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26.12.2008 @ 15:00 Stonebridge Road Crowd: 1143
Ebbsfleet United 0 - 1 Grays Athletic
Referee: S Ross (Boston) Conference National-Match

None Jamie Slabber (78)
Starting Line-ups
Lance Cronin
Danny Slatter
Dean Pooley
James Smith
Sasha Opinel
George Purcell
Jamie Hand
Karl Murray
Stacy Long
Michael Gash
Luke Moore
Steve Arnold
Damien Batt
Jamie Stuart
Jon Ashton
Fabian Wilnis
Luke Hickie
Ishmael Welsh
Stuart Thurgood
Wesley Thomas
Leon McKenzie
Scott Forrester
Sam Mott
Peter Hawkins
Neil Barrett
Ricky Shakes
Kezie Ibe
Simon Overland
Gavin Dayes
Sam Sloma
Stefan Bailey
Jamie Slabber
Peter Hawkins -> Danny Slatter (27)
Ricky Shakes -> Luke Moore (58)
Kezie Ibe -> Sasha Opinel (82)
Sam Sloma -> Leon McKenzie (49)
Jamie Slabber -> Scott Forrester (77)
Yellow cards
Karl Murray (20) Scott Forrester (76)
Red cards
None None
Match report |
On New Year's Day 2008, in the match against Ebbsfleet, this is where we came in: Grays losing 4-1; Mick losing it in the Director’s Box; and Justin blaming everyone but himself.

However, on Boxing Day 2008, Wayne Burnett’s Grays Athletic carved out their third victory in four games to climb out of the relegation zone.

According to the form league based on the last six games, Grays are in third place.

It's clear that they won't be relegated but what's also clear is that over the next four months they're going to be a real pain to play.

The promotion candidates will find that the defence is an impenetrable rock. And those in freefall will spend all their energy chasing and fouling Ishmael Welsh, taking their eye off the ball while another Grays player nips in and nicks the three points.

As Jamie Stuart said in his interview afterwards, the team will take one game at a time and that is a fascinating proposition for 2009.

Ebbsfleet were a pale shadow of the impressive team of last season. Liam Daish was semi-detached throughout and if Karl Murray was the answer as Captain then what was the question?

The key to Gray’s strategy came in the call from Wayne Burnett of “Two banks of four”. Time and time again, Ebbsfleet faced the determined two walls of what may not be the best selection; but clearly since the York match is the right selection.

The games against Carlisle and Hayes and Canvey were distractions and some of us couldn’t understand Wayne’s attitude especially after Hayes.

But then again, none of us care as much as Wayne. None of us will be out watching matches at Hackney or Lewisham like Wayne. Perhaps, that means, Wayne is the one to watch.

The two stars of this game were Ishmael Welsh and Steve Arnold. The winger gave Ebbsfleet a collective ulcer, spending so much energy marking and fouling him that it left gaps all over the field. The problem was that he was weaving and passing like a League One player while McKenzie and Forrester were finishing like a Ryman Premier pairing. To be fair to Forrester, he was putting in a hell of a shift.

Arnold had so much to do in the second half but produced a series of excellent saves including a marvellous finger tip save in the 90th minute.

The jury is still out for the Hickie and Thurgood pairing. Nothing came out of them creatively but as part of a disciplined four they did the job. Hickie’s ability to burst through from midfield is excellent, the only problem being - as in the 63rd minute - that when one-on-one with the keeper he looks completely clueless. He did also produce once again a vital last ditch tackle.

The defence were again outstanding. You almost take the excellent work of Ashton and Stuart for granted but again they were ably assisted by Batt and Wilnis.

The key to the game was from 55 minutes onwards when Grays stepped up the gears, increased the tempo and a goal seemed a matter of when not if. The one-touch movement was impressive especially with Wes Thomas now up front and Ishmael Welsh on the right.

The team continued to play to Wayne Burnett’s style and he put Jamie Slabber on in the 76th minute hoping he could provide a little bit of class. He certainly did.

In the 77th minute, Wes Thomas got to the deadball line and chipped it over. Slabber found the space and neatly headed it past the keeper to give the Blues the three points.

Ebbsfleet certainly gave it a go in the last ten minutes, much to the annoyance of their fans who expected to see that level all game.

Grays did well to repel the onslaught as attack after attack reigned down on them but this is a defence that has only conceded one goal in 360 minutes and they were not to be breached.

Report by Michael Casey
Thanks to Your Thurrock for the match report