Goal King Cole Clips Welling’s Wings
The growing army of Blues fans made the short journey over the water to Park View Road yesterday to watch Grays play mid-table Welling United, and Blues will probably consider themselves a little fortunate to have come away with all three points. Wings, a much improved side since their visit to the Rec back in October, together with the strong winds and constant downpours made for a tricky time for Grays, although credit must be given to Ashley Bayes, Lee Matthews and Conference South Player of the Month Mitchell Cole who all gave outstanding performances.
First half play ebbed and flowed, but with neither side having many real chances, although with just three minutes on the clock Griffiths almost opened the scoring for Blues. The striker got on the end of John Martin’s pinpoint cross at the near post, but sent his shot over the bar.
Shortly afterwards Wings midfielder Tim Hambley headed over, and then sent a low drive just wide of the left-hand post.
Apart from the heavens opening, and Wings Danny Slatter being booked for a tackle from behind on Martin nothing of significance happened until around the half an hour mark. At which point, a slick four man move by Wings ended with Blues conceding a corner, that was subsequently cleared although the ball was driven back in for Lee Spiller, leaving John Nutter no choice but to concede another corner which amounted to nothing.
Good defending by both teams kept the game on level terms, but just before the interval the home side came close to breaking the deadlock. Paul Booth got on the end of Jamie Day’s corner but Bayes produced a fantastic save from the striker’s point blank range header.
Good interplay by West, Brennan and Thurgood forced two corners in quick succession, the latter resulting in Brennan blasting over the bar from 22 yards.
Virtually on the stroke of half-time Brennan was cautioned for throwing the ball away after the whistle had been blown. The midfielder was justifiably incensed, as earlier a Wings player had committed the same offence but gone unpunished. However, despite his protests to Referee Mr Biddulph the official still saw fit to flash his yellow card at the Grays player.
The second half started with Blues making a double substitution, replacing Brennan and Griffiths with Mitchell Cole and new signing Aaron McLean, and with the opposition on the offensive.
Within three minutes of the restart Bayes was called into action, saving with his legs from Booth’s close range effort. Then Ian Wiles twenty-five yard strike, from Day’s corner, flew over the bar and a minute later Blues goal was again under threat when Spiller and Booth combined but Grays managed to clear the ball to safety.
In the 52nd minute and against the run of play, Grays took the lead. A forty-five yard free kick found Cole out on the left flank. The winger struck the ball powerfully on the half-volley sending it whizzing past keeper Knowles who had no chance.
Wings immediately made a substitution bringing on Chris Bourne for ex-Rochdale defender Ashley Probets. The home side were undeterred, and on 65 minutes came close. Booth’s 22 yard free kick was heading for the top right-hand corner of the net, but Bayes made another excellent save at full stretch turning the ball around the post. From the resulting corner taken by Day teenage defender James Smith, with height on his side at six foot one inches, headed home to put Welling level.
A chance then fell to Blues Steve West, but the striker’s effort just looped over the crossbar.
Another downpour occurred, making the immaculate pitch even soggier, the players soaked to the skin, and the fans shivering. However it did nothing to dampen the spirits of the young Blues contingent who were in good voice and giving it their all!!
For the latter part of the half Wings were on top, and looked the more likely to snatch a winner, and on 75 minutes they had a golden opportunity to do just that. Slatter again released Booth, and with Bayes committed the striker rounded the keeper, and sent the ball goal bound. Just when the ball looked to be almost in, Lee Matthews made a crucial and brilliant clearance, diving across the goal face and putting the ball out of play for a corner.
Blues continued to find themselves on the back foot but were weathering the storm, and on 84 minutes made their final substitution bringing on Tony Battersby with Hooper making way.
Then with three minutes of normal time remaining, Blues dealt the hosts a killer blow. Cole’s in-swinging corner evaded everyone including Knowles as the ball curled its way into the top left-hand corner of the net.
With the wings players no doubt feeling aggrieved things became a bit tense, and a sixteen man scuffle broke out resulting in Slatter and Jamie Stuart both being cautioned.
Report by Carol Dover
Thanks to the Thurrock Gazette for the report.