Out-Standing win for Grays
Michael Standing's double strike saw Grays take another high-flying scalp at the New Rec in their 2-1 victory against Cambridge Utd.
Grays remain undefeated at home since October 9th and it is easy to see why. They don't panic, they keep going and are always looking for the chance to score.
Clues to the outcome of the game came in the first minute. Alan Power floated over a free kick which drifted through a statuesque Cambridge defence and was easily caught by the U's keeper Danny Potter.
Cambridge have had a real dip in form since they beat Torquay and Aldershot back to back in November. They came into this game on the back of being dumped out of the FA Trophy by local rivals Histon and it was expected that Grays would bear the brunt of the backlash. But it never came about. They were as muted as their bench and with four changes and two debuts, at times they looked like strangers.
In the 2nd minute Ben Watson went clear with only Potter to beat after clever work from Aaron O'Connor but he didn't even hit the target.
The front three continued to work well and have developed an almost psychic ability to find each other.
Cambridge attacked in flourishes. New-comer from Accrington Stanley Lee McEvilly pulled players out of position and Stephen Reed used the free space on the left well but they were countered by the welcome reappearance of Cammy Mawer. He had received a warm welcome back from the crowd. In the 10th minute a sublime last ditch sliding tackle reminded the crowd exactly what they had missed.
Kedwell continued to be a clever player. In the 12th minute he played a pinpoint ball near to the deadball line to Aaron O'Connor.
His cross came back to Kedwell on the edge of the box but he blasted the volley over the bar.
Watson had another couple of chanced but spurned them. It was noticeable that Michael standing was time and time again slotting through balls from midfield. He clearly realised that Cambridge could be unpicked it was just finding the right combination.
But it was Cambridge who dealt the first blow. A careless mistake by Santos Gaia gave the U's a throw. Dan Gleeson played a neat one-two on the right, left his marker and crossed over for Scott Rendell to slot the ball home from three yards for his sixteenth goal of the season.
But the key psychological strength is that the Blues never ever let their heads go down but the chances kept being wasted.
A Ben Watson free header in the 28th minute and another high wide and not so handsome shot from Aaron O'Connor.
The crowd to their credit stuck with the team, kept encouraging them and are helping to instil the belief that fortress New Rec will be major factor in the shake up for places come May.
At half time, Michael Standing must have decided to cut out the front men. Right after the break, he made a surging run into the U's box leaving the Camb defenders for dead. He chipped the ball to the far post. Alan Power flicked it back across the face of the goal where Standing was there to blast the Blues back into the match.
Cambridge flickered into life. They have been in the play off mix all season and were not prepared to drop out without a fight. The pace was frenetic but they were again being snuffed out by the impenetrable defence and, again by a far more calculating and effective Karl Murray.
Danny Kedwell limped off in the 53rd minute to be replaced by new signing from MK Dons Scott Taylor.
But Grays started to look like the away team. Mawer put in more sublime tackles defying belief that he had been out for nearly a year.
But in the 70th minute Michael Standing put Grays into the lead with the best Grays goal of the season so far. Alan Power cross was weakly cleared by the U's. Standing took the ball first time and rifled the ball from 25 yards out. His celebration was as he pointed to himself was simple and accurate. He was indeed the man.
What is more important is that Standing plays with an authority and confidence that is going to be a real boost fro the team.
Ben Watson made way for Colin Daniel as the team reverted to a 4-4-2. Justin Edinburgh was trying to guide his team towards the finish. He knew Standing was dying to go forward but he instructed him to sit in front of the back four.
But there were ten minutes left. Sub Courtney Pitt was a menace. Rendell continued to threaten with a shot going close in the 88th minute.
The corners reined down as the skies opened up but nothing could dampen Grays resolve. David Button saved two and did well as a beautiful Pitt chip just dipped over the bar.
When referee Mr Hooper blew the final whistle fans and players celebrated. Not as "giant killers" but as a team with momentum. This was another excellent performance, superbly crafted and wonderfully executed.
Cambridge boss Jimmy Quinn was in sombre mood after the game.
He said: "We only started playing when we 2-1 behind. I'm disappointed for everyone especially the fans but we will keep our heads up and go into four home games determined to halt this slide."
Grays now stand only six points from the play-offs. Justin Edinburgh will know that it is crucial that the team take it one game at a time.
Grays are still in the mix and their is a momentum to their season that makes the next four months fascinating.
But the triumph of Aldershot was followed by the insipid performance against Ebbsfleet. Tuesday brings York City and you know that Edinburgh will have his players exactly in the zone for that match. It should be an exciting night however the pitch despite the valiant efforts of the trainees and the grounds staff is starting to cut up badly.
By Michael Casey
Thanks to the Thurrock Gazette for the match report