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12.09.2006 @ 19:45 Stonebridge Road Crowd: 1200
Gravesend & Northfleet 2 - 0 Grays Athletic
Referee: D Phillips (Chichester) Conference National-Match

Charlie MacDonald (22)
Mark De Bolla (63)
Starting Line-ups
Lance Cronin
James Smith
Paul McCarthy
Ross Smith
Mark Ricketts
Liam Coleman
Robert Quinn
Jon Keeling
Mark De Bolla
Luke Moore
Charlie MacDonald
Ashley Bayes
Jay Smith
Andy Sambrook
Adam Green
Jamie Stuart
John Martin
Michael Kightly
Ashley Nicholls
Glenn Poole
Dennis Oli
Aaron McLean
Sam Mott
Danny Ekoku
George Purcell
Peter Hawkins
Omome Sodje
Danny Knowles
Cameron Mawer
Djoumin Sangare
Scott Canham
Lee Boylan
Omome Sodje -> Luke Moore (83)
Peter Hawkins -> Mark Ricketts (84)
Lee Boylan -> Adam Green (46)
Yellow cards
Jon Keeling (68) Michael Kightly (79)
Aaron McLean (83)
Red cards
None None
Match report |
When Grays skipper Stuart Thurgood broke his leg in pre-season there were fears that his side would not cope without him.

But, such have been the performances of Blues since the season started, it would not be a disservice to Thurgood to say his team had managed just fine.

That all changed on Tuesday night though when Frank Gray's men slumped to their first away defeat of the season at Gravesend after being totally over-run in midfield.

Gravesend boss Liam Daish pitched three central midfielders up against John Martin and Ashley Nicholls and they completely bossed the game leaving Blues' strikers to feed off little more than scraps.

It wasn't so much the numerical disadvantage that did for Grays but the lack of physicality in the midfield.

Michael Kightly and Glenn Poole are not in the side for their defensive prowess and unfortunately it seems Martin is just too lightweight to make an impact when the chips are down.

This left Nicholls fighting a losing battle in the midfield with the supply to Aaron McLean, Dennis Oli and, in the second half, Lee Boylan virtually suffocated.

Gray recognised this at the interval and brought on Boylan for Adam Green, dropping Oli back to midfield to match up man-for-man.

But the change had little effect and how the Grays boss must have been wishing his midfield dynamo had been fit and on the field.

"I felt we tried to play too much in midfield today," said the Scotsman afterwards. "Sometimes you have to do the ugly things like scrapping and battling and possibly they did a bit better than us tonight.

"We didn't deserve anything from the game. They battled, worked hard all over the pitch and on reflection they probably deserved the win."

The hosts imposed themselves on Grays from the outset but despite the pressure, failed to create any clear-cut chances.

And when Oli forced Lance Cronin into a smart stop, after turning magnificently past Ross Smith, it looked as though Grays had stemmed the tide.

Green then had a shot that fizzed over the bar after a good spell of possession but, just as the visitors looked to be finding their feet Fleet struck on the counter attack.

Centre backs Jamie Stuart and Jay Smith were caught up field waiting for Poole's free kick, which was cleared by the Gravesend defence.

Nicholls and Martin then both failed to win 50/50 balls on the half way line and allowed speedy winger Jon Keeling to make tracks down the left.

Keeling skipped past Andy Sambrook and with Gravesend men pouring forward, fired the ball across goal for Charlie Macdonald who rolled the ball home from close range.

The visitors tried desperately to find a foothold in the game but without the tigerish qualities of Thurgood in the centre of the park they struggled to get enough of the ball.

The one time Frank Gray's men did manage to get the ball and string some passes together they almost found the equaliser. Around 20 passes were stung out across the field before Kightly came inches away from steering home Green's centre.

But the hosts always looked the most threatening and they should have been 2-0 up by the interval when MacDonald's cut back found Mark DeBolla who couldn't make his former club pay and dragged his shot wide.

Gray wasted little time in shaking up his troops at the interval and sacrificed Green to bring on Lee Boylan and switching his system to 3-5-2.

The change brought about a bit more intensity from the visitors but still they could not win the midfield battle.

Dennis Oli, who formed the third central midfielder looked dangerous going forward but tracking back is certainly not in his makeup and like the first half Nicholls was too often left doing the job of three men.

Having said that, it was an Oli burst that nearly created an equaliser. Robbing Robert Quinn on the half way line, the ex-QPR man surged forward and, for the first time in the game, released McLean in behind the home defence.

However, keeper Lance Cronin was lightening quick off his line and McLean could not control his chip which sailed over the bar.

But the Stonebridge Road faithful didn't have to wait too much longer and it was no surprise that DeBolla was the man to net.

The 23-year-old had a largely uneventful spell at Grays at the fag end of last season but showed glimpses of an undoubted potential.

His move to Gravesend has certainly breathed new life into his football though, as four goals in eight games before tonight would testify, and who better to score against than the team that binned you after just a handful of games?

DeBolla did have a bit of assistance from his former team-mates, however, who backed off and backed off allowing the striker-cum-midfielder to size up a shooting opportunity.

Eventually he let fly from the edge of the box but even then Ashley Bayes should have saved it but instead he let it sneak underneath his gloves and into the bottom corner.

To their credit Grays kept going but despite a late half-chance that Boylan fired wide the Gravesend defence were barely troubled.

By Ryan Goad
Thanks to the Thurrock Gazette for the report.