I expected a rare Saturday without football yesterday, as i was heading off to see Warrington in the Rugby League Challenge Cup Final at Wembley later in the day (my thoughts in a later post – sadly!) but the early rounds of the FA Cup often throw up the odd kick off time in the very early rounds, given the number of groundshares these days and clashes with league games that are already in place.
And that was the case yesterday, with a very unusual FA Cup kick off time of 11am, as FC Romania took on Grays Athletic at the new Parkside home of Aveley FC. FC Romania were struggling to find a time to schedule the game at their usual groundshare home of Cheshunt FC, so the game was switched to an early kick off time at Aveley FC (who also played in the FA Cup at home the same afternoon) and just to add to the complexity of this one, Grays Athletic currently groundshare at Aveley but for this fixture were the away side! Hope you managed to follow that! By all accounts according to the programme notes, both Aveley and Grays were a massive help to the FC Romania admin staff in getting this game played and it is always great to hear of clubs helping each other out at this level.
FC Romania and Grays Athletic are at Step 4 for the 2018/19 season in the South Central and North Divisions of the Bostik League respectively. Grays had begun the league season well and with FC Romania having suffered a 1-3 home defeat to Northwood in their first game at this level, perhaps the Essex side started as slight favourites, especially given their long standing non-league pedigree.
But for some reason, Grays never seemed to get going and whilst the first half was relatively cagey with few chances, the Romanian side were always threatening moving the ball well on the artificial surface and in centre forward Toby Cleaver had a target man who held the ball up well and whose movement never allowed the Grays central defenders to settle and FC Romania in fact took the lead mid way through the first half when Cleaver moved onto a long through ball, got the wrong side of the defender and drew a foul just inside the area for a clear penalty. This was dispatched comfortably by Gabriel Ghinea to give the hosts a 1-0 half time lead.
At half time, we were entertained by the unique PA announcer who gave us his views on anything and everything , before the players re-emerged! In the second half , you expected Grays to offer a little more in terms of goal threat but if anything they continued to lack in ideas going forward and whilst FC Romania were content to remain solid at the back and attack on the break, it was they who continued to create the best chances. Eventually a second goal arrived, five minutes from time following more impressive hold up play by Toby Cleaver, the ball should have been cleared by the Grays defence but they failed to do so and the ball was worked through to substitute Oliver Cleaver in the box who tucked it away and FC Romania saw the remaining time out comfortably to seal an excellent 2-0 win.
So Grays Athletic exit the FA Cup at the earliest stage in their history and FC Romania progress to the first qualifying round, where on this display they will be a handful whoever they are drawn against.
As for the ground, whilst of course it lacks the character of the old Aveley stadium, with it’s fabulous main stand and views of half of Essex! , the new Parkside ground is definitely one of the best new builds at this level, an excellent main stand with lots of function room space and cover on all 4 sides of the stadium, definitely a club keen to make progress.
Overall, an enjoyable match and one that FC Romania deserved to win and from their very humble origins as a Romanian workers team in the London Sunday leagues, playing on Hackney Marshes in 2006, the club must be delighted with the progress they have made both on and off the field and hopefully one day soon they can find a stadium they can call their own, in order to take things to the next level. As for Grays, they are a long way from the team i saw take the old Halifax Town all the way in a fabulous Conference Play off semi final back in 2006 but they are one of those proper non-league clubs run by good football people and now under the management of ex player Jamie Stuart, you hope they can begin to find the good times again and a base of their own back in Grays from which they can build for the future and increase attendances once again.