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Kingstonian 1-0 Grays Athletic

Seventeen days, and five games, after the season began for the rest of the Ryman Premier League, Kingstonian belatedly ran out to begin their 2002/2003 campaign against Grays Athletic. The opposition were one of the pre-season's fancied sides, but their poor start to the season meant that a win for K's would see them above Grays at day's end.

The home eleven contained a couple of surprises, with a hobbling Mark Jones being replaced by Sean Thurgood and Craig Lewington being preferred to Bashiru Alimi in the middle of the park. Grays included ex-Aldershot star Gary Abbott amongst their substitutes.

The opening exchanges were shared, with Dave Collins clearing a Tim Sills' header off the line, and Lance Key saving low from Stafford Browne after he cut in from the right. The K's goalkeeper was then called upon to make the first withdrawal from his top drawer when he tipped over Tony Lock's headed effort after a left-wing corner.

Matt Flitter went close to scoring a debut goal when he headed a Liam Collins corner just wide, and Lewington combined well with Sills to set up Greg Ball only for Owen Coll to intercept at the last. Yet it was the visitors who went closest to breaking the deadlock before the interval.

Corner, corner, ooh it's a corner

Lock ran at, and beat, Flitter on the edge of the box and passed to Browne who was some fifteen yards from goal. He shot across Lance Key's body, but saw the ball strike the inside of the goalkeeper's right-hand post and bounce across goal departing for a throw-in.

Shortly afterwards and the linesman came to the rescue of K's. A poor header out from Thurgood landed at the feet of Collins, he crossed from the right to Sam Cooper, who headed goalwards. Key appeared to be beaten by the effort, but just before the ball could enter the net, it struck Browne who was stood in an offside position and hence the effort was ruled out.

K's were, in truth, probably lucky to go in at the interval still on level terms. But they wasted no time in putting things right in the second-half. Craig Lewington went close when his shot from the edge of the box was blocked following a K's corner, but just a few moments later and it was the turn of the home defenders to sweat as they awaited a Grays' corner.

The ball was played back to the edge of the penalty area, but landed in the middle of a whole load of space, where no Grays' player stood. Lewington won the race to the ball and set off down the left wing with Greg Ball in support. He played a pass through the out-numbered defence for Ball to run onto, but goalkeeper Mel Capleton came out to challenge.

Craig Lewington's shot is blocked

The goalkeeper got to the ball a split-second before the forward, but when he kicked clear he only managed to find Ball's knee, sending the ball spinning across the pitch. Dave Clarke had made a fine effort to support the attack, and he suddenly found himself some twenty-five yards from goal with the ball and with very little obstruction in front of him. Determined to make things as tough as possible though, his first touch took him slightly wider than he would have liked, but he made up for that by sliding the ball in with his second touch for the opening goal of the season.

Grays tried to respond to this set-back, but K's - and in particular Craig Lewington and Dave Clarke - were by now controlling the midfield and were dictating most of the play.

Greg Ball almost extended the lead when Phil Wingfield and Sills combined to set him up on the left-hand side of the penalty area. He was slightly wider than he would have liked, as was his finish seeing as it smacked into the side netting of Capleton's goal.

Lewington showed that his hair colour is definitely natural when he allowed Steve Robinson to wind him up as they both partook in a game of press-the-foreheads-together. K's were awarded the free-kick though, and almost made it count as a clever flick from Sills saw the ball clip the crossbar only for Ball to blaze the rebound well over.

As time wore on the difference in fitness levels began to tell though. It became more a task of hanging on for K's, as their opponents tried everything they could think of to pull the goal back, with Key blocking well when Browne was played in on the edge of the box after a free-kick had been pumped into the box.

The final whistle

Darren White was sent on in place of Sean Thurgood as time ticked away, but it took some moments for the team to settle following the change. Grays tried to capitalise on the mis-understanding and produced their best chance of the half - this some four minutes into added time. Mark Stimson stood waiting to take a free-kick, and with everybody waiting for a ball to the far post, Collins ran to the near post and received the ball with not a defender in attendance. His headed effort was held by Key, but Grays will be disappointed not to have made a late addition to the score-line.

The final whistle went shortly afterwards, and a visibly relieved Kingstonian trooped off to the cheers of the similarly relived supporters. This wasn't the best display that will be seen this season, but as a first appearance, and against a team already well into their season, it certainly wasn't the worst.

Tue 3rd Sep 2002
Kingsmeadow Stadium
Isthmian League Premier
Grays Athletic0
1Lance Key
2Jamie LeacockCautioned
3Sean Thurgood15
4Max Hustwick
5Matt Flitter
6Craig LewingtonCautioned
7Liam Collins
8Dave ClarkeCautioned
9Tim Sills
10Greg Ball
11Phil Wingfield12
12Ronnie Green11
13Adrian Jones
14James Pinnock
15Darren White3
16Bashiru Alimi
Man of the Match
Dave Clarke
Dave Clarke
Match Report By
Gary Ekins