Grays moved into the last sixteen of the FA Trophy with an emphatic 5-0 victory over struggling Havant & Waterlooville in an action packed tie. Although Hawks were without regulars Robbie Pethick, Shaun Wilkinson and Neil Champion nothing can detract from the fact that Blues have become a formidable and classy side.
Whereas the recent league encounter at West Leigh Park had been a close contest, the result of this match never looked in doubt. Right from the off, Blues were in control and it was virtually all one-way traffic.
With only four minutes on the clock, Griffiths’ half-volley, having been put through by Martin, rattled the crossbar and moments later the striker returned the favour, but Martin scuffed his sixteen yard shot just wide of the post.
Further chances fell to both Griffiths and Thurgood, and then in the 12th minute Grays got the opener they had been striving for. Brennan’s free kick picked out Oli perfectly, but the winger’s headed shot crashed against the crossbar. With Hawks keeper Howells committed experienced striker Steve West, did what he is renowned for, and headed the ball into the back of the net. Eight minutes later the forward almost got a second, when his ambitious forty-five yard lob hit the base of the post and much to Howells’ relief rebounded into his hands.
Blues continued on the offensive, with Griffiths, Martin and Oli in particular causing Hawks problems, and as a result chances for the visitors were few and far between. However, on 28 minutes they did have their best opportunity of the half. A clever back flick by David Town found Brett Poate just outside the box, but the young midfielder blazed the ball over the bar and into the midst of Bradbourne Road.
With ten minutes of the first half remaining, the opposition appealed for a penalty kick after Lee Matthews ‘allegedly’ fouled Town in the area. Referee Mr. Pollard declined their request, and this was undoubtedly a debatable incident.
Poate then saw his low close range effort blocked by the feet of Ashley Bayes, and moments later Grays tenacity paid dividends again. Skipper Thurgood slipped the ball through to Griffiths, who instinctively chipped it over the helpless Howells for Blues second.
Almost immediately Oli set-up Martin, but the midfielder’s close range shot hit the upright, and although Griffiths poked the rebound home the goal was disallowed for offside.
It had been evident during the first period that the visitors had no where nearly enough armoury to defeat Blues, and as such it was clearly a case of mounting a damage limitation exercise in order to retain some pride, and just getting through until the final whistle for them.
The second half started with Oli being cautioned for failing to retreat for a free kick, and shortly afterwards left-back John Nutter had little choice but to concede the corner from Havant Captain Dean Holdsworth’s twenty-three yard strike.
In the 58th minute Grays extended their lead. A long powerful kick by Bayes found Oli out on the right flank, he then jinxed past two defenders, and blasted the ball past Howells from close range.
With nothing at stake now Hawks Manager Ian Baird brought on 17 year old Youth Team Captain Sam Pearce, and Reserve Team teenager Craig Newman at the expense of Michael Gordon and Town.
Holdsworth then came close again for the visitors; he connected with Pearce’s inch perfect cross but Bayes produced a brilliant finger-tip save from the ex-professionals effort.
Blues also made a double substitution replacing Martin and Oli with Mitchell Cole and Gary Hooper, and continued to dominate play with a bit of ‘showboating’ in the middle of the pitch into the bargain!
Substitute Cole, Thurgood and West all had good chances before Blues finally rubbed a bit more salt into the wound by scoring twice in the last five minutes of normal time. On 85 minutes West unchallenged converted from a Griffiths cross, and five minutes later Thurgood controlled the ball and pulled it back to substitute Tony Battersby, on for West, who picked his spot and slotted the ball home.
In the dying moments Hawks could have got a consolation goal, but Holdsworth somehow managed from point blank range to put the ball wide when it looked easier to place it in the back of the net.
Grays fans were in jubilant mood, and as the players warmed down on the pitch, a handful of the young Blues contingent paid tribute to the players individually with Griffiths and Bayes joining in the fun!
Report by Carol Dover
Thanks to the Thurrock Gazette for the report.