League leaders Grays Athletic have scored 46 goals during their current run of 11 consecutive victories but they will have heaved a sigh of relief at securing all three points against a spirited and committed Saints side who, surely, deserved something from this game.
City manager Colin Lippiatt fielded two new signings, 20-year-old Tom Davis, a skilful midfield player on loan from Gravesend & Northfleet, and 19-year-old centre back Gary Elphick, on work experience from Brighton and both impressed throughout. Dean Hooper played a central role between Elphick and Ben Martin at the heart of the defence and the back line of five was clearly designed to deny the home side's pacy attack time and space.
Grays pressed from the start but were unable to penetrate the resolute City defence, and as the game settled, it was the visitors who created the first of few half chances in the first period on 13 minutes when a Hooper free-kick found Adam Parker with his back to goal 15 yards out. Taking the ball on his chest before turning sharply, the midfielder shot a yard wide. Grays responded but Martin and Elphick were in control of the high balls at the back and the home side grew increasingly frustrated.
For their part, the Grays defence was tight with their centre back pairing of Lee Mathews and Steve Robinson in impressive form. Parker was denied by a fine last ditch tackle by Dean Brennan, and Lee Clarke was just wide with a brave header from a corner just minutes before the opening goal, scored in the last few seconds of the half.
Grays were awarded a free-kick from deep and wide on the right which was sent into the area and beyond the far post to be met by the head of Gary Hooper. Paul Bastock in the City goal appeared to be impeded as he jumped to claim the ball which was then met by Mathews who headed powerfully home.
For the first 30 minutes of a pulsating second half, City looked the more likely to score and were twice denied by first class saves from Ashley Bayes, the first to deny a fierce Davis effort from 25 yards and, moments later, at full stretch to tip a goal-bound effort from a Matt Hann free-kick around the angle of crossbar and post.
Against the run of play, Grays extended their lead on 79 minutes. A City attack broke down just inside the home half. John Martin played a quick pass to Mitchell Cole who showed his pace on the flank before sending a low cross which eluded both Bastock and the retreating Scott Cousins, to be met by Brennan who powerfully shot home from 10 yards.
A couple of chances fell at each end in the closing minutes. Quick interplay between Parker and the tireless Clarke created an opening for Davis who shot inches high. Seconds later, a clever lob from Brennan looped over Bastock but dropped onto the crossbar before rebounding into the grateful arms of the City keeper.
No points but this was one of City's best performances of the season and there was plenty to encourage the visiting fans in the struggle to climb the table over the coming weeks.
Report by Tom Lewis