Any lingering hopes Albion may have had about staging an FA Trophy semi-final comeback of Lazarus proportions were quashed within two minutes on Saturday when Dennis Oil’s goal meant that Grays turned what could have been a difficult encounter into a procession.
A second-half strike from substitute Leroy Griffiths wrapped up the victory for Mark Stimson’s men who will now go into the biggest match in the club’s 115 year history brimming with confidence.
Burton’s hapless defenders would have bad recurring nightmares about Oli after he ran them ragged in the first leg, but before they had a chance to set about banishing the demons, the speedy forward cropped up to haunt them once again.
In the away side’s first attack of the match, Dean Brennan’s long free-kick was headed down into the six-yard-box by Tony Battersby and there was Oli to dab the ball beyond Dan Crane in the Burton goal.
Prior to kick-off some optimistic Burton fans were clinging to the adage that all is not over until the fat lady has sung. Well, if she wasn’t quite singing at 3pm she was in full soprano just two minutes later.
The strike drained Albion of any belief they might have possessed about winning the match, let alone the tie, and with an arrogance befitting of league champions, Grays bossed the game from thereon in.
They could have added a second within ten minutes when some fantastic tracking back by Mitchell Cole sparked a break from Garry Hooper.
The 17-year-old strode into the Brewers half and slipped in Oli with an intelligent ball but the striker’s first time effort was well blocked by Crane.
If that had gone in then we might have had a score on a par with last week’s rout. But, commendably, Albion stemmed the tide and began to play some neat one-touch passing, though without any real goal scoring threat.
Ashley Bayes made one fantastic save from point blank range after a slick Brewers move ended in Dale Anderson finding space in the box and firing and towards goal.
And Anderson’s strike partner Jon Shaw, should have done better when he shot wide after being released by Sam Shilton.
But other than these two chances Albion failed to penetrate a resolute Grays back line, marshalled by the superb Jamie Stuart.
Skipper Stuart Thurgood was once again controlling the midfield and he almost added a second when he strode forward and unleashed a fierce drive from the edge of the box, which was turned round the post by Crane.
Battersby and Hooper then both missed difficult chances after half-cleared set-piece.
Brewers’ boss Nigel Clough shook things up in the second period bringing on one famous son to replace another. Laurie Wilson, son of MK Dons manager Danny, was replacing Shilton, son of legendary keeper Peter.
But although Wilson was busy he failed to change the course of the game as Grays strolled to victory in front of an increasingly vocal traveling contingent.
Stimson’s men never hit the heights of the previous week but what they lacked in fluency they more than made up for in work-rate, with every single player contributing to the cause.
Oli, in particular was finding it hard to have the same impact on the game as he did in the first leg and was withdrawn for top scorer Griffiths mid-way through the half. But not before a last ditch tackle from Brewers defender Barry Miller prevented him from tapping home a Battersby cross.
And it was crowd-favourite Griffiths who sealed the game seven minutes after coming on when, after a long ball from Brennan, he out-muscled Michael Briscoe and fired into the corner of the net.
Cole was then denied a third when Andy Corbett cleared a Griffiths cross which only needed to be side-footed home, while at the other end Wilson curled a free-kick into the side netting after tie was fouled by John Martin.
At the final whistle, the entire Grays squad formed a huddle in the middle of the pitch celebrating their achievement before running to salute their delirious fans who will all be hoping there’s one big performance from their team left for Villa Park.
Report by Ryan Goad
Thanks to the Thurrock Gazette for the report