Grays Ath avoided a huge banana skin by moving past minnows AFC Totton 2-0 at the New Rec.
It wasnâ€™t pretty but it was effective. Boss Wayne Burnett went for a Elliott/Thurgood midfield with Welsh on the bench as he clearly believed that Totton were a storm to be weathered.
With 150 Totton fans in fine voice and Grays fans somewhat muted, it was the Stags that started brightly. Upfront pairing of Osman and Taylor showed a real understanding that Grays last had with Jamie Taylor and Danny Kedwell.
The Totton attack had real pace and within the first ten minutes, Mark Osman strode past Kenny Davis and Rob Gier with ease. At the other end, their defence were highly organised. Jonny Dixon was working hard but like many before him looked clueless at the vital moment. Work-experience signing from Leyton Orient, Bradley Gray was also doing his best to create an understanding.
Grays were making a host of unforced errors that comes from a team devoid of points and confidence. In the 20th minute, Sam Sloma put in a wicked curling cross but there was nobody there. Minutes later, Stuart Thurgood produced a low flat shot that was well held by Tottonâ€™s keeper Gareth Barfoot.
You had the suspicion that words were spoken in the dressing room at half time. Ishmael Welsh and Darren Lodge came on to bring width and purpose to the team. Grays were transformed. Stuart Thurgood started to manoevure the ball around the pitch and bring Welsh and Cogan into the game.
Grays maintained the tempo. In the 51st minute, Barry Cogan shot was deflected away but only to Stuart Thurgood who also tried but again struck a Totton player. The ball fell to Stuart Elliott who, from 20 yards out picked his spot and produced a rapier that flew past Gareth Barfoot and straight into the net.
The relief was palpable as Grays relaxed and became more fluent but it didnâ€™t last long as they let the Stags back into the game.
Grays couldnâ€™t keep possession as the importance of the win came to bear down upon them. Full credit to Totton as well. They were full of confidence and belief but couldnâ€™t find that killer ball.
Grays really did press for the win but now seemed to turn into a 4-2-4 combination with the Stuartâ€™s doing the work of four men.
In the 65th minute, Mark Osman produced a neat bicycle kick that landed straight into the arms of David Button.
Grays wasted possession but Totton were running out of steam. In the 85th minute, Phil Warner who had been given a torrid time with Ishmael Welsh handled the ball in the area. Barry Cogan stepped up, sent the keeper the wrong way and Grays into the first round of the FA Cup.
Everyone will be delighted that Grays are in the FA Cup 1st round. There is excitement in the anticipation of who they will be drawn against. It is a good deflection away from the relegation battle.
In many ways things have been quiet down at the club this week and it is probably best to let the players get on with the football.
Wayne Burnett wouldnâ€™t come to the press box yesterday. Gary Phillips explained that he was speaking to the Chairman. It was noticed that during the first half the Chairman was attempting to speak to Kenny Davis after he needlessly gave away a corner. Perhaps Wayne was marking his card as he continues to carve out his own identity on the team.
Report by Michael Casey
Thanks to Your Thurrock for the match report