An injury time winner from Aaron McLean brought Grays’ miserable run to a halt on Saturday and ensure their defence of the FA Trophy remains on course.
The Blues squad were shown a repeat of the historic Trophy triumph on the way up to the Midlands and the memories of that day were enough to spur them on to victory – even if they did leave it until the 93rd minute to seal the win.
McLean had already gone desperately close a minute earlier when he slammed a Jamie Slabber cross onto the bar but he made no mistake when he met Andy Sambrook’s centre and glanced a header into the far corner of the net.
The win sparked the sort of celebrations you would expect from a side that have been going through a rocky patch of late and though it’s far too early to say, the game may prove to be a real turning point in Grays’ season.
Boss, Mark Stimson, certainly hopes so. “It was a return to our old ways,” he said. “We got another last-minute winner and our performance was also back to our early season form. Hopefully, we can take that performance back into the league with us starting at York next week.”
”I though we were always in control of the game and we always looked like we would score goals. In the end, we had to wait until the last minute, but Aaron has come up with the goal when we needed it.”
Stimson agreed that the goal was fitting reward for a player who, yet again, worked his socks off for the team.
”The lad has got the desire to play for Grays Athletic and he wants to put us in a higher position in the league and he wants to keep us going in this great competition.”
Blues gave a debut t new signing Christian Hanson who partnered Cameron Mawer in the centre of defence after the latter received a last minute call up to replace Stevland Angus who had declared himself unfit just hours before kick off.
The untried pairing performed brilliantly in their first outing together with the 18-year-old Mawer growing in stature as the game went on.
The more experienced Hanson was solid from the outset and Stimson believes he’s found just the man to shore up Grays’ vulnerable back line.
”Hanson was outstanding today,” said Stimson. “He’s a man, which is what we need. He has played at a decent level and he’s a good communicator and that will help the younger players like Mawer who was brilliant alongside him.”
On Angus’ no show, Stimson added: “He has thrown up a mystery groin injury and declared himself unfit. I don’t know where he’s got it from, I’d love to know and I have to question whether he wants to play for Grays Athletic.”
The first-half was largely incident free with Grays probably shading their Conference rivals who were playing their first home game under the stewardship of new manager, Mark Yates.
Chances were very much at a premium and the handful that did come were all created by the visitors.
But for a wonderful goal line clearance from skipper, Mark Jackson, McLean would have given the Blues the lead in the 14th minute when he met Michael Kightly’s deep cross and headed back across goal.
The ball had beaten Jon Danby in the Harriers’ goal but Jackson scrambled back onto his line and hooked it clear.
Gary Hooper, playing as part of a three-pronged attack, then had a effort blocked by Johnny Mullins and Stuart Thurgood drove wide after he was teed up by Tony Battersby in the only other efforts of note.
Kidderminster looked brighter in the second period and Hanson was forced to make a good tackle to deny Mullins as he shaped to convert a Iyesden Christie cross.
Christie, who scored twice at the Recreation Ground earlier this season, then showed his ability when he pulled off his marker to volley Wayne Hatswell’s free kick wide of the post.
Stimson made a courageous move next by replacing the tiring Kightly with a fourth striker, Slabber, who was straight into the thick of the action.
Picking up the ball on the edge of the box, the ex-Tottenham man turned and unleashed a thumping drive that flew just wide of Danby’s post.
With four attackers on the field, Grays were always taking a gamble and they could have been punished and had substitute Simon Russell not wasted a great opportunity just seconds after coming on.
The ex-Hull trainee latched onto a fine through ball from Russ Penn but, having escaped the attentions of the Blues defence, he couldn’t beat Ashley Bayes who stopped well his legs.
With six minutes left, Slabber missed a glorious chance to win the game for the visitors when, with all the time in the world, he blazed over from 10 yards after the ball, had broke to him in the box.
And that miss looked to have proved costly when Lee Thompson broke clear at the other end only to be denied by another top save from Bayes.
With the game seemingly heading for a replay, Grays made one last push and their efforts were ultimately rewarded.
McLean should really have scored when he clattered Slabber’s cross against the bar but he made up for it with a fine winner.
For someone who leaps so well as he does, McLean doesn’t get enough headed goals – in fact he doesn’t get enough goals full stop – but he gives his all to Grays cause and no one deserved the winner more than he.
The ex-Aldershot man metr Sambrook’s cross with a fantastic glancing header that left Danby rooted to the spot and the Grays fan in ecstasy.
Report by Ryan Goad
Thanks to The Thurrock Gazette for the report