Extra training is Woodward's call as Grays let victory slip
Resolute Grays earned a creditable draw against Blue Square Premier play-off contenders Histon.
Indeed, Grays should have grabbed all three points. Had they done so, it would have capped their best away performance of the season instead they went away disappointed with manager Mike Woodward ordering the team into extra training.
In windy and icy conditions the team were met by an onslaught by Histon who realised that all three points were vital for them in their waning play-off campaign.
Danny Wright, Nat Knight-Percival and Gareth Gwillim were a robust combination up front with their fluent movement and dynamic passing that even the stoic Grays defence looked to have difficulty in holding.
The pressure led to huge gaps in the defence.In the eighth minute, Wright was left completely unarked in the area but could only side-foot the ball directly at keeper Nicky Eyre.
The midfield seemed at sea. Aaron O'Connor was producing a series of unforced errors. Neither Stuart Thurgood nor Scott Taylor were cut out to produce the solid defensive midfield duties that Neil McCafferty has in recent games while Barry Cogan was showing deft skills but coming in so far from the right as to leave the whole of the left flank exposed.
The deadlock was soon broken. In the 10th minute, Knight -Percival found himself unmarked from a corner and made no mistake, slotting the ball past Eyre.
As the blizzard set in, it looked like the proverbial floodgates were about to open. In the 17th minute Wright produced a strong run, dribbling past the defence but shot wide. Grays' players were trying to find their touch but the pitch,elements and a lack of fluency were conspiring against them.
Cogan continued to work at getting into a forward position. He could clearly see the best defence was attack and started to produce chances for O'Connor and Jamie Taylor who both went close on the half hour.
Cogan's strategy bore fruit in the 44th minute when a cross from the Gillingham player was met at the edge of the box by the head of Scott Taylor. He used all his sophistication to produce an exquisite header that looped over the Histon keeper Danny Naisbitt.
Gray came out in the second half and showed they were hungrier and meaner than Histon as they hassled and grappled for every ball.
In the 52nd minute a well struck shot by O'Connor was beaten away by the Histon keeper.
Histon broke immediately but a two on two was snuffed out by the ever-dependable Simon Downer.
In the 58th minute, Grays won a free kick just inside their half. Jon Ashton released an early through ball to Jamie Taylor who beat off two defenders, rounded the keeper to slot home the ball and put the Blues in the lead.
Taylor's relief was palpable and repaid the faith the coaches had put in him. The player has a beautiful touch, works hard and is always looking to create chances. Ignore the stats and give him a run at this level and he could well produce the goods. He may be a gamble worth taking.
My money is on Simon for the National and my money is also on Mr Downer not to be at the New Rec next season. In the 60th minute he was substituted for trialist Chris Saunders. He walked straight down the tunnel re-emerging in the stand shrugging moodily at Ross Flitney.
Downer is a charismatic figure and a great and unfulfilled talent and may well have felt insulted but this journalist had just driven from Old Trafford and one dummy-spitter in a weekend is quite enough thanks.
Histon looked devoid of ideas,reduced to speculative long balls and hopeless flicks as they could see their play off chances evaporating.
But they continued to pile on the pressure as corner after corner reigned in on the Blues goal. In the 76th minute sub Marlon Patersson and Jamie Stuart produced a double block illustrating the team's commitment to the three points.
Thurgood and Kedwell, although relatively quiet, were still getting in their shift.
In the 78th minute Histon sent over another corner. Pressure came to bear as in a crowded box the referee adjudged that Ashton had bundled over sub Jamie Barker. Gareth Gwillim confidently tucked the penalty away.
The last ten minutes saw both teams attempt to take three points in a highly entertaining finale.
In the 86th minute Stuart Thurgood put Patersson through on the break. The diffident winger should have gone for the winner but put a wayward ball square to Jamie Taylor.
In the 93th minute, Histon nearly grabbed the winner as Antonio Murray met Histon's 14th corner with a flying header that hit the post.
After the game Woodward gave an honest assessment.
He said: "In the first half their direct brand of football looked like it was going to steamroller over us but thanks to a quality Scott Taylot header we fortunately went in all square.
"The second goal was special.I am so pleased for Jamie as he works so hard and it should have been the winner although I will reserve judgement on the penalty until is see it on DVD.
"We should have won and am very disappointed that the players didn't follow our instructions and keep to the gameplan. But they will be in first thing for extra training tomorrow morning."
It looked as if the players had to clean up the dressing room after the game. There may have been dissenting voices but the facts are clear.
The team have only one defeat in seven and are sixth in the form league. Back on the August Bank Holiday they were outplayed by Histon. On Easter Bank Holiday the reverse occurred.
All places and contracts are up for grabs and whether the whole team is being punished for one recalcitrant player or not they may all do well to remember who signs the cheques.
By Michael Casey
Thanks to the Thurrock Gazette for the match report