Cup delight for Grays
Grays reached the Second Round of the FA Cup for the first time in their 115-year history after another awesome away day performance.
In what was supposed to have been their toughest assignment of the season so far, the Conference leaders thumped promotion rivals York City with a display Mark Stimson described as one of the most satisfying of his career.
Not only was the Blues boss chuffed with breaking yet another club record, he was equally delighted that the three goal victory enabled him to ram the pre-match words of his York counterpart, Billy McEwan, back down his throat.
Stimson was upset that the Minstermen boss had criticised his side on the eve of the game and made a point of telling the Scotsman so at the final whistle.
”To score three goals and to keep a clean sheet against a side who I’m sure will be in the top three at the end of the season is something on it’s own, but it’s even more satisfying to have answered the criticism,” said Stimson.
”We got a copy of the local paper at the team hotel the night before the game and he (McEwan) was saying ‘this is their weaknesses’ and ‘this is how we’ll score’ and that did the team talk for me.
”What he said was motivation enough for the players. I didn’t have to say anything more in the dressing room and the boys made their point.”
Goals from Jamie Slabber, Glenn Poole and a calamitous own goal from Andy Bishop sealed the win for Grays but they didn’t have it all their own way in the opening exchanges.
York began with plenty of intent and forced the visitors onto the back foot without even really threatening to score.
The Conference’s top scorer, Clayton Donaldson, had their best chance when he was put in by Jamie Price but he turned down the opportunity to shoot with his right foot and enabled Jamie Stuart to recover and make a crucial challenge.
Blues were still looking to get a foothold in the game when they broke the deadlock in bizarre circumstances.
Dennis Oli won a free kick on the right, but John Martin’s subsequent delivery into the box looked harmless enough until Bishop had a rush of blood to the head and thumped a header into the back of his own net.
Buoyed by the goal Blues began to take control of the game though the Minstermen continued to look threatening when they ventured forward, particularly when Donaldson was involved.
They would have equalised just short of the half hour mark had Nicky Eyre not made a fantastic save to repel Joe O’Neil’s downward header while at the other end Oli saw a header, from an Andy Sambrook centre, drift just wide.
Eyre then showed good hands to hang onto a low drive from Mark Convery but could only watch, seconds before the interval, when James Dudgeon’s thumping volley shuddered the crossbar as the home side threatened to haul themselves back into the game.
But that threat wilted in the second half as Grays showed all in the Kit Kat Crescent just why they are sitting pretty at the top of the Conference by pummelling York into submission.
Martin served notice of his side’s intent a minute after the restart when he burst from midfield and released Oli in behind the York defence.
The ex-QPR man couldn’t round keeper Chris Porter, but the ball fell kindly for Aaron McLean who blasted over from an acute angle.
McEwan tried to shake things up by switching his side to an orthodox 4-4-2 formation but his players hardly had time to get adjusted to the new system when they found themselves two down and staring down the barrel.
For the second time in the game it was a York mistake which opened the door for the Blues with Dudgeon the hapless offender this time.
The big centre back badly misjudged a clearance from Eyre, allowing Slabber to release Oli down the left.
Oli hared to the by-line and pulled the ball back towards McLean who was beaten to it by Dudgeon, but his clearance fell straight to Slabber who gleefully rolled the ball into the back of the net.
Oli then saw a snap-shot go inches wide and Martin setup Michael Kightly but the ex-Southend man couldn’t bend the ball enough to seriously trouble Porter as the traffic was all one way.
Slabber latched on to a Stuart Thurgood through ball only to screw his shot wide before, two minutes before the end, Grays grabbed their third.
Another swift move was rounded off by sub Poole who with his first three touches of the game, controlled Slabber’s cross, stepped inside Price and then slotted past Porter to ensure Grays were re-writing their record books once again.
”It’s brilliant for everyone connected to the club,” said Stimson afterwards. “I didn’t think we could better last year when we did the double but this is right up there.
”I don’t know how long we can keep going like this and I’ve told the boys to enjoy it because it’s not often in football that you get a massive high like this. “
Report by Ryan Goad
Thanks to the Thurrock Gazette for the match report