Sometimes, in the midst of a recession, it is important to look at the condition of the other teams in the Blue Square Premier to give a more accurate assessment of Grays' relative condition.
Oxford: November 15 2008. The club that contested the League Cup Final in 1985 sits with debts allegedly in the region of £4 million. The club, with the fine Kassam Stadium and tremendous support, were convinced that relegation to the Blue Square Premier would just be the one season bounceback.
Now, relegation to the Blue Square South is possible and extinction something that the recession will reveal for a lot of clubs over the next two years.
After three recent victories, they slowly disintegrated against Grays Athletic. Substitutions in the second half were met by the fans barracking the manager Darren Patterson with “You don’t know what you're doing”.
The voluble keeper Billy Turley had a stand up “pushing” argument with defender Billy Quinn. In the 88th minute, Turley catches an up and under from Sam Sloma and promptly drops the ball into his own net.
The whistle blows, the fans shout; “You're not fit to wear the shirt” and one yellow Oxford top is hurled onto the pitch. That is a bad day at the office.
For Grays Athletic, it was a good day. When you play with nerves and fear for 43 minutes. When you give away so much possession with a host of unforced errors. When your attackers have one chance in the first half but then take it, then you know that the luck-o-meter has swing your way!
In the 3rd minute, Damian Batt made a near fatal hesitation in defence which nearly saw nippy Sam Dearing sneak in. The midfield were missing talisman Stuart Thurgood as replacement Stefan Bailey, short of match practice still makes far too many basic errors. He is at his best when making up for his own mistakes, which is hardly the point.
In the 9th minute, Ishmael Welsh produced what was to be the first of many darting runs as he got to the dead ball line. He crossed to a noticeably trimmer Sam Sloma who shot wildly over the bar.
Both back lines were impressive with Gavin Dayes, in particular, maturing nicely for Grays.
Oxford were starting to look very comfortable in possession. In the 23rd minute Phil Trainer met an excellent cross but as headed down from five yards the ball bounced over the bar.
James Constable and Barry Quinn fired over in quick succession and with Grays game error-strewn it seemed certain that Oxford would score.
However, in the 43rd minute, Andre McCollin took up the ball from the half way line and simply streaked past the Oxford back line, he crossed hard and low and Scott Forrester side footed it neatly into the net for his first goal for Grays.
Forrester deserved this. In just two games, he has worked really hard and in what is a big step up from the Met Police, wants to prove he can succeed at this level.
Grays were rejuvenated and the midfield, swapping positions showed energy passion and commitment. Ishmael Welsh was getting to the dead ball line but he was also cutting across and swapping wings. Between 60 mins and the final whistle, he is a deadly force when he brings his A game. If he can get to that line or cut into the box on Tuesday night then Grays have a real chance.
McCollin looked very strong. His two key strengths of pace and holding the ball up gives the midfield the time and momentum to break through defences. Barry Cogan was able to dominate the game much more.
In the 53rd minute, Sam Sloma produced a lung busting fifty yard run that gave the Ox’s defence no option but to foul him. He has slimmed down and looks like he is approaching the form that saw him play league football.
Oxford’s cause wasn’t helped by some questionable decisions by the referee.
In the 76th minute, Jamie Guy broke through with just David Button to beat but the impressive young keeper stood tall and saved well. He is clearly another one who is enjoying his time at the club.
Grays had to kill this game off but they received help from keeper Billy Turley. The keeper had just been involved in a heated argument with Barry Quinn and this may have been on his mind. In the 88th minute, Sam Sloma put the ball high up into the area. The keeper should have caught it easily but he mishandled and dropped it jnto his own net.
The Oxford fans were incandescent and streamed out while the Grays fans were jubilant as Wayne Burnett enjoyed his first league victory.
This was such an important victory. Lose this and the team would have been very tight on Tuesday. Now, with three points and a desperate Lewes next week, the Blues approach the game on Tuesday with absolutely nothing to lose. The situation is set up for them. Just go out and play your natural game, express yourself or in a nutshell: play without fear.
Carlisle will be relieved with their 3-1 defeat of Brighton. Reading the reports it looks like the caretaker manager is making changes playing an expansive five man midfield with Simon Hackney clearly the man to watch. At the same time, Brighton should have taken their chances in the first half hour. Both teams, like a prizefight, can be opened up. The question is, who posseses the killer blow?
Report by Michael Casey
Thanks to Your Thurrock for the match report