Grays Shine But Held At Home
Grays took heart from a vastly improved performance that could be just the boost the Blues need.
The first half was a frantic, refreshing, full blooded but intelligent exhibition of football from Grays Athletic that fans had been hoping to see when the season began.
With the midfield combination of Hearn, Thurgood and Grant appearing for the first time, you had the feeling that this was the eleven that most reflected Justin Edinburghs vision of how the game should be played.
Most teams would have buckled under the pressure but Oxford were a formidable outfit not easily ruffled and under the shrewd eye of Jim Smith weathered the storm well in the first half.
Grays got the ball from back to front far more fluently than in recent weeks but this was not route one football. With Hearn oozing class in midfield and Thurgoood marshalling well Oxford could not make their presence felt.
In the 10th minute a typical move involving Hearn through to O'Connor saw his shot from just outside the box parried away by the keeper.
From the resulting corner, Jon Ashton's sweeping header skimmed across the front of goal.
Ashton continued to be a totemic presence in defence. His marshalling of Odubade was particularly effective. Stuart seemed a lot more assured than in recent matches.
Gavin Grant, operating on the right looked sharp and never more than in the 9th minute when an irresistible shot twenty yards out rifled past the right post.
An uncharacteristic airshot by Flitney was probably the only moment of weakness for the defence.
Having said all that, Grays never really had a clear cut chance which is credit to Oxfords three central defenders.
The nearest chance came in the 27th minute. Hearn outside the area passed to Grant who slotted it through to OConnor whose shot was chested off the line.
Grays picked up where they left off in the second half.
The warm applause Justin Edinburgh receives from the fans behind the bench illustrates the belief and respect the fans have for him.
Oli and Grant switched flanks but there were now hints that Oxfords five man midfield could dominate. In the 50th minute Odubade should have done better after nutmegging Sambrook but his curling shot went over.
The pressure started to show, In the 55th minute, Thurgood squared the ball to Oxford thirty yards out, The weak shot was again miscued by Flitney spinning away for a corner.
Lawson came on for Oli but Oxford continued to press. On the hour Hutchisons looping header went over Flitney and hit the bar.
Immediately, Hearn returned the compliment. 30 yards out he slipped his marker and produced a fine shot which the keeper turned onto the post.
In the 66th Lawson took on the Oxford defence. His cross was met by Gavin Grant who volleyed wide and high.
Watson came on for O'Connor and the key was going to be whether any Grays player could pierce through into the Oxford area.
McAllister came on in the 73rd minute for Kedwell. This was brave proactive tactics by Edinburgh and the fans urged their team on.
Grays never gave up. In the 84th minute, Grant hovering on the right side of the box picked up a cross ball from Lawson. He twisted turned and his looping shot went over the bar. 90 minutes up front would be a good test for what he can really do.
Lawson should have grabbed a winner in injury time when put through by a beautiful chip by Hearn but his shot was well blocked by the keeper.
Oxford gained, if that is the right word their fourth draw in five games but Grays could claim the moral victory.The team can take great heart from this and shows that what a fully fit Blues can do.
If the team can get a run going then they can be a formidable presence in the Blue Square.
After the game Justin Edinburgh said:"I'm pleased at the way Stuart and Charlie worked well together. The whole team played well. We've spoken about the lack of goals but we get back to the training ground tomorrow and will be concentrating on remedying that."
"James Lawson knows he should have taken that chance but we go forward to Stafford feeling we have turned a corner."
By Michael Casey
Thanks to the Thurrock Gazette for the match report