REPORT FROM THURROCK GAZETTE
Referee spoils Grays' big night
by Ryan Goad
Brought to you by the Thurrock Gazette
Mansfield Town 3, Grays Athletic 0
GRAYS' dream of landing a glamorous FA Cup Third Round tie fell at the final hurdle on Friday night when a string of appalling refereeing decisions helped Mansfield Town dump them out the competition.
Three woeful judgements from referee, Trevor Kettle, effectively condemned Blues to defeat at Field Mill and brought the club's best ever FA Cup run to a halt in the Second Round.
Within the first 15 minutes, Mr Kettle had wrongly awarded the Stags a corner, which led to Richie Barker's opener and dismissed Blues' full back, Andy Sambrook, for a tackle that was late but never sinister.
These decisions left the Conference leaders with a mountain to climb but that mountain turned to sheer rock face when Mr Kettle adjudged Stuart Thurgood to have brought down Adam Birchall in the penalty area and awarded a spot kick.
The verdict looked incredibly harsh to the naked eye and television replays suggested the Mansfield attacker had merely run into Thurgood.
But Mr Kettle was unflinching in his judgement and Barker rolled in the subsequent penalty, at the second attempt, to leave Grays in a dire situation. Blues bravely continued to attack in the second half but left themselves wide open at the back and it was no surprise when Birchall added a third to extinguish any hope of a comeback.
Afterwards Grays boss, Mark Stimson, paid tribute to the commitment of his players but had to bite his lip when it came to his assessment of Mr Kettle's performance.
"I'm very disappointed," he said. "Not with the way we played and not with the effort and desire shown by my players because I can't fault them for that. But there were decisions made out there which changed the game.
"Without seeing the game again on the videotape I don't want to say too much but I ask for honesty from my players and I expect that from everyone else. "If the ref can go to sleep tonight and believe that he's made the right decisions then what can I say?
"It's frustrating for me and more so the players because they were out there. In fact, I thought the boys controlled themselves very well because I know if I was out there I would have struggled not to lose it."
Drawn on Sambrook's red card, Stimson added: "I thought the ref was a little bit hasty with the card. You would think he maybe would have taken five seconds to think about it but we have to get on with it."
Grays made one change from the side that defeated Stevenage six days earlier with Stevland Angus shaking off his groin injury to return at centre back, with Nathan Koo-Boothe making way.
And the Conference leaders started confidently enough against their League Two opponents with Dennis Oli and Michael Kightly looking lively on the flanks and Thurgood and John Martin competing well in midfield.
But Grays looked less than assured at the other end and they paid the price for that in the 12th minute when their defenders made a hash of clearing a corner and Barker headed the Stags in front.
Lee Matthews looked to have cleared Adam Rundle's delivery but the ball fell to Jake Buxton, who found Birchall at the back post and his cross-shot was powerfully headed into the net by Barker.
Minutes later Grays were in real trouble when Sambrook received his marching orders for clattering into Rundle.
The Stags winger looked to have over-run the ball and Sambrook saw the chance to nip in with a tackle. But the full-back arrived a fraction too late and caught Rundle with his studs just as he turned the ball past him.
It was a late challenge and a cast-iron booking but Mr Kettle saw otherwise and without a moment's hesitation brandished a red card, indicating that Sambrook had jumped recklessly into the challenge.
In many ways the sending-off appeared to galvanise the visitors who were the better side for much of the half but only once did they come close to equalising.
Jamie Slabber won a dubious free kick on the edge of the box, which Martin curled exquisitely around the wall, only for it to bounce off the far post and towards John Nutter.
The full back steadied himself and with his favourite left boot fired at goal, but he leant back too far and blazed over the bar.
Blues continued to press but fell victim to Mr Kettle's incompetence five minutes before the interval.
Again Grays brought the trouble on themselves by failing to deal with a corner and when Gareth Jellyman fed the ball back into the box, Birchall span straight into Thurgood.
There were no appeals from the Stags players, but that mattered little as Mr Kettle stunned all in the ground and pointed to the spot.
Barker rolled in the first penalty, only for it to be cancelled out by Mr Kettle for encroachment, and went exactly the same way at the second time of asking to double his side's lead.
