Grays may rue lost opportunity as Oxford trip is a dull affair
Cautious Grays ground out a goal-less draw in a less than enthralling match against struggling Oxford United.
Freefalling United had lost their last three matches and made six changes in an attempt to arrest the decline.
Grays gave striker Scott Taylor a start as well as fans' favourite Andy Sambrook, albeit it in a spare shirt.
In front of a crowd of 4,891 Oxford started strongly with the wind behind them and in the second minute home debutant Justin Richards attempted a difficult volley from close range but shot wide.
Grays responded with Michael Standing and Alan Power picking up the second ball and showing desire to drive the game forward.
In the 12th minute, Karl Murray played a through ball from the centre circle into the path of Danny Kedwell who beat the offside trap. With time to think, Kedwell showed why he has only scored five times this season as, with so many options, he weakly stabbed it straight at Oxford keeper Billy Turley.
Oxford continued to attack but the six changes exposed a lack of understanding.
However, in the 26th minute Richards again tested Grays with a fine strike from outside the area that brought out an outstanding save from Ross Flitney as he dived low to his left.
The game was starting to be marked by both teams unable to maintain any fluent possession. Taylor looked uncomfortable in the formation while Santos Gaia also continued his love affair with the mis-timed clearance though he made up for it right after the break with a crucial interception as Richards broke through.
The following 45 minutes were the dullest of the season. To be fair, there haven't been many contenders.
Oxford continued to be snuffed out by Jon Ashton and Jamie Stuart. However on the hour mark, Blues boss Justin Edinburgh clearly indicated to Standing to play much deeper. With Karl Murray also playing very conservatively, some attacks had Grays with seven men back.
However, Standing did link up with one move. In the 60th minute, he released another thunderbolt outside the box that left Turley grabbing air as the ball hit the bar.
You had the feeling that Edinburgh wasn't sure if his men had it in the tank to get the three points. Worryingly all three midfielders became very, very leggy with still 20 minutes to go.
Flitney, possibly one of the unsung heroes of the team this season, continued to go about his business in a calm and effective manner. In the 76th minute he smothered a ball with Oxford substitute midfielder Eddie Hutchinson advancing. The Oxford player connected with Flitney in what looked two footed. Edinburgh was, quite rightly, incensed on the touchline.
After that the game petered out into a draw.
The impressive crowd in a club whose set up is the blueprint that Grays surely should follow, tried to encourage their team but the players looked particularly insipid.
Special praise should also be given to the loyal 100 Grays fans whose songs rang round the Kassam Stadium.
And they could have seen their team win this. Ben Watson came on in the 94th minute when the game, from the hour mark onward, was crying out for his speed as Oxford's defenders tired.
If they miss the play offs by two points then they may well regret the conservative approach they adopted today.
By Michael Casey
Thanks to the Thurrock Gazette for the match report