Late drama as Ashton sees red and Grays are beaten
Grays succumbed to a late blow and defeat at Crawley in a Blue Square Premier clash that had a dramatic finish.
The Blues had hauled themselves level through substitute Jeff Goulding's 84th minute goal but then they lost Jon Ashton, sent off for a professional foul on Jamie Cook and the Crawley man doubled the pain by firing home an 87th minute winner.
It had all started brightly enough for Grays, buoyed by news that Stuart Thurgood and Barry Cogan have agreed to extend their loan until the end of the season.
In the first minute a through ball from Adam Gross found Danny Kedwell, whose clever chip was masterfully tipped over by ex Blues favourite Ashley Bayes.
Grays were much more fluent than on Saturday against Halifax, producing neat one-twos and through-balls but Crawley came alive in the tenth minute when a snap shot by Tyrone Thompson was well held by Nicky Eyre.
Jamie Taylor was finding space and in the 13th minute was totally unmarked six yards out but his blushes were spared as he blasted over by the linesman's raised flag for offside.
Thurgood was at the heart of Grays' play, operating from deep within midfield but once again his radar with shots and long passing seemed off track.
Crawley started to find their feet with Lee Blackburn and Thompson both getting round the back of the Grays defence but they failed to produce anything of worth.
In the 32nd minute Kieran Murphy's speculative chip from outside the box was just tipped over by Eyre.
Grays saved their best move until the end of the half. In the 44th minute Jon Ashton cleared to Barry Cogan on the left. He ran 40 yards, checked back and crossed to the edge of the box where Danny Kedwell was perfectly placed but his rasping shot flew past the post.
Crawley made the ideal start to the second half when Mustapha Carayol produced a thunderous finish after a quick break on the right from Cook.
Grays struggled to respond, with Michael Standing and Thurgood increasingly underwhelming and duplicating each other's roles.
However, Aaron O'Connor was industrious on the right hand side and in the 50th minute he produced a beautiful curving ball from the right that had nobody to meet it. It almost looked as if Grays were running out of steam.
They were certainly losing their discipline as Kedwell and Simon Downer were booked in quick succession.
In the 63rd minute a thundering shot from outside the box by Dannie Bulman flew over while at the other end two strikes from Kedwell also missed the target.
Goulding was then introduced and he began to make an impression. In the 81st minute he caused chaos in the box prompting Bayes to flap but the ball was scrambled clear.
It was a warning that Crawley didn't heed and three minutes later another Blues substitute Neil McCafferty produced some clever play from outside the box, passing to the third replacement Scott Taylor and he in turn conjured up a back-heel into the path of Goulding who fired home.
It looked likely that Grays would get at least a share of the points but they dithered after scoring and in the 85th minute Cook was clear and Ashton cynically brought him down, to get a red card.
It proved a foul in vain as Cook got up and smashed the free kick home for the winner!
Somewhat bizarrely, after conceding five goals in their last two matches, coach Tim O'Shea was nevertheless full of praise for his defence afterwards.
He said: "We are pleased that the defence was consistent over the past couple of games but disappointed that the midfield couldn't create enough for the hard-working Danny and Jamie.
"Still, two defeats in 12 is still satisfactory for the whole team so far."
Thanks to the Thurrock Gazette for the match report