Grays outstanding as they gun down Shots
Grays Athletic made Justin Edinburgh's hogmanay with a thrilling 2-1 victory against runaway league leaders Aldershot.
From their daring 3-4-3 formation to the dynamism of their play, Grays out-thought and out-fought Aldershot who, for all their excellent inter-linking play, lacked penetration throughout the match.
Early chances fell to the Shots. In the third minute, Joel Grant pounced on a mistake by Ian Selley but his 20 yard shot flew wide. Lewis Chalmers and Scott Davies were combative, both forcing point blank saves from Ross Flitney.
Grays were finding room on the right flank. Edinburgh had clearly learnt from the defeat last month and his side closed Shots down, they played to their strengths and exploited weaknesses. Grays started to believe they had the measure of Aldershot.
Shots' diffident defence were unable to cope with the concept of three attackers swopping positions at will, especially Ben Watson who was giving Anthony Charles motion sickness.
But the game turned just before the half hour. In the 25th minute Joel Grant fell after slipping past Andy Sambrook in the Grays area. Referee Cooper gave a penalty. Ross Flitney with 500 baying Shots fans behind him, kept his cool, kept to his secret formula, dived left and saved skipper Rhys Day's well struck shot.
Three minutes later a clumsy but not vicious tackle by Scott Davies on Ian Selley was given a straight red.
Grays stepped up the pace with chances by Aaron O'Connor and Jack Obersteller going close. Danny Kedwell continued to impress and produced one sublime crossfield ball during one attack.
The deadlock was broken in the 42nd minute when the effervescent Watson dribbled past Day to the dead ball line and slipped it across to Obersteller who put the ball away from close range.
The league leaders came out like a shot in the second half but never really troubled the imperious Flitney whose positioning and assertive play was outstanding. In front of him, the defensive triumvirate of Stuart, Gaia and Downer were the epitome of calm.
Grays kept their heads and played possession football.
In the 52nd minute an wonderfully incisive series of passes involving Selley,O'Connor and Kedwell found a simple pass to Watson who slipped the ball past Nikki Bull for a two goal lead.
Gary Waddock met the challenge in cavalier fashion. A triple substitution with Danny Hylton, Kirk Hudson and David Winfield became part of a wave of attacks.
At the other end Grays were given countless chances but a combination of excellent keeping and poor finishing kept The Shots in the game. You started to feel that once again would Grays rue these missed chances.
In the 65th minute, Shots struck back. The mercurial Joel Grant dribbled past four Grays players found Jonny Dixon in space who shot past Flitney to bring the Shots back into the game.
Aldershot continued to press and showed why they are the runaway leaders with a series of impressive moves that delighted the neutral but had the Blues supporters' nerves in tatters.
In the 81st minute Aldershot had a fair claim for a penalty dismissed when Simon Downer lent on Danny Hylton. Other attacks were snuffed out by the Blues who showed remarkable levels of stamina.
In injury time, Danny Hylton steamed into the area for what should have been a heartbreaking equaliser but his point blank header was saved by Flitney.
The fans (836 out of a total of 1210) were in fantastic voice and urged their team on. The Blues did not let them down, they were not to be moved and saw out the final minute to celebrate their fifth victory in seven games.
After the game Edinburgh was in ebullient mood.
He said: "We changed our formation to counter their strength on the flanks. The team showed a great deal of self belief and trust to produce our best performance of the season.
"The players are sky-high in the dressing room and rightly so. It's been a rich vein of form and I am confident that it can continue."
Man of the match, Ben Watson was delighted with his and the team's performance.
He said: "We are all delighted. I really enjoy playing as part of the front three. We put a lot of work in training and it has really paid dividends today. This is a fantastic result"
Grays move up to 11th. Statistics show that based on the last six games Grays are a top four side. Today they certainly showed that they are a class side and produced a performance of consummate skill but most of all intelligence. Credit must go to John Yems who has brought a steel and discipline to the team as well as goalkeeping coach Gary Phillips.
Back in March,when Grays played Stevenage in the second leg of the FA Trophy, Edinburgh showed a tactical flourish that showed that this young manager had potential to produce exciting but also cerebral football.
There have been doubts and dark moments. Anyone who saw him in the dressing room after the Weymouth game could see that this was a man who felt so so passionately about the game. It is important that a huge amount of credit must be given to Justin for today's performance.
He wears his professionalism on his sleeve and he goes into 2008 seeing the fruits of his footballing philosophy beginning to pay dividends.
Report by Michael Casey
Thanks to the Thurrock Gazette for the match report