Grays see red
A valuable three points for Rovers but a worrying third defeat in four games for Grays in a match swung by a controversial sending off.
Justin Edinburgh's men started briskly.
In the first minute, Aaron O'Connor produced a near post header after a cross from Jamie Stuart.
O'Connor looked far more comfortable playing out and out as opposed to the deeper role he had in Tuesday's defeat at Cambridge.
There was a welcome return for Stuart Thurgood and as he cleaned up at the back before producing a sweet pass down the line with the outside of his foot, Grays' appreciative fans knew what they had been missing recently.
Grays kept up a hectic pace as they walked through Rovers' midfield but the Forest Green central pairing stood their ground.
Rovers' Afful was a bundle of energy. His movement and decision-making on the right side gave Rovers width and allowed the midfield plenty of options.
But they looked on the ropes. In the ninth minute a smart move involving Cooksey and Thurgood ended with O'Connor hitting the bar although he was judged offside.
But in the 10th minute the moment came which would turn the whole game.
Grays left back Cooksey went for a 50-50 with Rovers skipper Brough. Cooksey mistimed the tackle badly and his left leg smacked against Brough's right. It looked bad and deserved a yellow. But under the gaze of the assessor,Ref Fletcher thought differently and brandished the red card.
Grays quickly reorganised going into a 3-4-2 formation.
The next ten minutes were furious as Grays players, sensing an injustice, put everything into the game. Both Danny Kedwell and Thurgood were unlucky to receive yellow cards.
But Fleetwoof, Afful and Dodgson started to step up their game. Sensing that 3-4-2 left many areas exposed their interplay was excellence.
In the 14th minute, Afful shot point blank at Ross Flitney and the midfielders were starting to overwhelm Grays.
Grays went for more of a route one approach. O'Connor ran furiously for one long ball from Flitney but had no support as Kedwell took an eternity to link up with him.
Lawson started to come in from the right wing and threaten. Grays had a number of free kicks but they lacked any penetration.
The deadlock was broken in the 32nd minute. Fleetwood neatly slipped Ashton and burst into the right side of the box. he squared to Dodgson who calmly stroked it past Flitney.
Grays didn't panic but couldn't properly threaten. Rovers keeper Robinson had to be watchful but was rarely stretched.
In the second half, Sambrook moved into midfield for Grays as an anonymous Karl Murray was substituted.
Grays persisted with the route one approach with Thurgood launching the ball up front. Lawson continued to roam and showed invention. But like many of the players he seemed reluctant to take attackers on.
In the 47th minute O'Connor shot point blank at Robinson.
Rovers, in the hands of a shrewd manager such as Jim Harvey, absorbed the pressure well. They calculated to defend their lead and attack when they could.
In the 48th minute, the tireless Afful ran unchallenged for 40 yards but shot weakly.
Grays dug in. In the 49th they won a free kick. Kedwell squared up to Giles and was lucky to get away without a caution.
The following free kick by Thurgood was poor. Indeed all his free kicks were aimless.
Grays' crowd now started to get behind their team. Dennis Oli, in his hundredth appearance started to rampage down the right.
He won another free kick but Kedwell's shot fizzed over the bar.
Gavin Grant came on and immediately looked sharp.
Lawson never gave up and a defending tackle in the 63rd showed great tenacity by the former Southend midfielder.
Rovers had a chance to wrap things up in the 67 minute. Dodgson dodged past Stuart slipped it past Flitney but Ashton lunged back to clear it off the line Besley.Smith and Preece came on for Rovers and did well to slowly turn the screw on Grays.
It looked like only an individual piece of brilliance could save Grays as they started to look very tired and bereft of fresh ideas.
In the 77th minute, Grant let fly from 30 yards with a thunderous shot that rattled the Rovers' cross bar.
Fleetwood kept plugging away on the left and on two occasions got to the deadball line before shooting into the side netting.
Grays' assistant manager, Jimmy Dack became increasingly frustrated and was sent to the stands as his emotions got the better of him.
The home crowd started to drift away, as did Grays' chances of salvaging anything from the game while Rovers remained resolute and focussed right up the the final whistle.
After the match both bosses reflected on the game.
Jim Harvey said: "A fair result. You couldn't disagree with the red card and from then on we played a committed and intelligent game. I'm delighted with the three points."
Justin Edinburgh was more philosophical.
He said: "I'm pleased with the team spirit my players showed after the sending off. I thought it was harsh. These are professionals and deserve to be officiated by a similar level of professionalism.
"But we were poor in the final third. I have told the players that and I am sure they will respond on Tuesday."
By Michael Casey
Thanks to the Thurrock Gazette for the match report