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09.04.2007 @ 15:00 The Recreation Ground Crowd: 776
Grays Athletic 1 - 0 Northwich Victoria
Referee: D Phillips Conference National-Match

Aaron O'Connor (45)
Starting Line-ups
Danny Knowles
Jamie Stuart
Simon Downer
Anthony Tonkin
John Martin
Anthony Barness
Ashley Nicholls
Stuart Thurgood
Dennis Oli
Aaron O'Connor
Alex Rhodes
Phil Senior
Gareth Griffiths
Kieran Charnock
Michael Carr
Mark Roberts
James Dean
Richard Battersby
Christian Smith
Andrew Smart
Kevin Townson
Michael Byrne
Ashley Bayes
Jay Smith
Ben Harding
Dean Howell
Leroy Griffiths
Ryan Brown
Ben Connett
Jon McCarthy
Matthew Shaw
Carlos Roca
Dean Howell -> Alex Rhodes (70)
Leroy Griffiths -> Aaron O'Connor (79)
Ben Harding -> Dennis Oli (86)
Jon McCarthy -> Christian Smith (64)
Matthew Shaw -> Michael Byrne (64)
Carlos Roca -> Andrew Smart (74)
Yellow cards
Stuart Thurgood (64)
Gareth Griffiths (57)
Kevin Townson (90)
Red cards
None Gareth Griffiths (90)
Match report |
Fortress New Rec may well be the key to Nationwide Conference survival this year as Grays picked up a vital fourth home victory in a row on Monday.

The sluggish start that cost them dear on Saturday was not repeated, as Grays came straight out of the blocks, determined to drag themselves out of the relegation zone.

Grays could have been 3-0 up within the first ten minutes. In the opening 60 seconds a Dennis Oli header from an Aaron O'Connor pass just went over the bar.

In the second minute, Alex Rhodes made a strong through run into the area but the ball was scrambled clear and in the next two minutes, John Martin played a series of through balls that O'Connor should have made more of.

Northwich came to Bridge Road still capable of making the play-offs but also being relegated.

After a 211 mile Bank Holiday journey their players clearly weren't sure what option to take and continued to play in a tentative fashion.

Oli continued to make his trademark bustling aggressive runs and the front three looked more like a partnership during the first half, but as time wore on and the chances dried up, Grays' game started to lack conviction.

Grays were fortunate not to go a goal down in the 24th minute, when Victoria's towering giant James Dean produced a header from nowhere which struck the bar.

Grays continued to probe. In the 28th minute, Stuart Thurgood produced an attacking run, he passed to Rhodes but his shot across goal was turned past by the keeper.

The final 15 minutes of the first half saw the game slow down somewhat with Grays not sure how to break through the visitors' defence but as this season has shown, Grays can look to O'Connor to produce the magic.

In the first minute of injury time, he took the ball from just outside the area and, with his back to goal, he moved to the right and managed to wrestle free from his marker and produce a low hard shot past Phil Senior's outstretched right hand and into the net.

In the second half, the Grays crowd began to relax a bit more and get behind the team. These are tense time at the New Rec and it is hard for the fans to watch a game and give unqualified support, but the early moves in the second half were greeted by warm applause.

Northwich didn't seem to be able to offer anything. Defender Chris Smith put in a couple of thunderous shots from outside the area that only seemed to bother drivers in Clarence Road.

Anything coming through midfield was ably dealt with by Ashley Nicholls, who, as Saturday proved, is one of those players whose true value is only realised when they don't play.

However up front, Grays continued to be profligate.

In the 56th minute, Rhodes put O'Connor through for a one-on-one with the keeper but his shot was easily parried away for a corner.

Northwich rang the changes, bringing on three new midfielders in the middle of the second half but still failed to break down the solid Grays defence.

In the 68th minute Thurgood had the chance to put the game beyond the visitors when, attacking in the area, he had his legs taken away by Gareth Griffiths for a penalty.

Unfortunately his spot-kick was placed low and hard but went straight into Senior's arms.

To their credit Grays didn't let the miss affect their game and they continued to attack.

They even had to deal with the loss of their three attackers.

In the 70th minute, Dean Howell replaced Rhodes who looked visibly exhausted. In the 84th minute, Leroy Griffith replaced O'Connor who was clutching the hamstring that seemed to be troubling him at Woking. He was soon followed by Oli, who was stretchered off with a similar injury and replaced by Ben Harding.

It was great credit to the Blues that their subs slotted in and struck to the task.

Indeed they should have gone further ahead. A break saw Grays outnumber Victoria four to one.

With Howell spoilt for options he passed straight to the lone Northwich defender who cleared to safety.

The final minutes were punctuated by outbreaks of ill temper as Grays' fatigue and Northwich frustration boiled over. This culminated in the 90th minute when Northwich defender Griffiths was sent off.

Grays held out quite comfortably in the end to push themselves out of the relegation zone and into 19th place with four games to play.

After the game, manager Justin Edinburgh was pleased with his players' application.

He said: " We came out with a determination to win this game and should have had three in the first five minutes.

"Im very pleased. Not just with the fourth home win but in the manner in which we achieved it.

"We've tried to play football and attacked a team that have won three on the bounce."

"The players gave their all today.

"We've had a bug in the camp and we've picked up a few injuries in the game but the players never gave up."

By Michael Casey
Thanks to the Thurrock Gazette for the match report