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19.08.2006 @ 15:00 The Shay Crowd: 1589
Halifax Town 0 - 2 Grays Athletic
Referee: K Evans (Lancashire) Conference National-Match

None Aaron McLean (17)
Michael Kightly (42)
Starting Line-ups
Craig Mawson
Steven Haslam
Adam Quinn
Mark Roberts
Jake Wright
Martin Foster
Tyrone Thompson
Danny Forrest
Chris Senior
Shane Smeltz
Lewis Killeen
Ashley Bayes
Jay Smith
Andy Sambrook
Adam Green
Jamie Stuart
John Martin
Michael Kightly
Ashley Nicholls
Glenn Poole
Lee Boylan
Aaron McLean
Steve Torpey
Greg Young
Andy Campbell
Ryan Sugden
Gus Uhlenbeek
Danny Knowles
Nathan Moulds
Tom Williamson
Dennis Oli
Jamie Slabber
Andy Campbell -> Chris Senior (45)
Ryan Sugden -> Shane Smeltz (62)
Gus Uhlenbeek -> Tyrone Thompson (86)
Dennis Oli -> Lee Boylan (64)
Jamie Slabber -> Aaron McLean (87)
Yellow cards
Martin Foster (46) Glenn Poole (45)
Andy Sambrook (89)
Red cards
None None
Match report |
Grays went some way to avenging last season's play-off defeat to Halifax with a clinical 2-0 win at the Shay.

The result could never make up for the pain of losing that play-off semi last May but for the Blues players involved in those two epic tussles, the win certainly tasted sweet.

"But, at the end of the day, this is a new season and we want to do as well as we can. We know that Halifax are going to be up there at the end of the year and it's much more important that we beat them because of that rather than for revenge."

The impressive win moves Blues up to within two points of early pace-setters Weymouth and Oxford and it is clear that Frank Gray's team are improving game by game.

Picking up from where they left off at Rushden on Tuesday night, Blues clinically swept into a two goal lead by the interval and then defended with an assurance that was alien to them last year.

Jamie Stuart was a rock at the heart of the defence and summer-signing Ashley Nicholls proved he is up to the task of filling in for injured skipper Stuart Thurgood, with an all-action display in the centre of the park.

But, as the cliche goes, it is goals that win you games, and with that in mind it's fair to say that the real difference between the two sides was Blues' red-hot duo of McLean and Kightly.

The pair's skill allied with their searing pace made them near enough unplayable in the first half and it was fitting that both registered on the scoresheet.

McLean said: "I am really happy with my form at the moment. That's two in three games now for me and I just hope I can keep it going. I got 14 goals last season but a striker needs to be getting around 20 and that's my aim.

"But it's not just me the whole team is working so hard. People like Lee Boylan are being asked to play in roles not that familiar to them but they are doing a really good job.

"All the boys are really hungry and if we can keep this going we will be there, thereabouts at the end of the season."

Blues began the game full of confidence and were quick to stamp their authority on the game.

John Martin and Nicholls were biting into tackles in midfield and forcing Halifax's talented midfield duo of Tyrone Thompson and Martin Foster into uncharacteristic mistakes.

The breakthrough came in the 16th minute when Martin's bustling run towards the penalty area was ended by the out-stretched boot of Foster some 30 yards out. Kightly stepped up and swung the subsequent free kick into the box and McLean slipped Adam Quinn and headed into the bottom corner.

“We were all disappointed to lose to them last year and we definitely wanted to come here and put things right."
Grays striker Aaron McLean

The goal kick-started the Shaymen into life and for the next 20 minutes they strung together their best play of the match.

But for all their bluster, they were limited to few chances, the best of which brought a fine save out of Ashley Bayes.

The dangerous Lewis Killeen' sublime step-over bamboozled the Blues defence and when Shane Smeltz laid the ball back into the path of the ex-Sheffield United trainee, the Shaymen looked all set for an equaliser.

But Bayes had other ideas and just as Killeen's effort looked to be heading into the bottom corner the veteran keeper stuck out a big paw to turn it around the post.

Chris Senior then fired past the post for the hosts as they committed men forward in search of an equaliser.

But their over-eagerness to get back into it so quickly proved their downfall as Grays soaked up the pressure and three minutes before the interval, hit them with a killer counter attack.

From the edge of the Blues box, Nicholls helped the ball on in the direction of McLean on the right touchline.

The ex-Aldershot man looked second favourite to reach the ball behind the strapping figure of Quinn, but the afterburners were switched on and McLean was able to skip around the Halifax defender and power towards goal.p>

With Kightly and Boylan in close support, suddenly Grays had a three-on-one situation and McLean made sure the opportunity was not wasted. He bided his time perfectly, sucking in the remaining Halifax defender, Mark Roberts, before releaasing Kightly who gleefully stroked home his third goal in as many games.

Halifax desperately tried to change the direction of the game after the re-start by throwing on attackers Andy Campbell and Ryan Sugden but with Boylan retreating to make a fifth midfielder, Grays worked 10 men behind the ball and smothered the game.

A desperate home crowd twice resorted to cries for a penalty for dubious handball decisions against Andy Sambrook and Adam Green, but referee Mr Evans quickly waved both appeals away.

Indeed, the visitors should have made it three seven minutes before time when sub Dennis Oli got on the end of Nicholls' cross but headed straight at Mawson from six yards.

No matter, the game was already won by then - Grays' first win over Halifax in five attempts.

By Ryan Goad
Thanks to the Thurrock Gazette for the report.