14.07.2007 @ 15:00 The Recreation Ground
0 - 0
Referee: F Graham
Grays Hold Wolves At Bay
Grays eased their way into a new season with a creditable goalless draw against Championship side Wolves at the New Rec.
Before the game started, former Blues stars Freddie Eastwood and Michael Kightly received a rapturous round of applause from the Blues faithful.
All the fans also put their hands together in tribute to Wolves and Northern Ireland legend, Derek Dougan, who passed away recently.
21 Grays players got a run out including the established, the debutants and a few youth players.
Only Simon Downer,Cammy Mawer and Craig McAllister were absent.
Assistant Manager Jimmy Dack took charge as Justin Edinburgh was on holiday.
Chairman Mick Woodward spent the game by his side, making a special effort to encourage the debutants.
Early on it was good to see the Oli-O'Connor partnership back up and running. Oli in particular looked in dominant form.
Both men and Stuart Thurgood also enjoyed the presence of Abdou El Kholti. He never got a look in last year but had a strong 45 minutes, bringing width to the team that had been notably absent since Glenn Poole's departure. He showed a good first touch, especially on a pitch that still leaves much to be desired for many of the ball players.
Wolves started brightly ,especially striker Andy Keogh who made plenty of room for himself. He was helped by a tentative Blues defence who took some time to settle. But once they did, they acquitted themselves admirably and led by (Man of the Match) Jamie Stuart, looked like a formidable foursome. Special mention should go to Jon Ashton who impressed many of the fans not least in the 13th minute with a goalline clearance from Keogh.
Danny Knowles started where he left off with fine saves from Jody Craddock in close succession.
In the 16th minute a fine move started from Thurgood, who started to spray those classic angled balls around. One created a chance for the impressive El Kholti but the weak shot failed to trouble keeper Hennessey.
Danny Kedwell worked hard up front as the players took their time to establish some form of shape. Karl Murray found it particularly tricky but with six more friendlies before Torquay, players have to be given time to find their way.
The half ended with both teams still fighting the match in midfield and not really bothering the keepers.
It was also quite warm out there and the players took every opportunity they could to take on water. They've been under a heavy training regime with new fitness instructor Angie Dowds so it wouldn't have been surprising if the miles and kettlebells were still in their legs.
Angie was watching from behind the dug out.
She said: "The lads have worked extremely hard over the last two weeks but I have been impressed with their fitness out there this afternoon."
Wolves brought on a new team at half time including Kightly and Eastwood while Grays made six changes but Jimmy Dack wisely left the defence alone.
Wolves manager Mick McCarthy started to become more animated as the team failed to break Grays down. Early on, he could recognise that a Jay Boothroyd and Freddie Eastwood combination may need time to work.
The Blues defence remained solid. They continued to sit very deep. Wednesday's signing from Boston, Ernie Cooksey found this quite frustrating as his many forages down the left hand side found no support.
Jamie Day and Ben Watson looked very bright, on their toes and looking for opportunities while Danny Kedwell continued to get through a ton of work.
Charlie Hearn had a more measured debut but in the 55th minute, played the ball of the match as a through ball pierced the Wolves defence for Kedwell to run onto. It would be great to see him fulfil his potential at the New Rec this year.
Wolves couldn't find an answer to Grays resolute defending. On the hour another shot was brilliantly cleared off the line by Adam Gross.
Kightly shone brightly with his industry, pace and invention. Eastwood was more low key but late in the second half he side stepped past Sambrook but his pass went astray. McCarthy started to bemoan that the had no-one up front. Freddie will find McCarthy a hard taskmaster who will want to see results fairly quickly.
Grays managed to get four of the youth players on. They all equipped themselves admirably in difficult circumstances. Baignet and Nelson were solid in defence and Barnes showed great enthusiasm up front.
Referee Fred Graham blew the whistle and the bumper crowd of 2172 gave both sides a rapturous round of applause. The Blues fans were delighted to see the team back for a season that could promise much.
After the game Jimmy Dack was satisfied with the result.
He said: "We've just drawn with a championship side who went to the play offs last year, so quite rightly I'm very pleased with the lads.
"The lads are just blending in and so it is very early days. We have seven more games to go in which to shape our starting eleven. But the fitness levels, application and team work are very encouraging."
Grays 1st Half Lineup
Grays 2nd Half Lineup
NB - no idea of who were subbed or who the replacements were, so I have just listed all the players who played.
Wolves 1st Half Lineup
Elliot Bennett -> Lewis Gobern (28)
Wolves 2nd Half Lineup
Seyi George Olofinjana
By Michael Casey
Thanks to the Thurrock Gazette for the match report