Battersby off the bench to claim equaliser
Tony Battersby came off the bench on Saturday to salvage a draw for Grays and earn them their first ever point in Conference football.
The powerful front-man’s bullet header from Andy Sambrook’s cross, 16 minutes from time, revived a below-par Blues side who had struggled for long periods on their Conference debut.
Aaron Webster’s penalty deservedly out the home side in front early in the second half, but the introduction of Battersby and Gary Hooper swung the game in Grays’ favour and, in the end, Mark Stimson’s men were unlucky not to have stolen all three points.
”This was always going to be a difficult opening game, an away fixture, with Burton playing in a new stadium so I’m happy with a point,” said the Grays boss afterwards.
”They showed us a lot respect by playing 4-5-1 formation which made it difficult for us to get the ball to our front men and that’s not something we’ve faced too much before.
”But credit to the lads they dug in there Battersby came on, looked very strong and scored a great goal.”
Stimson threw no real surprises with his team selection with Jamie Slabber partnering Dennis Oli up-front and fellow debutantes Glenn Poole, Michael Kightly and Sambrook all starting in conditions more mid-winter than opening day.
Beneath the floodlights and driving rain it was the home side which started the stronger with Darren Tinson and Andy Todd both going close with headers and skipper Darren Stride flashing along range effort past Ashley Bayes’ post.
The Conference new-boys were struggling to put together any of their trademark moves with Stuart Thurgood and John Martin outnumbered in the middles of the park and struggling to make any real impact on the game.
Brewers really should have scored in the 19th minute, when, having seen off a Martin break at one end, Webster’s searching pass found Jon Shaw in behind the Blues’ defence.
The ex-Sheffield Wednesday striker rounded Bayes but, with the goal gaping, he dallied too long and allowed Lee Matthews to recover and block his goal-bound effort.
Grays showed a tantalising glimpse of their potential on the half hour mark when a lightening quick move involving Poole and Oli culminated in Slabber being put through on goal but the former Spurs hit man’s control let him down.
A minute later Slabber was again handed a golden opportunity after Oli had released him in the box, but this time his left-foot shot pinged back off the post with keeper, Dan Crane, beaten.
Bayes then made the save of the game to deny their first competitive goal in their brand new Pirelli Stadium, when he acrobatically tipped over a thumping Shaun Harrod header after an intense spell of Albion pressure.
The home side came close again a minute after the restart when Keith Gilroy screwed an effort wide after a mix-up between Jamie Stuart and Bayes.
But their pressure paid off shortly after when referee, David Richardson, adjudged Slabber to have handled in the area in an effort to prevent a sweeping free kick from locating Webster at the back post.
The burly centre-half picked himself up and drove home the penalty himself past the despairing dive of Bayes.
”I thought the penalty was picky,” said Stimson afterwards. “I’ve spoken to Jamie and he said e wasn’t even facing the ball and it him in the shoulder. It was at the home end, fans are screaming and the referee was forced to make a decision.”
Slabber thought he had atoned for that error a minute later when he coolly converted a neat Oli pass, but the linesman had his flag raised for off-side.
The anonymous Kightly was soon hauled off for Gary Hooper and Slabber’s eventful day was ended not long after when Battersby was thrown into the fray with Stimson risking a three-pronged attack in his search for an equaliser.
The changes had an almost instant impact as Grays for the first time put their opponents on the back foot.
John Nutter twice tested the keeper from distance and, despite Stuart almost hacking into his own net, Burton’s attacking threat was nullified.
They grabbed their equaliser in the 74th minute when Sambrook, who had an impressive game at right back, bombed up the flank and crossed deep to the back post towards Battersby who pulled away from his man and crashed a header past a stranded Crane.
Buoyed by the goal Blues pushed forward in waves but they just couldn’t carve out a winner with Oli coming closest when he just failed to connect with another Sambrook cross.
Report by Ryan Goad
Thanks to the Thurrock Gazette for the match report