Grays fall at final hurdle for record
Grays’ luck ran out on Saturday when a miraculous goal-line clearance denied them a last second equaliser and ended their hopes of setting an all time record for the best start to a Conference season.
Trailing 2-1 with just seconds remaining, keeper Nicky Eyre launched a huge free kick into the box and the ball found its way to the feet of top scorer Jamie Slabber who from no more than six yards out curled the ball past Stanley stopper, Darren Randolf.
The strike seemed destined for the back of the net until full back Philip Edwards, somehow managed to get himself back on the line and diver the goalbound effort on to and then over the bar to effectively seal his side the three points.
”We’ve scored out fair share of late goals this season but it just wasn’t our day today,” said Blues boss Stimson afterwards. “We came up against a very good side who more than matched us in the first half. We asked them a few more questions in the second half and scored a fantastic goal and after that the game could have gone either way. But I don’t think we could done too much more to be honest.
”It’s disappointing not to have broken the record and we’re not used to losing. The boys will bounce back and we’ve got a massive game against Exeter to look forward to now,” Stimson added.
There was very little to choose between the two evenly matched teams but a magnificent display from Stanley wideman, Gary Roberts, tipped the game in the visitors’ favour and they probably deserved the win.
Indeed, their performance was even more impressive given that they played out the final 24 minutes with just 10 men after their substitute and creator of Steve Jagielka’s winner, Andrew Mangan, was sent off for two booking in as many seconds.
Skipper Paul Mullin had earlier put Stanley ahead with a well taken goal after some dazzling skill from Roberts, but Michael Kightly had levelled things up for Grays with a close range finish from Aaron McLean’s centre.
John Coleman’s men started the brighter with Robert’s thrusts down the left proving from the outset a real threat to Andy Sambrook who had a torrid afternoon at the hands of the Welshman.
But it was the home side who felt they should have been in front when Slabber latched onto a Jamie Stuart pass and was up-ended in the box by Michael Welch.
Referee, Martin Harris, waved Blues’ appeals away but he was soon called upon again and forced to make an equally difficult decision when Stuart Thurgood released Dennis Oli in behind the Stanley defence only for Robbie Williams to haul back his man.
The defender was unquestionably the last man but Mr Harris presumably decided Oli wouldn’t have reached the ball and let Williams off with a yellow card instead of the red that the home supporters were baying for.
Stanley boss, Coleman, wasn’t quite so fortunate though moments later when the fourth official accused him of saying something out of turn to the ref and in typically melodramatic fashion the officials expelled him from the dug-out.
On the pitch things were going better for the Lancastrians when Roberts forced Sambrook on to the backfoot and crossed for David Brown who sliced horribly wide with the goal gaping and Welch then headed a Ian Craney freekick inches past the post.
The visitors’ threat turned into something tangible seven minutes before the break when a wonderful bit of skill on the left from Roberts took out both Sambrook and Thurgood and Mullin slotted home the cross.
Roberts could have helped his side double their advantage before the break when he looked to have been brought down in the box by Stevland Angus but Mr Harris was again having none of it, while at the other end, McLean should have done better after being teed up by Martin.
Grays were much better in the second half and were rewarded seven minutes in when McLean escaped down the right, skipped past Edwards and crossed for Kightly who, after a good first touch, crashed the ball into the top corner to level the scores.
Stanley then introduced Mangan to freshen up their forward line and the 19-year-old certainly left an imprint on the game – despite only being on the field for five minutes.
He setup Jagielka’s volleyed winner by robbing Stuart and picking out the ex-Shrewsbury man at the back post two minutes after his introduction but then plunged his side into crisis three minutes later by ridiculously getting himself sent off.
First he lunged into McLean to pick up a booking and then having been shown the yellow card he stupidly kicked the ball away to earn himself another and an early shower.
Grays gave it their all to preserve their unbeaten record but as they ploughed forward they left gaps in defence. Jagielka exploited one such gap but couldn’t beat Nicky Eyre from 10 yards.
In the final 10 minutes John Nutter fired agonisingly wide, Slabber and Kightly went close and John Martin had another strong penalty appeal waved away by a ref who seemed determined not to give a penalty kick despite three cast iron shouts.
Randolf then made two brilliant stops to deny first Slabber after he was put through by Oli and then his own defender Ian Craney who nearly headed Martin’s freekick past his keeper.
Then, with seconds left, when Slabber finally did beat the young stopper his full back Edwards bailed him out and made a stunning, if somewhere fortunate, goal line clearance to dent Grays the record they so desperately wanted.
Report by Ryan Goad
Thanks to the Thurrock Gazette for the match report