Promotion to the Conference National is now within a stone's throw, as Grays yesterday defeated Redbridge FC by three goals to one at the Oakside Stadium on an abnormally sunny and warm afternoon. Although the victory was not by the margin some Blues fans had predicted, with the Motormen who are fighting for survival at the foot of the table giving a spirited display, it was nevertheless three more vital points.
The game, played on a rather hard and uneven surface, started at a lively pace with Grays immediately seizing control. In the opening minutes Mitchell Cole for Blues and Lloyd Opara for the Motormen both saw their cross-shots skim the top of the bar.
Then in the 10th minute Grays had a golden opportunity when Cole, who was making some great runs down the left flank, crossed the ball in for Dennis Oli but the midfielder directed his header just over the bar.
Grays continued to bombard the home side’s goal, and the Motormen found themselves pinned back in their own half. On 19 minutes Blues again came close when the dynamic Oli turned and shot from the edge of the area, but was thwarted by Redbridge keeper Alex O’Reilly who saved at full stretch.
However, six minutes later Grays deservedly took the lead, when Aaron McLean set-up Oli and the midfielder sent his low left-footed shot past the stranded keeper.
First half chances for the hosts were a rarity, but around the half an hour mark Opara had a golden opportunity going one-on-one with Bayes, but the Blues keeper produced a brilliant save sending the ball out of play for a corner.
Chances then fell to Oli who headed wide from John Nutter’s cross, and McLean who was denied by O’Reilly.
With two minutes of the first period remaining Grays extended their lead; Oli hoodwinked Steven McNamara with a distinctive shimmy and then sent a low drive past the keeper and into the bottom left-hand corner of the net.
The home side replied on the stroke of half-time, when Captain Greg Lincoln’s long ball through the middle found Opara who volleyed it past the advancing Bayes.
After the break Grays continued to dominate play, and if chances for the Motormen were scarce during the first forty-five minutes they had even fewer in the second period. However, on fifty-five minutes they did have a good opportunity when Opara got on the end of Lincoln’s through ball, but Bayes saved at the striker’s feet.
Chances for Blues then came thick and fast with Griffiths firing over the bar, and McLean firstly being denied by O’Reilly and then seeing a shot go wide of the upright.
In a bid to get into the game more Redbridge made two substitutions in quick succession replacing McNamara with Kenny Davies and then bringing on Ian Luck for Andrew Martin, but it was Blues who then came closest to finding the back of the net. McLean got on the end of Cole’s long diagonal cross, but the busy O’Reilly made an excellent save.
Grays then made their second substitution with Steve West replacing McLean, having already introduced fans favourite Leroy Griffiths during the interval.
With thirteen minutes left on the clock the Motormen had their second and last chance of the match, but Lincoln was frustrated by Bayes who conceded the corner.
Two minutes later Bayes’ opposite number was back in action again, tipping the ball over the bar from Stuart Thurgood’s ferocious twenty-five yard strike, and from the resulting corner blocking Griffiths’ close range shot.
Both sides then made their final substitutions Grays bringing on Gary Hooper for Oli, and Redbridge replacing Tom Chapman with Clyde Roberts.
As the final whistle approached Blues made victory certain. A Dean Brennan cross eluded West but was picked up at the far post by Griffiths who didn’t hesitate in firing home from point blank range.
Grays now need only five points from their remaining eight fixtures to be crowned Conference South Champions. If they emerge victorious on both Good Friday and Easter Monday the New Rec will no doubt be the scene of triumph and jubilation on the latter date.
Report by Carol Dover
Thanks to the Thurrock Gazette for the report.