Hanging at the wrong end of the table relegation threatened Maidenhead United were in dire need of the three points that were up for grabs at York Road yesterday, but Grays did the struggling Magpies no favours with three stunning goals that compensated for the rather dull game, leaving the home sides fate hinging on their last match of the season against Newport County.
The Conference South Champions, missing Steve West and Leroy Griffiths through injury and with Dean Brennan and Steve Robinson alongside Martin Carthy and Ade Olayinka in midfield were clapped onto the field of play by the Maidenhead team.
The first chance of the match fell to the home side when with only two minutes on the clock striker Craig Oâ€™Connor volleyed over the crossbar, but from them on in Grays were in control. In particular Brennan, and Battersby who held the ball up well, were influential for Blues and both players tested Magpies keeper Adam Federici.
On fourteen minutes the Magpies created a good opportunity when Lee Kersey headed the ball across the goal face but Ben Townsend directed his header wide, and then a minute later Grays opened the scoring. Magpiesâ€™ defender Tony McGowan lost possession, and as a result Brennan picked up the lose ball and sent a brilliant twenty yard dipping half volley over Federici into the top right-hand corner of the net.
The hosts immediately looked for a reply but Oâ€™Connorâ€™s low drive was easily saved by Ashley Bayes. Chances then fell to Jamie Cook for Magpies and to Brennan and Battersby for Blues before Oâ€™Connor was again thwarted by the Grays keeper.
As the first half drew to a close Cook was adjudged to have been brought down in the area, and as such Referee Mr. Cairns awarded a penalty. Oâ€™Connor stepped up to take the spot kick, and although Bayes committed himself to his left he saved with his feet. The Blues supporters at the other end of the ground were delighted and chants of â€˜Mental Ashleyâ€™ abound.
During the interval Tony Christieâ€™s â€˜Do you know the way to Amarilloâ€™, or in the case of Grays fans â€˜Aston Villaâ€™ was played over the loud speaker lifting spirits a little in a ground that distinctly lacked atmosphere.
Credit where credit is due, although in the main relying on route one football, the home side came out for the second half looking determined and fighting (metaphorically speaking), and had they made any of their early chances count it may well have changed the direction of the game. Having said that, Grays could have increased their cushion on fifty-three minutes when Brennan set-up Carthy who only needed to poke the ball over the line, but somehow it got caught under the Skipperâ€™s legs.
Five minutes later Grays made a double substitution bringing on Dennis Oli and Stuart Thurgood for Battersby and Brennan. Manager Mark Stimson seems intent on keeping all his squad match fit, and giving everyone of them the opportunity to impress prior to the Trophy Final.
Staunch defending by Blues, notably from Lee Matthews, prevented the Magpies from drawing level, and in the 64th minute Yaku curled his shot just wide of the upright. Oâ€™Connor then had what was undoubtedly the home sidesâ€™ best chance of the second period, when with Bayes off his line the forwards shot just skimmed over the bar.
Dennis Oli came close for Blues, and with eight minutes of normal time remaining the opposition found themselves down to ten men; the last substitute Andre Fashanu was stretchered off having sustained an injury.
Within minutes Grays had added to the Magpies woes by extending their lead. Substitute Bruce, unusually playing up front, got on the end of Carthyâ€™s precision cross at the near post and belted a superb half volley into the top left hand corner of the net. The volume from the travelling Blues fans increased accordingly, and the right back then almost got a second but was not quite able to get on the end of Thurgoodâ€™s cross.
Having already seen two great goals of a standard befitting a higher league, no-one could have anticipated that even better was yet to come. Right at the death and quite unexpectedly Blues most recent acquisition Jude Stirling, out on the right hand flank unleashed a spectacular thirty yard curling shot into the uppermost corner of the net, giving keeper Federici no chance.
With just two games remaining and based on their current form reaching 100 points looks quite plausible for Mark Stimsonâ€™s men, and the Blues manager, currently riding the crest of the wave, has the sort of dilemma that many of his peers would surely wish for â€“ with such a quality squad he is spoilt for choice when it comes to selecting his team for each fixture.
Report by Carol Dover
Thanks to the Thurrock Gazette for the report.