Another big scalp for Grays as Gulls are sent crashing to earth
Grays Athletic took yet another major scalp as they produced an outstanding performance to beat high-flying Torquay.
Before the game,Torquay supporters remarked on how impressed they were when Grays visited Plainmoor in August. This time, Grays went two points and two goals better with a controlled performance with the defence as steadfast as ever and the midfield very well orchestrated on and off the field.
Grays played a 4-4-2 formation while Torquay confidently put three up front as they planned to play the fast ball up the park on the bumpy pitch and hope to profit from any loose balls.
There were early indications that it might work.
In the seventh minute Chris Hargreaves put a fine early ball through to Lee Phillips but the ball bounced kindly for Grays keeper Ross Flitney.
Everybody for Torquay looked threatening. Kevin Nicholson floated over several balls and Chris Zebroski hustled Grays defenders Jon Ashton and Jamie Stuart but the clear cut chances were not coming.
For Grays, Jamie Taylor looked impressive as his close control and sharp movement enabled Ben Watson and Aaron O'Connor to manoevure into position.
The midfield looked solid, showing cohesiveness and discipline as they kept to a strict gameplan.
In the 19th minute, Tayor went alone and was unlucky not to score with a sublime piece of skill as he evaded two players before curling a beautiful ball round Gulls keeper Mikell Andersen before the ball struck the post.
Other new boy, Marlon Patterson showed promise with several good runs down the left flank. Adam Gross was also sound, if unspectacular.
In the 25th minute Gulls' Lee Phillips got behind the defence but strangly hesitated, hung on to the ball and was easily snuffed out. Like many of their counterparts, they had come to the game, underestimating the superb Grays defence who took off where they left off at Stevenage.
Gulls continued to create chances. Roscoe D'Sane should have put Torquay up in the 27th minute. Latching on to a through ball, he shrugged off his marker Adam Gross. His deft touch saw him round Flitney but yet again another fatal hesitation meant the angle became too tight and the ball hit the outside of the post.
The turning point came when Grays broke their goal-fast of 420 minutes. In the 40th minute, midfielder Michael Standing swung the ball in from a corner. Confusion reigned but it gave defender Ashton enough time and perhaps a little assistance from his arm to swing round and shoot from close range to put the Blues one-up at half time.
Jody Banim came on at the beginning of the second half as The Gulls switched to a 4-4-2 but they still couldn't produce enough width or incision. Indeed when Chris Zebroski made the first of several half-hearted appeals for a penalty on the 55th minute, there was something desperate in their play.
Everyone in Torquay has been obsessing about Monday's Aldershot clash for sometime and it seems to have become an albatross round the Gulls' neck.
In the 60th minute, Torquay's second corner of the afternoon nearly brought the equaliser. Nicholson projected the ball in to the heart of the area, Chris Todd latched on to it but his header just fired past the unmarked Grays post.
Grays were working hard to keep their shape and although they had several players out of position, they shackled Torquay very comfortably.
With Danny Kedwell coming on, they switched to a 4-5-1. Torquay could only match this with a withering lack of imagination.
The Grays midfield were working hard. Or more accurately they were being constantly advised, berated,complimented and perhaps bullied into making sure they kept their position, concentration and the will to win.
Neil McCafferty and Jack Obersteller came on to ensure the midfield kept it tight. Special mention must also go to Ben Watson who got through a ton of work. On two occasions he put in block tackles in defence before scampering back up into the attack.
Danny Stevens and Kaled Mohamed came on for the visitors but failed to provide any new answers, just back into the same cul-de sacs.
By this time, Grays were starting to showboat with sub Obersteller putting in a fine cameo.
In the 91st minute, Torquay's miserable day was complete. Obersteller passed two men on the left and sneaked the ball through to the irrepressible Danny Kedwell who fired home to the jubilation of the Grays faithful. Torquay fans filed out with the long journey on their minds.
After five minutes of injury time (I don't know where that came from either) referee Mr S.Creighton blew his whistle. The players looked ecstatic and the coaching staff even more so.
We have been here before and the big challenge now is not to repeat the disappointments that followed the outstanding performances against Aldershot and Cambridge.
The balance of power in the management team is fascinating. Tim O'Shea was the voluble presence who ran the show. His brand of forthright management today was the vital factor in making sure the midfield did exactly as they were told.
It did make the other three look surplus to requirement. Neil Smith appeared to be painfully aware of this.
After the game, visiting boss Paul Buckle tried to garner the positives from the match.
He said: "The conditions were difficult. I don't think we adapted very well. Having said that we dominated the game but we should have been more ruthless."
He dismissed suggestions that Monday's clash with Aldershot had become a distraction.
"We took today's game in isolation. We came up with a very good defence and a team that's main priority was to stop us playing."
Report by Michael Casey
Thanks to the Thurrock Gazette for the match report