Grays smash telly hoodoo
Grays ended their television hoodoo with a comprehensive victory that kept their promotion push firmly on track.
In four previous attempts the Blues had never won over 90 minutes in front of live TV cameras – though they did beat Hucknall Town on penalties in last year’s FA Trophy final.
But they laid they ghost to rest on Monday night when they overcame a spirited Exeter side 3-0 live on Sky.
The win lifted Grays back into fourth place in the Conference table and means that they need just 10 more points from their six remaining games to secure a play off spot.
The scoreline flattered Grays who had to dig deep to beat an Exeter side who were intent on avenging their FA Trophy semi-final loss to the Blues just 16 days earlier while at the same time trying to cling on their own faint play-off ambitions.
But superior finishing from Mark Stimson’s men proved the difference as goals from the red-hot Glenn Poole, plus second half strikes from Dennis Oli & John Martin ensured Grays’ win was more emphatic than they perhaps deserved.
Not that you will hear Stimson complaining. “That was a fantastic win for us,” he said. “It was not easy because Exeter are a very strong side and they threw everything at us in the second half particularly.
”But out defence was magnificent again and they blocked and put their bodies in the way of everything. From now until the end of the season they are all cup finals and the players showed that tonight.
”Whenever you play Exeter you know you’ll be in a game and it was the same again tonight but we held them off and what was more pleasing was that we scored three very good goals of our own. It was also good for us to break our duck and finally win on Sky within 90 minutes.”
Stimson made one change from the side that beat Gravesend six days’ earlier with John Martin returning for Ade Olayinka. The Blues boss reserved special praise for the diminutive midfielder who looked to have rediscovered some of his early form.
Stimson said: “I’m so pleased for Johnny. He works so hard in training everyday and things just haven’t been running for him on the pitch but tonight he played well and got in the box to get his goal.”
Though Martin was indeed excellent he was overshadowed by his midfield partner Stuart Thurgood who was without doubt the stand-out player on the field. Stimson agreed: “I thought Stuart was brilliant tonight. He was everywhere – strong in the tackle and composed in possession but that’s what he’s like every week.”
Blues striker Aaron McLean lit up a scrappy opening period with a wonderful acrobatic volley that whizzed past the post after a good cross from Poole but after that chances were few and far between.
Grecians skipper Chris Todd went close when his header, from a Matt Gill throw, was tipped expertly over the bar by the back-pedalling Ashley Bayes and Lee Phillips’ goal-bound volley was well blocked by Christian Hanson as the visitors looked favourites to net.
But Grays soaked up the pressure and a typically rapier-like counter attack ensured they drew first blood.
Andy Sambrook’s long ball forward was flicked on by McLean to strike partner Mark DeBolla. With Exeter’s right back, Dan Woodards caught upfield Poole was in acres of space on the left and DeBolla, who was guilty of hanging on to the ball a little too long during the opening stages, released the ball first-time allowing Poole to storm into the box and fire past Paul Jones.
Exeter started the second half strongly and came close to an equaliser when Dean Moxey’s cross-shot was nearly turned in by Lee Phillips and then Gill’s shot from the edge of the box appeared to hit Jamie Stuart’s hand in the box as the Grays centre back courageously lunged to block the goal-bound effort.
Moxey and Woodards had shots deflected wide and from the ensuing corner Todd beat a hesitant Bayes to the ball and dropped a header onto the bar.
Little could the Grecians skipper have known that five touches later Grays would have doubled their advantage.
As the ball rebounded off the bar John Nutter hooked the ball clear to Poole wide on the left. The ex-Thurrock man took a touch before splitting the Exeter defence with a wonderful pass that set Oli free and the substitute took a touch of his own before sliding the ball into the bottom corner.
The game was put to bed in the 70th minute when Jones could only parry Poole’s rasping drive to the feet of Gary Hooper whose shot was helped in by an ecstatic Martin.
Poole almost rubbed further salt into Exeter’s wounds when he worked a short corner with Thurgood and struck a post with his cheeky drive to the near post and McLean drove over after more industrious work from the Blues skipper.
Phillips then nearly added a deserved consolation in the closing stages when his 35-yard drive clattered a post but it wasn’t to be for an Exeter side who were given a lesson in finishing by a team fast becoming their bogey side.
Report by Ryan Goad
Thanks to the Thurrock Gazette for the match report