Resolute Grays sink struggling Altrincham at New Rec
A game of two halves, as they say, but Grays Athletic claimed all three points against struggling Altrincham at the New Rec.
Before the game, chairman and manager Mike Woodward announced that whatever happens next week at the FA, football would remain at the New Rec for the rest of the season.
As if to underline the fact, the team produced the best 45 minutes of fluid passing football that fans have witnessed all season.
In the first minute, the prodigal Stuart Thurgood released a trademark early ball to the hardworking Jamie Taylor who forced a corner.
Thurgood became the focal point for the team with his strength direction and class, juxtaposed to this was a masterclass in holding midfield play by Neil McCafferty.
On the left hand side, Adam Gross and Marlon Patterson carved out a real understanding on the left flank,swopping positions and linking well.
In the 13th minute, Andy Sambrook produced a cross field ball that a rampaging Stuart Thurgood just failed to connect with in the area.
Altrincham looked jittery. They switched Ryan Shotton from defence to a more forward role but the midfield couldn't match Grays' fluidity.
With only the goal-lite Jamie Taylor up front, for all their play Grays weren't really producing out and out chances but Aaron O'Connor corrected that in the 36th minute when he volleyed home another superb cross from the left by Marlon Patersson.
It was no more than Grays deserved and watching Altrincham trudge back one questioned their ability to lift themselves.
Grays poured on the pressure. In the 43rd minute Thurgood burst through, passed to Jamie Taylor but his shot was well blocked by keeper Stuart Coburn. Marlon Patersson had another chance a minute later but shot wide.
Grays picked up where they left off for the first ten minutes of the second half. In the 48th minute more good hustling work saw Jamie Taylor steal the ball from Robert Lawton in the corner but he couldnt make more of it. O'Connor forced a corner a minute later but again the corner came to nothing.
Altrincham earned a free kick in the 55th minute and although Liam King's cross came to nothing, it and the appearance of Chris Senior and Carlos Roca heralded a change of momentum.
Colin Little and Gregory Young picked up their game whereas a tiring Thurgood was a pale shadow of his first half game. Jamie Taylor made way for Danny Kedwell as the team changed to 4-4-2.
In the 58th minute, Simon Downer supplied a through ball to Danny Kedwell who in turn slid it through to Scott Taylor. He forced two further mistakes from the Altrincham defence for a corner.
In the 63rd minute, Scott Taylor beat the offside trap and just inside the area chipped the keeper but the ball tipped onto the bar and out.
Altrincham fought back. In the 68th minute,Chris Senior dispossessed Neil McCafferty, danced around the Grays defence and his rapier shot went just wide.
Grays collectively started to tire and the ever combative Altrincham piled the pressure on. Little tried a shot from 30 yards and Senior and Roca continued to surge and probe.
Man of the match, McCafferty produced a series of last ditch tackles as his brand of cerebral water carrying kept Grays together.
Altrincham produced a final wave. Only a miraculous series of blocks in a packed penalty area by captain Jamie Stuart kept Altrincham out.
But they weren't finished yet. Remarkably in the 93rd minute they won their first corner. It was safely headed away as referee Mr Stretton blew the final whistle.
After the game, Grays coach Gary Phillips praised his team#s performance.
He said: "We did all our talking on the field today. The first half was the perfect example of transferring the practice drill onto the competitive field.
"We did tire, especially Stuart Thurgood but we held on and gained our fourth clean sheet in five games."
Altrincham boss Graham Heathcote was in sombre mood.
He said: "We didnt show enough hunger and desire out there today. It s a real struggle at the bottom. We have to face facts and realise that losses like that will see us relegated.
"I'm seeing the chairman on Monday and we will take it from there."
By Michael Casey
Thanks to the Thurrock Gazette for the match report