Watson strike wins the day for Grays at Woking
A clinical strike by Ben Watson seven minutes from time was enough to give Grays their third win in eight days and they continue their march back up the Blue Square Premier table.
Playing an unchanged side from the Salisbury match last week, Grays started on the front foot immediately with last weeks man of the match, Danny Kedwell just missing out with two good chances in the first two minutes.
The 4-3-3 formation allows Kedwell to drop deep, use his close control and distribute. It's not to big a complement to say in many ways his game is starting to resemble Wayne Rooney's.
In the third minute a Jamie Day cross was weakly defended by Woking. The ball fell to the feet of Ernie Cooksey but from eight yards out, he blasted over.
Cooksey really came to the fore in this game. He thrives with the amount of responsibility the formation gives him. In short he does the work of two men and is Gray's unsung hero.
At the other end, Ross Flitney made a fine point blank save from Woking's Joe Gatting.
However, a minute later he dropped a weak cross and it was down to Simon Downer to head the ball off the line. Downer once again produced a vintage cerebral performance and it is a pleasure to watch as he reads the game like no other player at this level.
What might have been the game's defining moment happened soon after.
In the eighth minute Marvin Morgan broke free and, as he attempted to round Flitney most observers thought the keeper took his feet from under him.
Woking were incandescent with rage as the referee dismissed all claims for a penalty.
But with only two wins at home, they are clearly a team that are starting to wear the face of the victim.
Grays grew in confidence and the front six in particular worked seamlessly, swapping positions and stroking the ball in fluent movements.
But they couldn't break through.
Jack Obersteller showed himself to be a useful dead ball specialist but free kicks by him and Jamie Day came to nothing.
In the 37th minute, Dennis Oli turned his ankle and had to be stretchered off.
Watson, who scored the bizarre goal that earned Grays a home draw with Woking earlier in the season when the Cards allowed him to walk through their defence unchallenged after a fluke goal when returning the ball after an injury, came on to replace him.
Just before half time, Kedwell broke free but with just the keeper to beat, Woking's skipper Tom Hutchinson put in an outstanding last ditch tackle.
Kedwell didn't give up and in the next attack, controlled the ball from 30 yards out and put the deftest of through balls down the right side to Aaron O'Connor.
Woking boss and one-time Grays supremo Frank Gray must have told his team at half time that the charity shown to Grays back in August was a one-off. They came out a changed side. They kept to their questionable 3-4-3 formation but kept the ball and broke up Gray's fluency.
Young Woking midfielder Matt Pattison began to take hold of the midfield and the front three also identified that Downer had little protection.
In the 63rd minute, a free header from Hutchison was again struck off the line by the irrepressible Downer.
By this time, Grays were starting to think that like six teams before them, a draw might be a good result at the Kingsfield Stadium as Woking couldn't find a way through. Ashton and Jamie Stuart remained unmoved and the wall of Cooksey, Day and Karl Murray remained firm.
From the 70th minute, Grays regained the initiative. O'Connor started to probe again down the right and boss Justin Edinburgh asked Watson to try and stretch the defence on the right.
This was a canny strategy.
In the 83rd a long through ball gave Hutchinson trouble. Watson hastled him and stole the ball.
Murray and O'Connor quickly joined him. Watson offloaded to Murray and peeled off to the left.
Murray, in his ideal position, shielded then passed to Watson who struck the ball first time past teenage keeper Paul Lorraine.
Grays were ecstatic and the team ran to the loyal 100 Blues supporters.
Woking produced a few half hearted attacks but were never going to puncture the best away defence in the league.
After the game, Justin Edinburgh was extremely satisfied with his team's performance.
He said: "The boys have dug in after a tough period and shown absolute belief in themselves. They always believed they would score and Ben's goal proved that.
"I was particularly pleased with the first half. We had some good chances and we looked like a fluent attacking outfit with a solid four at the back."
"If we can be in the top ten by Christmas then we will be satisfied. We've got momentum and look forward to next week's challenge against Farsley."
By Michael Casey
Thanks to the Thurrock Gazette for the match report