GRAYS Athletic boss Jim Cooper believes the Stan Veness Trophy tie with Tilbury paid off for both sides as they step up their preparations for the upcoming season.

Summer signing Tony Stokes put the visitors ahead just after the break at Chadfields but Tilbury - who played the majority of the encounter with 10 men as Concord Rangers loanee Sam Carter saw red - pegged Grays back with a Toby Aromolaran strike.

For the first time in many years, the Stan Veness Trophy was shared and Cooper was pleased to see the clash played in a competitive spirit.

“It was really good to get a competitive game under our belts,” said Cooper.

“Both sides raised their energy levels and the tempo in the game.

“A draw was probably a fair result, but we should have been out of sight before they rallied towards the end.

“The game was a massive step up in comparison to some of the friendlies we have been playing.

“There is that rivalry between the two clubs and the fact that there was a trophy up for grabs helped to focus the minds.

“We were 1-0 up against 10 men and then, with it being important to give everyone minutes, I made five substitutions.

“That was a difficult decision and there was a massive difference after the changes were made.”

Tilbury midfielder Carter was adjudged to have tackled with a high foot and was dismissed before the half an hour mark.

The deadlock was broken just two minutes after the break when Stokes found the net after a shot was parried by Connor Wheatley.

Tilbury defenders Darren Phillips and John Easterford struck the woodwork as the hosts went in search of a leveller.

With 15 minutes remaining, Aromolaran cut inside and sent a sweetly struck effort past Grays goalkeeper Danny Sambridge to equalise.

Despite still searching for a victory since returning in the summer, Cooper is content with how Grays’ pre-season is going.

“We have been really pleased,” added Cooper.

“We haven’t won a game but we weren’t expecting to with the games we arranged for pre-season.

“It’s all about building the players’ fitness levels and allowing the players to gel.

“We brought in a lot of new players so we need to allow the players to build an understanding between each other and that has happened quickly.

“The season starts on August 17 and we will be ready and raring to go.

“I think the season is starting at the perfect time for us.”

And Cooper insists he has given all of his players a chance to stake a claim for a starting place.

“No-one can say they haven’t had enough game time,” admitted Cooper.