Goalless Grays hold Boro to give new regime a decent start
Grays Athletic put the problems of the week behind them to eke out a goal-less draw in an insipid 90 Blue Square Premier minutes against Stevenage Borough.
With a new midfield formation featuring Andy Sambrook and Aaron O'Connor, Grays went back to basics with speed on the flanks, Sambrook keeping deep and Michael Standing creating.
The Blues started well. In the first minute they forced a corner from which Jamie Stuart shot straight at keeper Alan Julian from outside the box.
Stevenage, without a win in five tried to play an expansive game. Their most productive outlet was former Blue Gavin Grant who from the 3rd minute onwards gave Santos Gaia a torrid afternoon. John Martin also reminded the travelling support of the excellent job he does as he gathered and distributed from midfield.
But Stevenage were profligate and found it hard to produce a telling through ball. Again credit had to go to Stuart and Jon Ashton who were first to every header and ahead of the game.
In the eighth minute Simon Downer released an early ball from defence into the path of Scott Taylor but he was outpaced by recent Ipswich loanee Tommy Smith.
Scott Taylor continued to work hard in the channels all afternoon but all he really did was underline a CV that shows nothing credible for over two years.
Jack Obersteller was seeing plenty of the ball. In the 13th minute some neat footwork saw him scythed down by Ashley Westwood. Standing's free kick floated across the box but nobody was dynamic enough to connect with it.
In the 20th minute Grays did well to dig themselves out from a goalmouth scrum. Sambrook struggling with his new role, shanked the ball in the box but loose balls were met by committed tackling from Obersteller and Stuart.
A fluent move in the 27th minute hinted at the form Grays fans have seen in cameos this season. Kedwell, working hard, went out to the right. He swept the ball through to the always available Taylor. Sambrook swept in from midfield but shot wide.
Both teams struggled to find the bigger gears and seemed content with the low tempo.
Grays could have gone down just before the break when a snap shot inside the area by former Blue Mitchell Cole was cleared off the line by Sambrook.
After half time another Grays exile, Gavin Grant, Boro's best player by far, picked up where he left off. In the 47th minute he seemed to sucker Ashton into believing the ball had gone off but whipped in a cross that Stuart once again cleared away for a corner.
Grant in fact played like a student who had access to the answers before sitting an exam. He read every Grays player perfectly and Grays must have wondered, once again, why, apart from against Northwich, they couldn't nurture such a performance out of him.
The crosses from Stevenage came thick and fast but it was encouraging in this time of uncertainty that Ross Flitney was back to his authoritative best.
In the 51st minute Kedwell and Taylor combined well up close in the box but couldn't find a killer touch.
A minute later Taylor broke free from midfield. Kedwell made the run, Obersteller was on his own but he never lifted his head and meekly passed to the waiting Boro defenders.
The coaching staff rang the changes. Jamie Day came on for Ashton who may have failed to shake off a knock at the end of the first half.
Taylor was replaced by new loan signing Jamie Taylor. One would like to read Ben Watson's mind as Grays highest scorer was overlooked for a man who has scored four goals in six-and-a-half years.
O'Connor came more and more into the game as he adapted to his unfamiliar role. One cross/shot was tipped over the bar by keeper Julian.
Stevenage began to dominate but flattered to deceive. Boss Peter Taylor remained impassive on the sideline. The crowd began to get restless. Grays fans would agree that having seen the hunger and passion of Exeter last week, Stevenage are a shadow of other play-off contenders Their best chance came in the 70th minute. The ball pin-balled in the box, it ricocheted off Steve Morison but Flitney dived superbly to his right side to palm the ball away for a corner.
Grays kept up the stout defence. Day struggled to get in the game and was booked for a wild challenge but the stout back line, although visibly tiring, put in a series of last ditch challenges.
As the game lurched into injury time. Grays had a fair claim for a penalty. Standing sent over a free kick form the left and Kedwell got ahead of Fred Murray, his marker grabbed him warmly by the throat and wrestled him to the ground. The referee, Mr Sarginson waived all claims away.
The final whistle was met by a barrage of boos by the majority of the 1,856 fans.
Grays' players acknowledged the travelling support and looked pleased with the first step on the rebuilding process.
The fact remains that Grays have now gone 380 minutes since they last scored in the league and they didn't look remotely like scoring today. Kedwell is continuing to work hard and so did Taylor but they both remained too far apart for most of the game. What Jamie Taylor, a carbon copy of Ben Watson apart from the goals, can bring to the party is a mystery.
Michael Standing was excellent for 60 minutes but faded. The defence were excellent and it was good to see Jamie Stuart more voluble. Aaron O'Connor did well on the wing but always looked out of position as did Andy Sambrook who blew a visible sigh of relief when he returned to his natural home at right back.
As for the new coaching staff - they made their presence felt during the 90 minutes. Tim O'Shea remained in the stand but came down a few times with salient observations. Gary Phillips was at his most expansive and could be auditioning for the role while Neil Smith did his best to exhort commitment from his new charges.
Thanks to the Thurrock Gazette for the match report