History was made yesterday when Grays moved into the quarter finals of the FA Trophy for the first time after defeating Altrincham FC, who currently lie sixth in the Nationwide North League, by four goals to two. Despite trailing by two goals at half-time the Robins then came out and gave Blues ‘a run for their money’, making the second period an exciting and at times very tense affair.
Grays dominated first half play with Captain Stuart Thurgood being influential in midfield, and it was therefore no surprise when Blues reached the interval with a two goal cushion.
On 9 minutes Altrincham keeper Stuart Coburn did well to pluck Gary Hooper’s cross from the air, and then sent Colin Potts on a good run but the Robin’s leading scorer Colin Little was unable to connect with the winger’s final ball.
Three minutes later Hooper almost gave Blues the lead, when he got on the end of Dennis Oli’s through ball but saw his powerful close range shot blocked by Gary Scott covering for keeper Coburn. At the other end Potts blasted wide from 25 yards and Little was thwarted by a well timed challenge from Lee Matthews.
On 17 minutes Blues tenacity bore fruit when Hooper converted Cole’s inch perfect cross. The young Grays contingent behind the goal, already doing the Club proud with their vocal support, were jubilant and their joy was quite clearly evident.
The home side then looked for a reply, but Blues remained in control and on 33 minutes doubled their advantage. Oli’s cross into the area was met by Skipper Stuart Thurgood, who slotted the ball into the bottom left-hand corner of the net.
The Robin’s Skipper Eddie Hussin was then booked for a foul on the Blues Captain, becoming the second player for the hosts to be cautioned, Mark Maddox having already been yellow-carded for a bad tackle on Hooper. In the 39th minute Hooper was in fact replaced by Leroy Griffiths as a result of a calf problem sustained in this earlier incident.
With only minutes of the first period remaining Tony Battersby, giving a superb performance, saw goal bound efforts blocked by Scott and Val Owen, and then the hosts came close when England Physiotherapist Rod Thornley saw a shot cleared off the line, and then had a bicycle kick tipped over the bar by Ashley Bayes.
Credit where credit is due the home side had no intention of giving up, and came out for the second half ‘guns blazing’. With only two minutes gone the opposition had a golden opportunity to reduce the deficit, but Richard Norris headed over from Thornley’s cross.
However, in the 59th minute the Robins did pull a goal back. Scott crossed in from the left and Thornley poked the ball home. Clearly boosted by this goal the hosts immediately upped the tempo.
On one of the rare occasions when Bayes appeared to have been beaten Matthews, showing what a quality defender he is, intercepted Little’s goal bound shot and put the ball out of play for a corner.
Just when Robins must have thought they were in with a chance Blues extended their lead. A three man move of sheer class from Cole, Oli and Martin culminated with the latter slotting the ball into the bottom far corner of the net for Grays’ third goal.
Almost immediately, Altrincham made a double substitution replacing Steve Aspinall and Norris with Kirk Hilton and Marcus Hallows, and then in the 78th minute the Robins were given renewed hope. Referee, Mr. Haywood awarded a debatable penalty after John Nutter was adjudged to have handled the ball on the edge of the area. Little stepped up to take the spot kick and sent the ball past Bayes for his 27th goal of the season.
Again the Robins stepped up a gear and with the game now being played at a frantic pace the tension in the ground was almost tangible.
With six minutes of normal time left on the clock Grays wrapped the tie up. Battersby crossed the ball in for Griffiths whose close range shot appeared to have been smothered by Coburn, but the ball rolled under the keeper’s body and into the net for Blue’s fourth and final goal.
The home side were still undeterred and with nothing to lose pushed forward. Two minutes into time added on they had a great chance, when Little with only Bayes to beat hesitated rather than shooting straight away, thereby giving the Grays defence time to surround him and eventually clear the ball out of the danger area.
Blues were now quite happy to just knock the ball around for the last few minutes, although in the dying moments Battersby came close sending a header just narrowly wide of the upright.
So Grays move a step closer to realising Manager Mark Stimson’s dream of walking out at Villa Park for the FA Trophy Final, but first fans, officials and players alike await tomorrow’s draw to see who they face and where in the quarter final on Saturday 12th March, 2005.
Report by Carol Dover
Thanks to the Thurrock Gazette for the report.