20.01.2007 @ 15:00 The Recreation Ground
2 - 2
Referee: S Atwell (Nuneaton)
Grays boss Justin Edinburgh paid tribute to midfielder Tom Williamson after his thunderbolt ensured Blues held title-hunting Oxford to a morale-boosting draw.
Blues had already pegged Oxford back once before but looked to be heading for an ill-deserved defeat when Rob Duffy converted a 73rd minute penalty.
But up-stepped the unlikely figure of Williamson, who had not previously scored for the club, to rifle home an absolute rocket from the edge of the box.
"Tom has shown great character because I dropped him for this game to bring back Stuart Thurgood," said Edinburgh. "But he came on when Thurgood got injured early on and put in a great performance and scored a great goal on the half-volley."
A draw was the least Blues deserved from a game they dominated in every category bar the scoreline.
Though their winless streak in the league - which stretches back three months and three managers - continues, Grays showed the right combination of skill and determination to suggest that dire run will soon end.
"I thought we had honestly done enough to win the game," Edinburgh said. "The way we dominated possession and the amount of crosses we got in I felt we had done enough.
"I have said to the players this result is something to build on. I was disappointed with the goals we conceded but we showed great character to twice come back."
Oxford have been in a trough of their own of late and this result means they have not won in the league since late November - a run of form that has seen them slip behind Dagenham and Redbridge in the race for the Conference title.
If that run of form has knocked the confidence of Jim Smith's players it did not show in the early stages as the visitors flew out of the traps and edged in front inside five minutes.
Carl Petterfer's free kick was half cleared by Grays and helped back in to the penalty area by Barry Quinn.
As the Blues defenders stood motionless, the predatory Rob Duffy reacted first and after shaking off his marker he fired unerringly into the bottom corner from an acute angle.
Andy Sambrook was then forced to hack off his line after the speedy Eddie Anaclet raced to the by-line and crossed across the face of goal as the visitors cranked up the tempo.
Grays reacted well to the early set-back, however, and Glenn Poole soon tested Billy Turley with a strike from the left hand side of the penalty area after some good foraging by home debutant Aaron O'Connor.
But the hosts were dealt a huge blow when influential skipper Stuart Thurgood, who was making his first start since early December after injury, was forced to come off clutching his troublesome hamstring.
No matter, Grays continued to force their way back into the game with Thurgood's replacement Tom Williamson calling Turley into action with a drive from the edge of the box.
The hosts' best chance of the half arrived shortly before the interval when Poole's free kick was headed dangerously across goal by Jamie Stuart. With Turley stranded O'Connor looked all set for a tap in until a last-gasp block from Duffy.
Grays carved out an almost identical chance minutes later but with O'Connor again waiting to pounce Quinn nodded clear.
The hosts continued to dominate after the re-start with the impressive O'Connor going close with a glancing header from a whipped Jamie Stuart cross and Gavin Cowan nodding Poole's corner wide.
At the other end Duffy leapt highest to meet Quinn's free kick but saw his header flash agonisingly wide.
Grays finally got the equaliser their play deserved just past the hour mark.
Oxford only managed to clear Matt Bodkin's corner to Poole on the edge of the box and with the aid of a couple of deflections, he fired past the stranded Turley.
But all the hosts' good work was undone 10 minutes later when substitute Yemi Odubade won a penalty after great work from Petterfer.
The ex-Southend man released Odubade in behind the Blues backline who beat Ashley Bayes to the ball and was felled as he nicked the ball beyond the Blues stopper.
Duffy took on the responsibility from the spot and sent Bayes the wrong way.
Grays showed bags of character to come back for a second time and level the scoreline - and what an equaliser it was.
Poole's free kick looked to be heading straight into the arms of Turley when the Oxford stopper bizarrely elected to punch clear instead of catching the ball.
He was made to regret that decision when the ball fell to Williamson on the edge of the box. The ex-Leicester trainee steadied himself before sending a crashing shot past Turley and into the roof of the net.
Blues almost grabbed all three points in the dying minutes when Phil Gilchrist came within inches of lobbing into his own net under pressure from John Turner.
By Ryan Goad
Thanks to the Thurrock Gazette for the report.