Kettle whistles Grays to night of cup misery
Grays’ dream of landing a glamorous FA Cup Third Round tie fell at the final hurdle on Friday night when a string of appalling refereeing decisions helped Mansfield Town dump them out the competition.
Three woeful judgements from referee Trevor Kettle effectively condemned Blues to defeat at Field Mill and brought the club’s best ever FA Cup run to a halt in the Second Round.
Within the first 15 minutes, Mr Kettle had wrongly awarded the Stags a corner, which led to Richie Barker’s opener and dismissed Blues’ full back, Andy Sambrook, for a tackle that was late but never sinister.
These decisions left the Conference leaders with a mountain to climb but that mountain turned to sheer rock face when Mr Kettle adjudged Stuart Thurgood to have brought down Adam Birchall in the penalty area and awarded a spot kick.
The verdict looked incredibly harsh to the naked eye and television replays suggested the Mansfield attacker had merely run into Thurgood.
But Mr Kettle was unflinching in his judgement and Barker rolled in the subsequent penalty, at the second attempt, to leave Grays in a dire situation.
Blues bravely continued to attack in the second half but left themselves wide open at the back and it was no surprise when Birchall added a third to extinguish any hope of a comeback.
Afterwards Grays boss, Mark Stimson, paid tribute to the commitment of his players but had to bite his lip when it came to his assessment of Mr Kettle’s performance.
”I’m very disappointed”, he said. “Not with the way we played and not with the effort and desire shown by my players because I can’t fault them for that. But there were decisions made out there which changed the game.
”Without seeing the game again on the videotape I don’t want to say too much but I ask for honesty from my players and I expect that from everyone else.
”If the ref can go to sleep tonight and believe he’s made the right decisions then what can I say?
”It’s frustrating for me and more so the players because they were out there. In fact, I thought the boys controlled themselves very well because I know if I was out there I would have struggled not to lose it.”
Drawn on Sambrook’s red card, Stimson added: “I thought the ref was a little bit hasty with the card. You would think he maybe would have taken five seconds to think about it but we have to get on with it.”
Grays made one change from the side that defeated Stevenage six days earlier with Stevland Angus shaking off his groin injury to return at centre back, with Nathan Koo-Boothe making way.
And the Conference leaders started confidently enough against their League Two opponents with Dennis Oli and Michael Kightly looking lively on the flanks and Thurgood and John Martin competing well in midfield.
But Grays looked less than assures at the other end and they paid the price for that in the 12th minute when their defenders made a hash of clearing a corner and Barker headed the Stags in front.
Lee Matthews looked to have cleared Adam Rundle’s delivery but the ball fell to Jake Buxton, who found Birchall at the back post and his cross-shot was powerfully headed into the net by Barker.
Minutes later Grays were in real trouble when Sambrook received his marching orders for clattering into Rundle.
The Stags winger looked to have over-run the ball and Sambrook saw the chance to nip in with a tackle. But the full-back arrived a fraction too late and caught Rundle with his studs just as he turned the ball past him.
It was a late challenger and a cast-iron booking but Mr Kettle saw otherwise and without a moment’s hesitation brandished a red card, indicating that Sambrook had jumped recklessly into the challenge.
In many ways the sending-off appeared to galvanise the visitors who were the better side for much of the half but only once did they come close to equalising.
Jamie Slabber won a dubious free kick on the edge of the box, which Martin curled exquisitely around the wall, only for it to bounce off the far post and at the feet of John Nutter.
The full back steadied himself and with his favourite left boot fired at goal, but he leant back too far and blazed the ball over the bar.
Blues continued to press but fell victim to Mr Kettle’s incompetence five minutes before the interval.
Again Grays brought the trouble on themselves by failing to deal with a corner and when Gareth Jelleyman fed the ball back into the box, Birchall span straight into Thurgood.
There were hardly any appeals from the Stags players, but that mattered little as Mr Kettle stunned all in the ground and pointed to the spot.
Barker rolled in the first penalty, only for it to be cancelled out by Mr Kettle for encroachment, and went exactly the same way at the second time of asking to double his side’s lead.
Gary Hooper was introduced in the second half as Grays gambled and tried to find a way back into the game, playing three up front and leaving just two back at times.
This inevitably gifted Stags chances on the counter-attack and Alan Russell nearly grabbed a third when he beat Angus to the ball and was denied only by a smart save from Bayes.
The goal did come 13 minutes before the end when Birchall celebrated his 21st birthday in style by ghosting in between Bayes and Thurgood and nodded home yet another Rundle corner.
Thurgood twice went close to salvaging some consolation for Grays in the closing minutes but by that time it was clear it wasn’t to be the visitors’ day.
Report by Ryan Goad
Thanks to the Thurrock Gazette for the match report