Grays Stay Up!
Grays fought an admirable rearguard action to beat off relegation as they beat Crawley 1-0 at the New Recreation Ground.
The 4-5-1 formation at home may have raised eyebrows but Grays had no intention of “parking the bus” as they played combative assertive football in their quest for survival.
A midfield trio of Elliott, Thurgood and Black gelled immediately but with only one front man good crosses such as Barry Cogan’s in the 3rd minute found no-one in the box
Tommy Black’s superior brain was helping mould attacks, In the 13th minute, an excellent cross by Ishmael Welsh saw Black’s close header well saved by Simon Rayner.
Crawley midfielder Michael Malcolm looked dangerous as he caught Grays on the hop with a fast break but the ball eventually turned away by Stuart Elliott for a corner.
Grays confidence grew with more good work down the right flank by Barry Cogan resulting in a corner.
In the 23rd minute, Malcolm was fouled by George Beavan just outside the area but Sam Rent’s free kick just hit a steadfast wall.
Grays increased the pressure: a blocked shot by Barry Cogan and a blast by Stuart Thurgood buoyed the Blues.
The breakthrough came in the 30th minute when a smart cross by Ishmael Welsh created chaos in the area; Tommy Black’s shot struck the underside of the bar and George Beavan, from close range gave Grays the lead.
The tempo was intense as Grays could sense safety. but the good work was nearly undone as confusion between Jamie Stuart and Lee Butcher let in Robbie Matthews but his shot went wide when it would have been easier to score.
And os began the most important 45 minutes of Grays’ season. Tommy Black picked up where he left off with a smart move and shot in the 47th minute .
Both full backs were keen to attack and Kenny Davis shot went close after a fine 1-2 as Grays went in search of the vital second goal.
In the 52nd minute, Tommy Black found an acre of space in the area but shot wide and fans started to hope that the Blues wouldn;t rue the chances.
A wonder save by Lee Butcher kept the Blues in front when Malcolm beat the offside trap but he spread himself wide to keep Grays in the lead.
At the other end, Jamie Taylor also found himself clear in the box but this time Simon Rayner did well to block the shot.
With half an hour to go, concentration was going to be the key. There was something unconvincing about the Grays offside trap and the initiative was clearly with Crawley.
Grays had a fair shout for a penalty when Thurgood was up-ended in the box but the referee Mr Hendly waived the player’s appeals away.
The experience of Wilnis and Stuart was marshalling the defence well.
A fine free kick by Tommy Black in the 70th minute found Ishmael Welsh but he couldn’t control his shot, skying it over.
Welsh was tiring and Gary Phillips had to consider whether to make the changes. A fine break from Stuart Thurgood saw him lay the ball in the path of Stuart Elliott but his tired shot went weakly wide.
Grays conceded possession too easily but still managed to look dangerous on the counter. In the 76th minute Barry Cogan galloped down the right, beat his man but once again the player in blue could not find the target.
Black was spent as Crawley, with three up front threw everything at them but he still ad the energy to find space on the right, dink the ball to Barry Cogan who forced the keeper to turn the ball away for a corner.
Sub Nayee latched onto a loose ball in the box but once again Butcher was in the perfect position to save.
Each attack put years on the fans. A Matthews header hung in the air for an age before landing just over the bar.
Inevitably there had to be four minutes of injury time. Jamie Taylor limped off. Crawley mounted a final attack which one them a corner. Tempers frayed but Grays kept their heads and their Blue Square status intact.
Report by Michael Casey
Thanks to Your Thurrock for the match report