Gray treble beats Boro
Gray 50, 60, 77
A second half hat-trick from Andre Gray saw the Town storm to victory in their first Skrill Premier game in three weeks.
After a goalless first half Gray opened the scoring five minutes into the second period before a mini-storm saw the players taken off the field for 10 minutes by referee Adam Bromley.
After the restart the Town doubled their lead when Gray got his second, tapping home on the hour and, 10 minutes, later he netted his second hat-trick of the season when finishing with aplomb following Steve McNulty’s headed throughball.
Cambridge were held 3-3 at Dartford which meant the Town moved three points clear at the top of the table, and the result also saw the Hatters create a new club record of 20 games without defeat in the league.
Showing two changes to the side that last played in the league, with Cameron McGeehan and Ryan Inniss both given league debits, the Town showed signs of rustiness in an even first half that swung marginally in their favour once Luke Guttridge was moved inside to a central position having started on the right flank.
Mark Tyler had to deal with two routine efforts from distance in the first 16 minutes, once from Nuneaton’s leading goalscorer Louis Moult and the other from centre-forward Andy Brown.
As Guttridge moved inside, the Town began to get a stranglehold on proceedings, with the midfielder immediately fashioning a chance for Gray to thump wide.
The Town were beginning to dominate but failed to test James Belshaw, the Boro keeper, with McGeehan volleying over first-time following Jake Howells’ header across goal on 25 minutes, Guttridge dragging a shot wide on 34 minutes and Gray firing wide from an almost impossible angle a minute later.
Five minutes before the break the Hatters engineered their best move of the half when Danny Sleath, the Nuneaton defender, charged down a Scott Griffiths cross with Gray sniffing a goal. As half-time approach the deadlock remained when Paul Benson shot wide after taking Howells’ pass before James Walker curled a shot over the bar in the final moments of the first 45 minutes.
The second period began with claps of thunder and lightning in the distance as Kenilworth Road became shrouded in darkness. The half was only five minutes old when Benson flicked on a Ronnie Henry throw to release Gray in the box and the striker did the rest to arrow a low shot through the legs of Belshaw to open the scoring.
Almost immediately the heavens well and truly opened with the players quickly ushered off the pitch by the referee. 10 minutes later the rain had subsided but within another 10 minutes the Town doubled their lead when, moments after an Inniss header was hacked off the line, Griffiths teed up Gray to side-foot home his and the Hatters’ second and his 16th of the season.
Two was almost three on 63 minutes when Belshaw did brilliantly to claw out a shot from Howells following Henry’s right-wing cross before Nuneaton threatened for the first, and only, time of the half when Moult drove a shot over Tyler’s crossbar on 73 minutes.
Benson headed over a Robinson cross inside the six yard box with 15 minutes to go but two minutes later Gray grabbed his second matchball of the season when he raced onto McNulty’s defensive header and confidently dispatched past the advancing goalkeeper.
As news filtered through about Cambridge’s failure to beat Dartford the Town had the ball in the back of the net for a fourth time on 86 minutes but Howells’ effort was ruled out for offside after Belshaw had done well to keep out substitute Mark Cullen’s shot – and that was that.
Town: Tyler; Henry, Griffiths, McNulty, Inniss; Guttridge, Robinson, Howells (sub Martin 86), McGeehan; Benson (sub Cullen 79), Gray. Subs not used: Justham, Franks, Ferdinand.
Attendance: 7,310 (182 Nuneaton)