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16.09.2006 @ 15:00 The Kassam Stadium Crowd: 6504
Oxford United 1 - 1 Grays Athletic
Referee: C Evans Conference National-Match

Steve Basham (20) Aaron McLean (38)
Starting Line-ups
Billy Turley
Eddie Ancalet
Chris Willmott
Phil Gilchrist
Rufus Brevett
Carl Pettefer
Barry Quinn
Andy Burgess
Eddie Hutchinson
Steve Basham
Marvin Robinson
Ashley Bayes
Jay Smith
Andy Sambrook
Adam Green
Jamie Stuart
Michael Kightly
Ashley Nicholls
Glenn Poole
Dennis Oli
Lee Boylan
Aaron McLean
Chris Tardif
Matt Day
John Dempster
Josh Kennet
Yemi Odubade
Danny Knowles
Djoumin Sangare
John Martin
Tom Williamson
Jamie Slabber
Yemi Odubade -> Barry Quinn (45) Djoumin Sangare -> Lee Boylan (8)
Tom Williamson -> Dennis Oli (85)
Jamie Slabber -> Aaron McLean (90)
Yellow cards
Chris Willmott (57) Aaron McLean (53)
Red cards
None Jay Smith (4)
Match report |
There have been some memorable performances from Grays over the past few seasons but arguably none more so than Saturday's lion-hearted draw with league-leaders Oxford United.

They may have only garnered a point from the game but after playing for 86 gruelling minutes with just 10 men, the result felt and was celebrated like a win.

For the umpteenth time this season it was Aaron McLean who inspired Frank Gray's men, turning in arguably the best lone-striking display ever seen in a Grays shirt.

The 23-year-old, who was given a rousing reception from both home and away fans alike when he was substituted in injury time, is fast-becoming indispensable to Blues but in doing so is attracting more admirers by the week.

Clubs from the very top of the football pyramid were at the Kassam Stadium on Saturday keeping tabs on McLean and there's no doubt he lived up to the hype.

After Jay Smith's dismissal, Blues fell behind to a Steve Basham goal in the 20th minute, but McLean's never-say-die attitude galvanised his team and it was fitting reward that he grabbed the leveller six minutes before the interval.

"Aaron was immense on his own up front today," said Gray afterwards. "It was one of the best performances I have seen at this level this season. He did the work of two men."

McLean added: "It's nice of the manager to say that but at the end of the day it's a team game and all the boys worked their socks off.

"It's always going to be tough coming to the league leaders but to play most of the game with 10 men and get a point is a real achievement for us all."

On the rumours of interest from Brighton, Nottingham Forest and QPR, McLean added: "It's always flattering to hear that big clubs are interested in you but the best possible chance I can give myself of getting a big move is to get my head down, work hard and keep scoring goals. If I can keep doing that then we will see what happens."

The sending off of Smith and subsequent performance of McLean over-shadowed what was a brave tactical decision by Gray to drop John Martin and replace him with Lee Boylan in the starting line-up.

Dennis Oli was dropped back into midfield as part of the shake-up and partnered Ashley Nicholls in a conventional 4-4-2 system.

That meant Grays fielded a side containing Aaron McLean, Boylan, Oli, Michael Kightly and Glenn Poole in an attacking line-up even Mark Stimson would think twice about fielding.

Unfortunately we had less than four minutes to see how the side would fare when Smith was given his marching orders.

The ex-Farnborough man let Marvin Robinson get on the wrong-side of him and in his frantic haste to redeem the error, pulled on Robinson's shirt just as he looked set for a clear run on goal.

It was a clear foul, he was the last man and thus, it was a stonewall red card.

Gray withdrew the unfortunate Boylan for French centre back Jim Sangare and left McLean to plough a lonely furrow up front.

Gray felt the numbers should have been levelled up when Rufus Brevett lunged two-footed into Andy Sambrook but got away without so much as a warning.

To rub salt into the wounds for the Blues boss it was Brevett who was the architect for Oxford's opener.

Collecting a sweet cross-field pass from Carl Pettefer, the ex-West Ham man crossed for Basham who got in front of Sangare for the only time in the game to head into the corner of the net.

Minutes later Burgess nearly made it two with a crisp drive from the edge of the box as the Grays fans looked on fearing the worst.

But Blues lack nothing in character and with the magnificent McLean doing enough to bother all three U's centre backs, the visitors clawed themselves back into the game.

Surprisingly for a side that have not lost a game all season, the U's defenders looked anything but stable.

McLean should have capitalised on that fragility when Chris Willmott's slip put him clean through but he was unusually slow in anticipating the mistake and was forced wide

The McLean of a year ago would have been deflated by that spurned opportunity but not anymore for with his next chance he found the back of the net.

After an impressive spell of possession, Kightly prodded the ball through to the ex-Aldershot man on the edge of the box.

With Willmott breathing down his neck, McLean used both brawn and skill to spin past him before firing left-footed past Billy Turley.

A clearly unhappy Jim Smith hauled off centre back Barry Quinn at the interval and brought on striker Yemi Odubade as his side switched to 4-3-3 and took the game to Grays.

Ashley Bayes made an absolutely magnificent stop to deny Robinson's header after another pinpoint Brevett cross two minutes after the re-start and Eddie Hutchinson nodded inches over as crosses rained in on the Grays goal.

But, like the first half, Blues weathered the storm and forced their way back into the game.

The tireless McLean twice went close from narrow angles after first Poole and then Nicholls picked him out as the home fans grew increasingly impatient.

Bayes was called into action again nine minutes from time when he beat away Basham's effort at the back post and the same man whistled a shot past the far post.

But with the impressive Sangare ably assisting Jamie Stuart, Oxford found no way through and Grays held on for the sweetest point they have ever won.