Jamie’s back on form
Jamie Slabber’s resurgence continued on Tuesday night when he earned a point for Grays at a windswept Abbey Stadium.
The ex-Spurs youngster followed up his brace against Tamworth three days previously with a scrambled equaliser that was indicative of a scrappy game that Grays will look back on and feel they should have won.
Indeed they would have done just that had keeper Nicky Eyre not made a horrendous mistake to gift Cambridge he lead in the 13th minute but boss, Mark Stimson, was not blaming anyone afterwards and admitted being content with a point.
He said: “I would have taken that beforehand. I tend to look at games in batches of three and a win against Tamworth and a point here sets us up nicely for the Woking game on Saturday.
”I think we probably did enough to win it and their keeper made a great save from Glenn Poole at the end but, unfortunately for Nicky, he tried to play from the back and the striker has read it and put it in the back of the net.
”But we showed character to come back from that.
”The boys worked extremely hard and if they keep doing that for the remaining games of the season we will win more games than we lose.”
Stimson also wanted to pay tribute to the magnificent away support that made the trip to Cambridge who out sang their opponents all night long.
”I want to give them special mention”, said Stimson. “I don’t know how many of them were there but they were fantastic all night and the boys would like to say a big thank you to them. They were a credit to the football club.”
Both sides started the game in pretty lethargic fashion with nothing of note bar a speculative Michael Kightly effort from the edge of the box until Eyre’s gaffe handed Cambridge the initiative.
It really was a bolt out of the blue because Cambridge has offered nothing as an attacking note up to that point and in truth offered very little after it either.
There seemed little concern when John Nutter threw the ball back to his keeper but instead of hoofing it upfield Eyre tried to play a short pass to right back Cameron Mawer.
Unfortunately for Eyre half the stadium realised where the ball was going before it had left his boot, so it was no surprise that Craig Westcarr cottoned on too and the ex-Nottingham Forest man had all the time in the world to intercept the pass and stroke the ball into the net.
It’s hard not to have some sympathy for Eyre who has only just returned to the side at the expense of Ashley Bayes – a man who has made his own fair share of mistakes in recent weeks – but it really was schoolboy stuff.
The visitors almost went two down mid-way through the half when Westcarr latched on to Jamie Stuart’s ballooned clearance but his volley from an acute angle was well fielded by Eyre.
Grays were not playing anywhere near the standard they reached against Dagenham and Tamowrth in their last two games and it says something about the form of Ade Olayinka to say that they missed his presence in the centre of the park.
Olayinka picked up a head injury in training the day before the game and was replaced by Martin who was industrious but took time to get back into the tempo of the game.
But without really doing too much on the ball, Grays began to press their hosts back towards the end of the half and could have equalised on the half hour.
Stuart Thurgood’s thunderous free kick was blocked by keeper Scott Howie and Martin’s follow-up was headed off the line by Daniel Gleeson.
Spurred on by that near miss and by the U’s inability to pass the ball to one another Blues began to dominate and forced an incredible eight corners in the final 15 minutes of the half.
Such was the quality of Poole and Thurgood’s deliveries it always seemed likely that one of those eight flag kicks would be profitable and so it proved when the seventh one was turned home by Slabber.
Thurgood’s wicked kick was dropped by Howie and Kightly managed to turn the ball back to Blues’ top scorer who stabbed the ball home for his 10th league goal of the season from close range.
Grays were much better in the second half with Kightly coming more into the game on the right and Thurgood bossing the midfield.
But try and they might they couldn’t carve out any real goal scoring opportunities with Kightly going closest when he cut back onto his left foot and curled a decent effort just wide of the post.
The best the U’s could muster was a couple of shots from distance from Westcarr and Courtney Pitt which, on both occasions, Eyre did well to hold at the first attempt, proving that the first half clanger had not damaged his confidence too much.
Poole had two fantastic chances to win it for the visitors late on when he failed to control a sublime pass from Thurgood when clear in the box and then, after a lay off from sub Gary Hooper, he struck a magnificent shot with the outside of his boot that looked to be heading for the top corner until Howie’s diving intervention.
Report by Ryan Goad
Thanks to the Thurrock Gazette for the match report