Grays lack of match fitness cost them dear as they slumped to a 4-2 home defeat in a thoroughly entertaining afternoon against newly promoted AFC Wimbledon.
Grays started brightly with neat one touch football and a spring in the players’ step. The midfield had more balance to it with Kenny Davis; early on Sam Cutler got in some smart challenges on the Dons.
In the 8th minute, Daniel Charge pursued a ball right down to the dead-ball line clipped it across goal forcing a corner. From the corner, George Beavan found space and his header was well saved off the line by Chris Hussey.
The Dons opened the scoring as the brave Brett Johnson got his head low down to a curled free kick to fly the ball past Edwards.
It was rough justice for Grays and the Dons looked like they could open up Grays at will.
Gavin Hoyte was finding Main a class above him, causing him to have a woeful game.
The fast forwards brought about the second goal as Main was upended in the box by Preston Edwards and Jon Main stepped up to put the Dons further ahead.
Grays slowly made their way back into the game. In the 25th minute, Kenny Davis twisted and turned and from 20 yards fired a shot that hit the post rolled across the line to somehow roll away to safety.
Grays got themselves back into the game in the 28th minute when Davis fired over from the right and the admirable Sam Gaughran stuck his head in to score from close range.
Grays kept the Dons at bay for the remainder of the half but it became noticeable that players with no pre-season were either blowing hard or carrying injuries.
Both Rigoglioso and Gaughran limped off at half time while Hoyte, Beavan and Poole looked to be suffering.
Grays regrouped into a brave 4-3-3 and got their reward immediately when Glen Poole sent over a fine curled cross from which the hugely impressive Charge brought down and fired into the top of the net.
The game was back on but the injury plagued Grays looked fragile. George Beavan went off injured. The Dons sensing blood kept their calm and pushed the ball around, waiting for their moment.
They waited until the 62nd minute. A minute earlier, Grays had a fair shout for a penalty when Taylor was clearly manhandled by the Dons keeper but the referee as they say, bottled it.
At the other end, Cammy Mawer was undone by Main and dragged the man back. The referee had no choice but to show the red card. Main converted the penalty to make the score 3-2.
Grays were going to go down with a fight and the biggest crowd of the season were treated to two teams giving 100% on a very warm day.
For the last half an hour, The Dons opened up Grays at will but couldn’t find the final flourish with Hussey, Main and Moore all going close. it took until injury time for the otherwise anonymous former Blue, Danny Kedwell to turn the woeful Hoyte and put the game beyond doubt.
Grays played some sparkling football at times today and Gary Phillips, as stated before, will ask for time to let the team bed in but these injuries are a real worry.
Lee McEvilly is out for three months with a stress fracture.
YourThurrock understands that Paul Terry has been followed out by Serge Mofoko, Tommy Black, Dos Santos and Dean Morgan. (plus Tony Turberville if you are interested!).
Gavin Hoyte was poor today. Sam Cutler had a better one but doesn’t work hard enough.
Glen Poole is coming back very quickly. Daniel Charge was superb, running into the ground and chasing everything. Davis, Slabber and Graham put in a shift
There is the makings of a good, young, hungry team here. The new signings and the ones on the park. If they are allowed to settle.
Grays are now fifth from bottom but are not relegation fodder but they could easily turn into a team bedeviled by injuries as players are pressed into service when their bodies are not ready.
Finally, hats off to AFC Wimbledon’s supporters who in their masses produced a fantastic atmosphere at the New Rec.
Report by Michael Casey
Thanks to Your Thurrock for the match report