THIS was always going to be a key game and a key test which Grays passed with flying colours as they kept York at arms length to win 1-0 at the New Recreation Ground.
Grays jumped two places. Most significantly, Grays passed Weymouth who fell to their tenth straight defeat. Surprisingly, Woking beat Barrow away from home to indicate that each Match Day brings up a variety of scenarios.
Barrow will wake up realising that they are still in a fight. Northwich have a faint faint glimmer of hope. Woking go there on Tuesday with the bounce of the three points at Barrow in their legs. Even Altrincham with tricky fixtures against Kidderminster and Cambridge to come and a wretched run of form, may also be twitching.
As for the game, Grays home form may well be their saviour with three victories and a draw in the last four.
Stuart Thurgood picked up where he left off on Tuesday as he harried and hassled the York players for the whole afternoon. Stuart has hit a rich vein of form just at the right time. Today, he played around ten yards further up than usual. It was clever tactics by the manager, Gary Phillips as he provided a key link to the attack.
One wonders if reverse psychology would work for Steve Arnold. If you asked him to “find touch” would the ball fly down the centre of the park. Time and time again he put his team under pressure however his aerial dominance was fantastic.
Having said that he should have been sent off in the 85th minute after handling outside his area. Grays have got into the habit of not having a sub keeper and that could have been disastrous.
York enjoyed the early chances with a Ben Purkiss free kick going close in the 15th minute while another free kick on the quarter hour saw Grays napping: As they were sorting out the wall, Purkiss slid the ball to an unmarked Andy McWilliams but his shot went wide.
Grays were going nowhere with their long ball tactics and switched to a passing game. On the half hour they forced two corners. Barry Cogan sent in a fizzing pass that found Jamie Taylor free but his snap header was wonderfully tipped over by keeper Michael Ingram.
York looked brittle in defence as the price of an FA Trophy appearance seemed to be an inability to win away from home.
In the 37th minute, Grays broke the deadlock when a clever piece of interplay on the edge of the box saw Andy Pugh and Barry Cogan play a one-two with Pugh collecting the pass and curling the ball with the outside of his foot and past the outstretched Ingram.
York could have equalised immediately as Purkiss broke through in the box but his shot flew across Steve Arnold’s goal.
Grays played like a very effective unit. Stuart Elliott worked hard all game. The two tyro full backs, George Beavan and Sam Long gave great support to the wingers.
Ishmael Welsh had a frustrating afternoon with a lot of poor service. Most of his time was spent with the ball sailing over his head.
he other flank, Barry Cogan had a great afternoon and provided Andy Pugh and Jamie Taylor with a lot of supply.
York just couldn’t break through in the second half. Onome Sodje worked very hard and clearly had the better of a brittle Fabian Wilnis but Jamie Stuart was his usual rock.
Grays continued to threaten. In the 68th minute, Jamie Taylor danced across the box but his chip was easily caught by the very busy Ingram.
Grays knew how valuable the three points were as they kept the defence back with Thurgood holding the midfield line.
York’s frustration boiled over as Stuart Thurgood feigned injury from a tackle. Simon Rusk proceeded to kick him as he lay prone. The referee had no hesitation in brandishing the red card and ended what slim hopes the Minstermen had of saving the game.
The support from the fans was, once again, fantastic. Salisbury, Eastbourne, Crawley, Altrincham and Forest Green stand between Grays and survival. This home form has come at the right time.
Report by Michael Casey
Thanks to Your Thurrock for the match report