Stylish Blues match the Conference best
Grays equalled the Conference’s best ever start to a season on Saturday and did so with customary style as they trounced a beleaguered Southport side on their own patch.
The leaders have now gone 15 league games unbeaten and have drawn level with the 1990/91 Kettering Town side who reached the same number only to be thrashed in their 16th game by Wycombe Wanderers.
So, if Mark Stimson’s men can avoid defeat in their next league fixture – at home to Accrington Stanley in eight days time – they can proudly call themselves record breakers.
A delighted Stimson said afterwards: “People have been talking about the record a lot lately and I asked the players beforehand ‘do you want to make history?’ Andy they have come up with the right answer.
”We’ve got another game to go to break the record but we’ll be thinking about that as any other game. These boys have a great desire to win matches and as long as we can keep doing that we’ll be alright,” he added.
Stimson later admitted that he was concerned the long trip north and blustery conditions might have played into Southport’s hands, but he needn’t have worried because his players put in a performance opposing manager, Liam Watson, called the best he has seen in non-league football.
Michael Kightly – making his first start since the opening day – Jamie Slabber, Jamie Stuart and Gary Hooper grabbed the goals and if it hadn’t had been for a magnificent performance from Sandgrounders keeper, Steve Dickinson, the win would have been far greater.
”If it hadn’t been for their keeper we could have registered a really really high score, but I’ll take 4-1 away from home every time” said Stimson.
The visitors put their opponents on the back foot from as early as the second minute when Dennis Oli scuffed a shot wide after a wind assisted centre from Aaron McLean found him alone at the back post.
But Blues didn’t have to wait too much longer for the breakthrough and it was the returning Kightly who found himself on the scoresheet for the third game in a row.
Oli tricked his way down the right and picked out Kightly in the box, who with unerring accuracy, fired into the corner of the net.
Slabber, McLean and John Martin all came close as Blues poured on the pressure with a half-chance from Kevin Leadbitter the best Southport could muster.
And it was no surprise when Grays doubled their advantage midway through the half thanks to Slabber who converted Martin’s cross for his seventh goal of the season.
Dickinson produced two fine saves before the interval to keep his side in with a squeak of the game, first from John Nutter and then from Stuart Thurgood’s fierce drive from the edge of the box.
The long serving Southport stopper was called into action again after the re-start saving well from Andy Sambrook, McLean and the impressive Kightly.
But the home side showed plenty of character and, with the wind behind them, they hauled themselves back into the game when debutant, Nick Rogan, shot past Nicky Eyre from the edge of the box.
For a short time it looked as thought the goal might inspire an unlikely Southport revival but Stuart knocked any thoughts of that on the head within 10 minutes when he restored Grays’ two goal advantage.
Sambrook’s free kick into the box caused confusion in the home defence and when neither Dickinson nor Chris Lane took charge of proceedings, Stuart stole in and headed home.
Southport were reduced to 10 men soon after when, having used up all their subs, Lane was forced off the field with a head injury and that, combined with their part-time status, ensured Grays finished the game as they had begun – in total command.
Their fourth goal arrived in unfortunate circumstances for Dickinson, who had kept the score line down to a respectable level, but he couldn’t pass the buck when his attempted clearance fell to Hooper who skipped past the hapless keeper and rolled the ball into an empty net.
Grays now move into the biggest month of their season so far and a string of games that could really shape their destiny.
Tomorrow they travel to York in the FA Cup before they play three of the top five in as many games; Accrington Stanley, Exeter and Stevenage.
If they are still top after the triumvirate then dreams of a place in the Football League may not be too fanciful after all.
Thanks to the Thurrock Gazette for the match report