Grays fight rearguard action to thwart GullsGrays survived a stern second half test to earn a valuable point in a frenetic 90 minutes at Torquay on Sunday night.
There was a carnival atmosphere at Plainmoor as the Gulls - relegated from the Football League last season after years of flirting with the drop, but reinvigorated by a new board - were desperate to launch the new season with three points.
But the pressure of live television and high expectations got to them as their display in the first half was listless and unsure.
Grays, who had Ernie Cooksey booked for a tackle on Tony Bedeau, had their own problems in the opening ten minutes as the players struggled to produce more than hopeful long balls to the front men. But they were the first to produce clear chances.
In the 11th minute Mark Marshall, who made a great start to the match, sent the ball just over the bar. Three minutes later he slotted over a probing cross that Danny Kedwell met at the first post. His right foot shot was cleared off the line by a desperate Torquay defence.
On the other flank, Karl Murray was quietly putting in a power of work. A difficult player to mark, he was pulling back into the centre of defence when pressed before moving back out to the right on the offensive, Hearn and Thurgood put together some neat passing movements with Thurgood desperately trying to get into gear after a couple of games out.
Torquay remained content to defend and the fans, after the initial euphoria, started to wonder who was the home team.
The closing quarter of the half saw Grays camped in the Torquay half and they started to develop a more structured approach with the team looking and believing that a chance, with patience, would come their way.
However, there was a drastic change after the break. Torquay came out like a team possessed in the second half and Grays did remarkably well to withstand the whirlwind that confronted them.
Their plan and execution was simple, step up the tempo, play to the flanks, step past the defender and then put the ball into the corridor of uncertainty.
Their only obstacle was an obdurate Grays defence led by a mighty Jon Ashton. On four occasions between 45 and 60 minutes he put in vital challenges that kept the Blues in the match.
Former Plymouth star Chris Zebroski came on for The Gulls and was a revelation. Two rasping shots were turned over the bar by an impressive Ross Flitney.
Phillips also carved out a great chance as he peeled off Cooksey in the area but shot straight at the resolute Flitney.
After their first half endeavours Grays were now in a classic backs to the doors away match. They struggled to keep possession. Thurgood ran out of steam and although Ben Watson, James Lawson and Craig McAllister came on, Grays struggled to press forward. All their efforts petered out into nothing.
Ironically though, they nearly stole it in the 84th minute when Lawson put a neat pass to Watson whose shot across the area was narrowly missed by the oncoming McAllister.
As the whistle went a bumper 4,012 fans knew they had been treated to a great curtain raiser for the season though it was Grays who probably take more value out of the one point apiece.
And Blues boss Justin Edinburgh was grateful for the point.
He said: "It was a well earned point and I think many teams will struggle to do that down here. We played well in the first half but we lacked consistency in the second. We should have put more passes together. But the defence were fantastic. They really stood up to the test."
By Michael Casey
Thanks to the Thurrock Gazette for the match report