Grays Athletic couldn’t stop the record-breaking juggernaut of Burton Albion’s season - but they had a good try.
Indeed a martian would have thought this was a top-of-the-table clash as only a mistake by Jamie Stuart cost the Blues three points.
With Jon Ashton out injured, you always feared that any break up in the Ashton-Stuart partnership would cost Grays dear coupled with the fact that Stuart received a nasty knock in the 4th minute and nursed an injury for the whole game.
This was Burton’s 12th victory in a row and they had the assurance, touch and confidence of a team leagues above Grays.
Losing Nigel Clough may not stop them; as the local 'cheerleading' media said: “This team runs itself”.
Grays' next ten games are littered with top flight teams. The fear is that they'll be competitive in all these games but not come away with crucial points'
However, looking at the league, Northwich and Lewes look condemned while Woking, Forest Green, Salisbury simply can’t get going. Survival is the mantra this season.
Grays played well if a little ring rusty. Ishmael Welsh, the subject of transfer speculaion, continued to give right backs nightmares. In the 3rd minute, he got to the dead ball line but his cross was intercepted by Albion keeper Kevin Poole.
Wes Thomas has an impressive turn from deep and used it to great effect all afternoon - but the moment he sees the white light of goal his confidence evaporates. The fans started to get on his back. But partnered with the likes of Pearson and Yates from Burton he could be a class player.
Sam Sloma looked sprightly shooting over in the 8th minute as well as producing a series of excellent corners. But Grays lacked any cutting edge up front.
Burton hadn’t produced much up front until the 30th minute when Jamie Stuart miscalculated a header back to Steve Arnold. Greg Pearson intercepted and passed to an unmarked Jamie Yates to put Burton ahead.
Grays plugged away and before half time had a fair claim for a penalty when Barry Cogan was upended in the box - but the referee waived claims away.
Grays came out battling in the second half but Burton produced a master-class in case-managment with tight possession, neat passing and completely bereft of unforced errors. Then again, that is what the confidence of winning engenders.
Burton should have put the game beyond doubt when Shaun Harrad priduced a wonderful sixty yard run only to be foiled in the box by a fine stop from the impressive Steve Arnold.
The Blues didn’t give up and in the last ten minutes produced a wave of attacks but essentially never really troubled the Albion defence.
This is a tough run into the spring. Fans will need to be patient, especially on the road. Long treks to Wrexham and Barrow could be fruitless and it may be the kindness of others that will help Grays survive.
Report by Michael Casey
Thanks to Your Thurrock for the match report