Albion exact their revenge
Burton Albion went some way to avenging last seasonâ€™s FA Trophy humbling at the hands of Grays by beating the Blues 3-2 at the Rec on Tuesday night.
Blues memorably thumped the Brewers 7-0 on aggregate in last seasonâ€™s FA Trophy semi-final, but they never looked like hitting those heady heights this time round with Nigel Cloughâ€™s men thoroughly deserving their win.
The loss was all the more disappointing for Grays because had they won they would have moved up to second in the table and cemented their place in the play-off spots.
Instead they slip down to fifth in the final play-off place and are looking over their shoulders at the pack behind them.
A disappointed Blues boss, Mark Stimson, said: â€śWe are very disappointed that we havenâ€™t gone into second place tonight, it hurts.
â€ťWe came in to the game in a positive frame but for some reason just didnâ€™t perform tonight. I think they were all waiting for the man next to him to the job and that doesnâ€™t happen. Theyâ€™ve got to take hold of the game by themselves and make themselves the man of the match.â€ť
Stimson made on change from Saturdayâ€™s draw with Hereford with John Nutter coming back into the side in an unfamiliar left midfield role in place of Michael Kightly.
But the change did little to help Grays who looked off the pace from the start with Burton sharper in the tackle and slicker going forward.
So it was no surprise when the midlanders took the lead in the 17th minute though slack defending from the Blues back line played a large part in the goal.
Skipper, Stuart Thurgood, fouled Keith Gilroy wide on the Burton left and the tricky winger picked himself up to send in the free kick himself.
The ball was whipped in towards the near post and Ashley Bayes initially came to claim the ball but soon changed his mind and began to back-track. Bayesâ€™ defenders hardly helped their goalkeeper out when they themselves failed to clear the ball and Shaun Harrad punished them all when he thumped home a sweet strike from the edge of the box.
The hosts were back on level terms just three minutes later, however, when they netted after their first real attack of the game.
Make-shift centre back, Darren Strideâ€™s slip on the right let in Tony Battersby and the burly strikerâ€™s cross was flicked back across goal by Gary Hooper for John Martin who slammed a volley into the top corner.
But Mark Stimsonâ€™s men werenâ€™t on level terms for long because more slack defending saw them fall behind for a second time just three minutes later.
Aaron Websterâ€™s long throw caught the Blues back line sleeping and Jon Shaw was able to rise high and flick the ball on for Chris Hall who had sneaked in round the back of Brett Johnson and prodded home from close range.
Stride then made amends for his earlier error by making a fantastic tackle to deny Hooper as he hurtled towards goal and Battersby should have done better when he collected a Hooper flick-on and shot tamely at Saul Deeney.
Blues received a huge slice of good fortune six minutes after the restart when Thurgood was given a second attempt to convert a penalty after he had fluffed his lines at the first time of asking.
Referee, Mr Johnson, awarded the first spot kick for a foul by Stride on Battersby but Thurgoodâ€™s effort was the perfect height for Deeney who parried the ball away into a crowd of players.
Martin and Thurgood following up were amongst a throng of players trying to reach the ball when Mr Johnson pointed to the spot a second time in a matter of seconds indicating that a Burton defender had hauled back Martin.
A grateful Thurgood stepped up again and out-foxed Deeney by going the other way and rolling the ball into the bottom right-hand corner.
But, just as had done after levelling the first time, Grays couldnâ€™t hold on to their lead for long as they Brewers capitalised on yet more dreadful defending.
Bayes had already done well to turn a Kris Taylor effort around the post for a corner but, from the ensuing kick, Battersby inadvertently flicked on Taylorâ€™s centre and left back Webster ghosted in unmarked at the back post and volleyed into the far corner.
Grays huffed and puffed in their search of an equaliser and Aaron McLean had a couple of half chances that were easily fielded by Deeney but, if anything, it was the Brewers who looked most likely to score again.
And had it not been for the intervention of the crossbar, they would have added a fourth.
A wonderful move involving Gilroy and Harrad put Taylor clean through on Bayesâ€™ goal but he midfielderâ€™s shot cannoned back off the bar and back into play.
Grays now have to pick themselves up for tomorrowâ€™s FA Trophy clash against Hereford United at Edgar Street.
Report by Ryan Goad
Thanks to the Thurrock Gazette for the match report