osborn found space in front of goal to hit a powerful shot against the crossbar to deny him a goal.
Southend were still a danger with their pace, and Adam Bouzid beat the offside trap to see his shot past Northwood go just wide of the post. Neither team could add to the scoring as they played out the half with a midfield tussle.
Athletic were first out of the blocks as the second half kicked off and almost immediately forced a corner when a Demetriou cross was headed out. The corner was floated into the box by Eljay Worrell for Bentley to tip the ball over off the head of Osborn. The resultant corner was punched out by Southend’s keeper to drop to Mark Phillips who ran to the byline to see the ball tapped out for a corner. Soars hit the corner into the box to find David Obaze clear to slot the ball past Northwood to put the away side in front for the second time.
Once again the home side upped their pace searching for the equaliser. Charging forward in numbers Docker, Demetriou and Justin Fontaine went looking for the cross for the forwards to score. It was the midfielders who forced the next piece of class from the Southend stopper. Osborn hustled the defence and pulled the ball back for Demetriou hit a sweet shot to be tipped round the post by the diving Bentley. Another cross from Fontaine went to Osborn and his floated shot was tipped over the bar.
A double substitution by Grays, midway through the half, Si Thomas and Pennant replaced by Danny Morgan and Danny Hearty, seemed to take the sting out of the Blues attacks, although both played well when they came on. The ever lively Soars found a bit more space and his pass went to James-Lewis for his shot to creep wide of the post. Southend found some width and ran at the Grays patched up defence but some stirling work held United at bay. Soars, once again found himself clear, but Marvin Samuel was equal to his task and dived in to stop Louie’s shot. The referee allowed very little added time and blew his whistle to end a game that fulfilled all that was expected. Southend United move into the semi’s, but Grays Athletic’s players can hold their heads high at another good performance against a higher level side.
Grays Athletic :- Steve Northwood, Eljay Worrell, Duran Reynolds, Marvin Samuel, Danny Bunce (Tom Harvey 5), Jason Fontaine, John Docker, Dean Pennant (Danny Hearty 63), Steve Demetriou, Si Thomas (Danny Morgan 63), Alex Osborn.
Southend United :- Daniel Bentley, Tony Furlong, Migusi Commings, Alex Woodyard, Mark Phillips, Dave Obaze, Louie Soars. Merrick James-Lewis, Harry Crawford, Lee Sawyer, Adam Bouzid