Two candidates for goal of the season gave Grays Athletic their first victory of the season at the New Recreation Ground.
With the midfield changed once more, it is clear that the coaching staff are still trying their utmost to find the right combination.
The guile and experience of Sam Sloma was chosen over the fleet but fleeting presence of Ishmael Welsh.
Neat passing game from Northwich seemed to be able to by-pass Grays.
It was good to see Danny Kedwell starting and a lovely twist and cross in the 3rd minute showed fans what the can do from the off to unsettle defences. His pass to Matt Bodkin in the 7th minute was sublime.
In the 8th min, a foraging run from Jon Ashton was followed by a neat pass to Bodkin. Fans would like to see more of that.
Sloma started to make incursions down the left bringing a level of craft and guile to the team. He was looking for players in space or directing the ball to feet.
Unfortunately the rest of the team were struggling for rhythm. Sloma was unlucky that his neat pass across the area in the 11th minute couldn’t find a Grays foot.
Rob Gier still looks very uncertain. He has made more unforced errors in three games than Simon Downer did all year. With Fabian Wilnis looking on it can only be a matter of time before the ex-Tractor man blows fresh impetus into the defence.
Grays came close to scoring in the 13th when Matt Bodlin’s curled shot was tipped over the bar by Scott Tynan.
The positive thing a bout Grays was that they have looked the match of all their opposition.
Ashton dawdled on the ball twice in the 15th minute and again on the half hour to indicate the Blues defensive pairing haven’t settled into their stride like last season.
Sloma continued to impress as he sought out players, trying to bring them into the game. A cross-field ball to Bodkin was well palmed away by Tynan.
Lee Steel nipped in to a long ball that left Jamie Stuart napping but Steve Arnold was swiftly off his line to clear. Northwich grew in confidence. A shot by Joel Byrom was deflected away for a corner. Minutes later Jamie Mullan sent over a deft chip that Scott Arnold turned over the bar. He followed it up with a 30 yard run and shot.
Grays moves were two to three passes short of the movement we saw in pre-season but the commitment to forward football remained.
Mick Woodward implored Jamie Stuart to lift the team and it seemed that Stuart and Elliott are capable of talking but that is a million miles from leading. The team needs a talisman capable of lifting, berating, cajoling and leading.
In the 30th minute a horrible tackle on Jamie Taylor by Matty Crowell netted a card.
The otherwise peripheral Barry Cogan had a chance in the 39th after a pass from Danny Kedwell but the first touch close control was missing.
The half ended with a series of squandered chances by Grays.
But Stuart Elliot made up for it within an outrageous bolt from the blue with a shot from 25 yards out that screamed into the top right hand corner. You may well see that goal at the end of the season. Elliott’s celebration and the teams elation was only too clear. Even at this early stage it could be seen as a turning point.
Meanwhile the Northwich manager Dino Maarmia was ensuring that he wont be sent to South Ossetia on any diplomatic missions as he hairdryered his keeper in publicfrom a full 60 yards.
Grays continued to attack in the second half. In the 48th minute a screaming counterattack at high speed saw Matt Bodkin run into the area, have two on the far post to choose from but his cross sailed over everyones head.
Grays started to become hesitant in defence but the high octane attacking was causing real problems for the Vics. Indeed Grays as in the Weymouth and Kettering matches didn’t look like a team under the cosh or out of their depth. Once the fluency and balance comes they will be a threat for everyone.
Jamie Taylor pulled up lame in the 51st giving Charlie Ide a chance.In the 59th minute he ran onto a ball from Kedwell but again needed a clumsy touch before missing his chance.
But Grays were lying very deep and chances for Mullan and Williams showed the Vics that points were still there for the taking.
Ishmael Welsh came as Blues fans anticipated he could be the perfect impact player.
But on 66th minute Sam Sloma put in his bid for goal of the season with a 35 yard swerving dipping shot that crested over the keeper to secure the three points.
Vics boss Dino Maamria was the architect of their great escape last year but this game was beyond him and he was reduced to a series of gestures and tics.
The Vics will be concerned at their lack of penetration.
In the 83rd minute Chris Flynn went close with a header well turned over the bar. Flynn then banged in the header from the corner to give the Vics a lifeline.
Charlie Ide nearly scored from the other end and Barry Cogan unforgivably squandered a shot from 3 yards on 86th.
Grays were clinging onto the points as Vics launched attack after attack as Grays couldn’t retain possession or kill the game. Kedwell missed in injury tme after a lovely through ball from Stefan Bailey.
But the three points were secured to put the Blues into 12th place.
Report by Michael Casey
Thanks to Your Thurrock