Grays Athletic 2, Northwich Victoria 1
A TENSE struggle at the New Rec saw Grays secure their first Blue Square Premier win of the season on Saturday, albeit in front of a paltry crowd of 523, the lowest in the division.

Long range goals either side of the half time interval from Stuart Eliott and Sam Sloma proved decisive and though he acknowledged his team were not at their best, Blues boss Mike Woodward found pluses in the result, if not the performance.

“These are the type of victories we have to take. We fought hard and it was good that Sam and Stuart shot on sight. The ball is unpredictable and they proved that.”

Woodward had reacted to the disappointing start made by Grays, a defeat at Weymouth and a home draw with Kettering, by strengthening his squad.

He has signed young defender Jonathon Munday who started his career as a trainee with QPR in 2005. Having failed to made the grade at Loftus Road he joined Kidderminster Harriers last year and has also had a loan spell with Worcester.

Though he didn't get on at the new Rec, his presence on the bench was probably a timely jolt for the Blues incumbent defenders.

Things started brightly for Grays and on his return to the starting line-up Danny Kedwell immediately made an impression with a twisting move on the third minute.

Sloma brought balance to the midfield and tried to bring his colleagues into the game as a neat cross field pass to Matt Bodkin resulted a fine shot from last season’s loanee at Thurrock, though it rose just over the bar.

Northwich who had produced miracles to avoid relegation last season had come to fight and a shot by midfielder Joel Byrom was deflected away by keeper Steve Arnold for a corner. Minutes later Jamie Mullan sent over a deft chip that Arnold again did well to turn over the bar.

Mullan then followed it up with a 30 yard run and shot as Grays were stuttering.

At the other end Barry Cogan took too many touches in front of goal in the 39th minute and another sweeping move in the 43rd was spoilt again by hesitant finishing.

But a minute later Elliott put in his bid for goal of the season with a terrific 25 yard wonder strike that left the Vics keeper grasping for air.

Grays continued with a balanced approach in the second half. Jamie Taylor pulled up lame in the 51st minute giving Charlie Ide a chance. In the 59th minute he ran onto a ball from Kedwell but again needed a clumsy touch before missing his chance.

The home side were lying very deep and chances for Mullan and Danny Williams showed the Vics that points were still there for the taking.

However, Vics’ hopes took a turn for the worse when Sloma used his experience to win the game on 67 minutes as he saw Scott Tynan off his line. His 35 yard shot dipped and swerved to put the Blues two nil up.

From then onwards Grays should have wrapped things up but again they showed hesitancy and in the 83rd minute, Vics midfielder Chris Flynn went close with a header that was well turned over the bar. From the corner the unmarked Flynn banged in the header from the corner to give the Vics a lifeline.

Fortunately for home supporters, their commitment to support the Blues rather than watch the Olympics 100 metres was rewarded as Woodward’s team managed to hold out without a further scare.

Grays Athletic: Steven Arnold, Rob Gier, Jamie Stuart, Jon Ashton, Adam Gross, Matt Bodkin (Ishmael Welsh 62), Stuart Elliott, Barry Cogan (Stefan Bailey 90), Sam Sloma, Jamie Taylor (Charlie Ide 55), Danny Kedwell. Subs Not Used: Ross Flitney, Jonathan Munday.

Booked: Elliott.

Northwich: Scott Tynan, Michael Aspin, Mark Roberts, Michael Welch (Matthew Bailey 36), Ryan Brown, Danny Williams (Michael Byrne 58), Matt Crowell (Christopher Flynn 60), Joel Byrom, Jamie Mullan, Darryn Stamp, Lee Steele. Subs Not Used: Michael Jones, John Allan.

Booked: Crowell, Stamp.

Attendance: 523.

Referee: R Fletcher (Derbyshire).