Wednesday 23rd March 2005

Gate hoping Grays will be off-colour

MARGATE have a tough Easter programme in what is becoming a battle to stay out of the bottom three of the Nationwide South, writes Steve Wells.

Firstly on Good Friday, Gate travel to Essex to take on league leaders and Champions-elect Grays Athletic. Then on Easter Monday, second placed Cambridge City are the visitors to Homelands.

Margate and Grays have now met three times in three years – twice in the FA Cup at the fourth qualifying round stage, and once in the league back in August 2004. Sadly for Margate, the Blues have yet to beat Grays in any of those encounters. And back in August, Margate suffered their worst defeat in many years as the visitors ran out winners by six goals.

The game started in bizarre fashion when Grays took to the pitch wearing a blue-ish strip. As the game started, it quickly became clear that while it was possible to tell the teams apart when they were all in their own halves of the pitch, it was almost impossible to do so as they battled for the ball. So within two minutes of the start, the referee Mr Mellack stopped the game and asked Grays to change their shirts.

With 25 minutes on the clock, a long ball forward found Liam George on the Grays’ right. He turned his defender and took the ball round Scott Ward, and just as it looked likely to drift out for a goal kick for the home side, he slotted the ball into the Margate net from an acute angle to give the visitors the lead.

While Grays deserved their one goal lead, there was nothing in the first half that suggested the capitulation that was to follow.

But the early signals were there as the Margate defenders struggled to clear the ball before conceding a corner. Grays doubled their advantage when a move down the left hand side concluded with an effort slotted in low under Ward’s body.

Shortly afterwards the lead was three, when a lovely cross from left to right was headed in superbly by Martin Carthy.

Things got progressively worse for the home side as an innocuous looking piece of possession on the edge of the area ended when the Grays’ substitute Freddy Eastwood - now at Southend United -  fired in an effort under Scott Ward’s body. Margate had one further effort on goal when Pat Gradley hit a right-footed effort a foot or so over the Grays’ bar from the edge of the area after taking a good pass from Baptiste.

But Margate’s resolve had all but disappeared and further long-range efforts form Powell and a spectacular shot into the far corner from 20 yards from Eastwood concluded the scoring and a miserable night for Margate.

After a good run that saw Margate climb away from the danger zone and as high as 14th, Gate have now gone four league games without a win going into the Easter fixtures. A return of five from a possible 18 points – including just one win – has seen the Blues drop to within sight of the bottom three. Whilst other results have gone against Margate, current league form is all the more frustrating given the nature of the positive performance (despite defeat) against Crawley in the GLS cup.

Injuries and illness have not helped Chris Kinnear’s cause but neither has his goal-shy side. Two goal-less games on the bounce for the third time this season tells its own story. Mark Green’s reappearance on the bench after his lengthy lay off through injury and Eseyas Yhdego’s availability will give the club a boost, although Greg Oates may be a doubt for both fixtures through injury.

Mark Stimson’s side started the season as one of the favourites for the title and following Hornchurch’s off-field problems look to have the title race to themselves. Hard working and effective describe Grays’ approach to their football – similar in some ways to the way that Gate won the Southern League title in 2001.

Grays’ form throughout the season has been impressive. To date they have dropped just 23 from a possible 102 points – that’s a 77% strike rate. Current form does not have them at the top of the form table, though. 12 from a possible 18 points from three wins and three draws is only good enough for second place. Their home form sees them ranked even lower at four with 11 from a possible 18 points. But the do score goals – 95 to date – which puts them on track to score 117 in the league this season!

There are two recent player connections between the clubs. Top scorer Leroy Griffiths was on loan from QPR at Margate for a short period during the season before last., and defender Eddie Youds was a trialist at the start of last season.


Grays Athletic v Margate
Nationwide Conference South
Good Friday, 25th March 2005
Kick Off 3:00pm
at The Recreation Ground, Bridge Road, Grays, Essex

Margate v Cambridge City
Nationwide Conference South
Easter Monday, 28th March 2005
Kick Off 3:00pm
at Ashford Town FC, The Homelands, Ashford Road, Kingsnorth