Gary Hooper was introduced in the second half as Grays gambled and tried to find a way back into the game, playing three up front and leaving just two back at times.
This inevitably gifted Stags chances on the counter-attack and Alan Russell nearly grabbed a third when he beat Angus to the ball and was denied only by a smart save from Bayes.
The goal did come 13 minutes before the end when Birchall celebrated his 21st birthday in style by ghosting in between Bayes and Thurgood and nodding home yet another Rundle corner.
Thurgood twice went close to salvaging some consolation for Grays in the closing minutes but by that time it was clear it wasn't to be the visitors' day
Report from Observer by Steve Hartshorn:
The Stags turned in a professional performance against Grays Athletic in the 2nd Round of the FA Cup last weekend and earned themselves a dream 3rd Round tie away at Premiership Newcastle United.
On a cold Friday night at Field Mill, The Stags did everything they needed to do to ease out a Grays side that sat atop the Conference League Table, although it could be said that they gained a little help from match Referee Trevor Kettle who controversially sent off Grays right back, Andy Sambrook and also awarded Stags a penalty.
Grays were the first to threaten when on 3 minutes, Kightly let fire from 20 yards, but Pressman gathered easily. Birchall combined well with Barker 3 minutes later but rather snatched his effort and the ball went well wide.
Grays were looking comfortable on the ball without causing the Stags back line too much trouble whilst the new look front line of Richie Barker and Alan Russell linked up well and could provide future promise.
The Stags took the lead on 11 minutes when following a corner that Grays struggled to clear Rundle fired towards goal, his effort hit the ground and fell conveniently to Richie Barker who powerfully headed the ball into the left hand corner of the net despite a desperate dive by Grays keeper, Ashley Bayes. It was just the start the home side wanted against a Grays side who were unbeaten on their travels all season.
Just two minutes later and The Stags night got even better when Adam Sambrook hacked down Adam Rundle and Referee Kettle gave the Grays man a straight red. At worst the foul was worthy of a yellow and the Grays players were rightly aggrieved at the decision.
Grays altered their formation to accommodate the change and on 24 minutes almost drew level. Thurgood rolled the ball to John Martin and his curling shot beat Pressman but not the foot of right hand post. Nutter blazing the rebound well over.
On 39 minutes Kettle once again became the man in the limelight when he awarded The Stags a controversial penalty. Birchall, who was celebrating his 21st birthday cut inside the area and was knocked off the ball by Thurgood. Kettle pointed straight at the spot, much to the astonishment of Thurgood who was booked for his protests. Up stepped Barker to slot the ball home, however, Kettle ordered a re-take for encroachment, a re-take that Barker once more made no mistake from to give Stags a two-goal lead.
As the first half ended Russell received a yellow card and Dawson tested Bays with a fierce long-range effort.
The start of the 2nd half saw the introduction of Hooper for Kightly as Grays desperately tried to get a foothold in the game. Grays gamble meant that there became gaps in the Athletic defence one of which should have been punished by Barker, but after a mistake by Bayes, the big Stags striker fired his half volley well wide.
Stags were creating the better chances and Russell was unlucky not to score on his full debut when he beat Bayes in a race for the ball but saw his effort go wide and for a corner. From the resulting kick, Barker headed over from 6 yards, when in truth it looked easier to score.
Buxton found Russell in the box and the Stags striker turned sharply before firing over with a powerful effort. Stags were peppering away at the Grays goal and following a fine 20 yard blast from Coke, Birchall was unlucky to have his follow up effort ruled out for offside.
However on 76 minutes Stags wrapped up the game. A right-sided corner from Rundle found Birchall with enough space to head the ball into the net with Bayes rooted.
Barker had several opportunities to secure his hat trick but the ball just wouldnt run for him when he needed it to as Stags eased themselves through the final minutes.
Although not being a spectacular performance by Mansfield, it was what was required and has earned The Stags a big day out in the 3rd Round.
This weekend it is back to the business of Coca Cola League 2 and a difficult trip to Nene Park, the home of Rushden & Diamonds. Stags will be desperate to come home with the three points as they aim to climb away from the foot of the table.
Observer Man of the match - Richie Barker.
Latest | December 2005