Grays boss still eyes play-offs after fine win at Burton
The Blues machine thundered on with a tremendous comeback victory against promotion-chasing Burton Albion.
Mike Woodward still talks of the play-offs and who can doubt the man as his coaching team have developed a real sense of teamwork.
The match was played in classic April conditions compounded by a side of the pitch that looked like Tilbury mudflats.
Grays started in lively fashion with Jamie Taylor buzzing across the line and fighting for every ball but Burton soon pinned them back. In the fourth minute, three corners in a row tested the Blues' defence with Nicky Eyre punching away one effort confidently.
Burton were dictating play. Neil McCafferty was finding it hard to impose himself but it looked like an open game that could swing either way. In the 12th minute Stuart Thurgood released a sumptuous early ball through to Jamie Taylor that came to nothing but indicated that Grays could slice through the heart of Burton.
advertisementBarry Cogan was starting to produce dazzling runs at will that left the Burton defenders standing. He was sacrificing width and had not re-ignited his psychic relationship with Adam Gross but it was a sign of things to come The breakthrough came in the 25th minute when a long throw on the right from Simon Downer bounced like a dambuster bomb in the Burton defence. Cogan slipped in to put the ball past keeper Saul Deeney.
Burton came straight back with the wind at their backs and a promotion at stake. Their robust attack set about Grays. In the 29th minute Daryl Clare put a high ball in the area that was side-footed away by Simon Downer. Downer's ability to improvise is magnificent. This has been quite a run for him since injury. You hate to say it for Grays but surely someone must again have a look at this remarkable player.
Burton showed why they have been in the shake-up all season. In the 32nd minute Keith Gilroy sent over the sixth corner of the game. Daryl Clare put Nicky Eyre under pressure and the ball came off skipper Jamie Stuart to level the game.
They didn't stop there. Nine minutes later, Matt Williams produced a sublime piece of skill On the d of the box, he dragged the ball back, wrong footing Stuart and Gross as he curled the ball around Eyre to put the Brewers 2-1 up.
Grays came out for the second half as if they had the mothers of all hairdryers.
In the 49th minute, Cogan once again received a throw on the edge of the box. He juggled the ball, hypnotising the Burton defenders before shooting straight past the keeper to restore parity.
Three minutes later the wagonwheels truly came off Burton's game. Cogan received the ball in midfield slipped it right to Aaron O'Connor. He sent in a quicksilver cross from which Jamie Taylor produced a magnificent leap to put Grays in the lead once more.
The game descended into a scrapfest with Burton unable to get a grip and team Grays battling hard to repel Nigel Clough's men.
Clough reminded this journalist of his father. Unfortunately, it was the father who sat impassively on the bench in the 1991 Cup Final as Nigel seemed to have nothing to say to his men.
Grays found it hard to kill the game off but with every player manfully defending, they were showing why only Aldershot at the moment can hold a light to them Burton weren't finished. In the 77th minute a low cross by Michael Simpson was well held by Eyre. Burton had a golden opportunity to equalise in the 83rd minute. A snapshot by Clare was scooped away by Eyre but straight to Aaron Webster but he couldn't have picked a finer player. Webster had a nightmare second half and to compound his misery weakly headed from two feet out over the bar.
Grays held on for the three points. As the final whistle players and staff were ecstatic displaying a group unity that hasn't been seen in a long time.
After the game, Woodward was fulsome in his praise. He said: "This was all about team. Every player gave their all. They were men out there today and I have the utmost respect for them.
"Words were spoken at half time and they came up with the goods.
"The task is simple. Win our games and we will be in the play-offs."
Woodward is proving a lot of people wrong including this journalist. A searingly honest man about his faults, he has shown considerable transferable skills from his successful business career. He has recruited a team who have now settled down to bring different qualities. Tim O'Shea brings the analysis, Neil Smith, the grit and Gary Phillips never has a word wasted. Mike knows what he wants. The tinkering has gone and this consistent team is frightening the hell out of a lot of teams. The Brewers drooped in front of them today.
There are many what if's. When Mike spent an hour in Justin Edinburgh's office in October after the 2-0 defeat against Weymouth, the question was simple; do you know how to get these men scoring? Edinburgh was too proud to admit it but interviewing him straight after the answer was clearly no. Now he has a team in which all the answers are clearly yes.
As we shook hands on this reporter's final report for the Gazette, one thing can be sure: This story with many twists and turns will run and run.
By Michael Casey
Thanks to the Thurrock Gazette for the match report