James Gray’s mum will have to come to every match now – after she watched her son score in the 1-1 draw with promotion-chasing Southend on Saturday.
Gray’s dad Phil, a former Sunderland and Burnley striker, has watched Stanley a number of times this season as his son has been in and out of the Reds squad.
But this time it was the 20-year-old’s mum who got to cheer only his second league goal.
“My dad wasn’t there but it was the first time my mum’s ever seen me play,” said the striker, who has had to be patient after scoring against Port Vale in August.
“It was nice to start and to get a goal with her watching.”
Gray was a surprise name on the teamsheet, having not made the squad in some games this season but he did his chance of starting at Exeter on Friday night no harm with a well taken 58th minute goal – while also carving a number of other chances out for himself which he couldn’t put away.
“I knew I was in the team on Friday and I had a job to do which was to stretch their back four so that (Rommy) Boco, Beatts (James Beattie) and Laurence (Wilson) could get on the ball and have more space.
“Basically the gaffer told me to get in behind all the time and I got my reward with a goal.
“I haven’t featured as much as I would like lately but the gaffer gave me my chance. That’s football. You can’t rest on your laurels and you can’t feel sorry for yourself or the game will swallow you up. I’ve kept myself fit and sharp and hopefully I can stay in the team now.
“All you can do is keep working hard, keep plugging away and be ready when called upon.”
Gray admitted he didn’t let a miss when he was one-on-one with the keeper in the first half prey on his mind.
“I think I probably should have scored that but the defender did well and nudged me in the back,” he said.
“At half-time, the lads said that if I scored everyone would forget about the other chances.
“I made a run out wide and Rommy found me. I always try to shift onto my left foot because I’m quite good technically with my left foot and luckily for me it went in. A few of the lads joked that they fancied me for first scorer before the game so I had a look for Luke Clark in the crowd but I couldn’t find him.
“I was really pleased to score because I felt I owed the lads one from the first half.
“I probably could have had a hat-trick but I’m happy with my goal and my performance. Unfortunately we couldn’t hold on for the three points.”
Gray was involved in most of the major incidents on the day – including the one which saw Southend defender Ryan Cresswell sent off for reacting after the two clashed near the dug-outs.
“We had a bit of a battle all day,” said Gray. “He’s a good defender. I went up for a header and I probably did just catch him unintentionally in the face.
“He grabbed me by the neck. I didn’t want to get him sent off but you can’t do that.”
Even though 10-men Southend came back and earned a point with a Kevan Hurst wonder goal, Gray believes there are plenty of positives to build on from Saturday. “The gaffer, Paul Stephenson and Paul Lodge told us that’s the best we’ve played for a few weeks and that we’ve set our standards. We can’t let those standards drop now.
“Everyone looks at the table and it’s not looking too good at the moment but you can see from Saturday that Southend are up there and will beat most teams but we played them off the park.
“We could easily have had the three points, they had one shot in the second half and scored which is frustrating.”
Now Gray’s aim is to keep his place in the starting XI.
“I can’t have one good game in five. Top players perform consistently and that’s why they stay in the team. I’m happy with this performance but I want to keep going.
“I think I’ve got two goals in four starts so one goal every two games would be great if I could keep it up.
“Exeter is going to be a real test for us. At home the onus is on you to get forward but when you play away you probably get a bit more space in behind to play. We’re looking forward to the next game and hopefully we can get the three points.”