JUST the mention of the FA Trophy is enough to quicken the heartbeat of any seasoned Grays Athletic supporter. Memories of the grandest of days of out at Villa Park and Upton Park never fade, even with the passing of the years.
Yet nowadays, we accept that we dine at a very different table, but still we dare to dream.
Sadly though for the Grays faithful, the short trip across the Thames to the delightful surroundings of Corinthian FC proved to be another false dawn, finished off in that cruellest of ways – the penalty shoot out.
The first ten minutes were a scrappy affair, with neither side settling into their work. But then just short of the quarter-hour, Danny Gould and Freddy Moncur combined well down the left and the latter’s cross into the box was deemed by referee, Neil Bailey, to have struck the arm of Corinthian’s Harry Lashley. David Knight coolly despatched the spot-kick to give Grays the lead.
Up front, Anointed Chukwu was starting to make a real nuisance of himself and he almost profited from a toe poke in the six-yard box after a mix-up between the home side’s keeper and defenders. Corinthian for their part always looked dangerous on the break, especially when using their two wide men, Atkinson and Dembele. And their pressure paid dividends after 27 mins.
A short corner routine caught the Blues napping and a deep cross was met by the head of Ryan Sawyer for the equaliser. Towards the end of the half, Grays enjoyed some long periods of possession but were unable to seriously trouble home keeper, Aidan Prall.
Half time Corinthian FC 1 Grays Athletic 1
The second half was a very simple story of Grays dominating possession and racking up a good number of shots.
They were though mostly from distance and rarely troubled the keeper, although Moncur did scrape the crossbar with one effort early in the half. The Blues midfield duo of Paxman and Hahn were seeing plenty of the ball and driving the team forward but still the clear chance would not present itself, with Corinthian defending stoutly and preventing their keeper from any real danger.
Sensing the need for greater urgency, Blues manager Paul Joynes replaced Gould and Moncur with the pace of Joe Agunbiade and recent recruit, Aron Gordon. Both saw a lot of action, upping the tempo of play and running with ball at feet towards the Corinthian back line but still the Blues’ collective shooting boots remained largely wayward.
When Corinthian did break the shackles, Geoffrey Okonkwo and Jordan Westcott held firm, with keeper Sam Griek getting one almighty and unnecessary clatter from centre forward Luke Tanner.
Even five minutes of added time could not break the deadlock, although it was so close when another Grays corner at the very death saw the ball rebound of the join of post and bar following a desperate scramble.
Full-time Corinthian FC 1 Grays Athletic 1
This year’s FA Trophy rules dictate that a drawn game after 90 mins goes straight to a penalty shoot-out.
Corinthians took first and the quality of spot-kicks from both sides was such that neither keeper came close to saving any of the attempts. That was until the final kick of the regulation ten, when home keeper Prall guessed correctly, diving to his right to push away Jordon Westcott’s strike – giving Corinthians the win.
Corinthian FC – Mahoney Grays Ath – Knight
Clarke Westcott X
Corinthian FC win 5-4 on penalties
Over the 90 minutes, Grays had more than enough of the ball and attempts at goal to have won the tie but simply couldn’t make it pay. And so, the Blues fall at the first hurdle in both national cup competitions, something that definitely was not in the script at the start of the season.
But congratulations go to Corinthian and we wish them well in the next round.
Grays have to shake off the disappointment as they head back into league action on Tuesday night at Great Wakering Rovers, to defend their position at the top of the table.
Grays Ath: Griek, Westcott, Joynes, Moncur (Gordon), Okonkwo, McQueen, Gould (Agunbiade), Hahn, Chukwu, Knight, Paxman
Subs not used: Clarke, Watts, Sammons, Henry