Canvey Island humbled promotion-hopefuls Grays for the second time in six days on Monday in a game that will be remembered for an unsavoury dust-up between Blues defenders Jamie Stuart and John Nutter.
Stuart was sent off by referee Gavin Ward, for aiming a punch at Nutter after the left back had lambasted his senior colleague for his failure to deal with Canvey’s impressive young striker Jason Hallett.
With the scores locked at 1-1 the sending off proved decisive as just minutes after, Dwain Clarke escaped the attentions of substitute Joe Bruce, to slot home Canvey’s winner.
Afterwards, Grays boss, Mark Stimson, refused to criticise Stuart for his recklessness and instead questioned the future of one or two of his other players.
”I’ll back Stuart 100 per cent because if someone had let me down like that today I possibly would have knocked the fella out but he didn’t,” said Stimson. “He said he didn’t make contact and I back him 100 per cent.
”Obviously there’s a line you cross but Jamie Stuart’s a winner and he’s been frustrated in the last couple of weeks that certain people haven’t been pulling their weight.”
Given Stimson’s reluctance to condemn Stuart it seems likely that it will be Nutter and not the ex-Charlton man who will be punished for the on-field spat and there must be a strong possibility that the 23-year-old will never play for the club again.
Thought not naming names, Stimson said afterwards that he wants to get rid of a number of his players in the next few weeks and it seems likely that Nutter is one of those men.
Stimson said: “I’ve asked questions of some of the players in the dressing room and asked them to be men and rip up their contracts and go somewhere else. But I don’t think they will because some of them are not men.
”We’ve got a break now before our next game and have a bit of sorting out to do; one point out of nine over the Christmas period is not good enough.”
Grays were rightly criticised by many of their fans for their lame performance at home to Canvey six days earlier but there wasn’t too much wrong with their application here in the return fixture.
They were bright on the ball, especially in the first half and created enough chances to win the game, but yet again it was their defending that was found wanting.
”The first game I didn’t play it up as much as them because you can only get three points from it and they possibly played with a bit more passion. The Stevenage game was better and again today we looked bright with the ball. But it’s not all about what you do with the ball sometimes you have to roll your sleeves up, defend and put your head in front of people.”
Grays welcomed back Stevland Angus after a three-game ban for the match and Ade Olayinka replaced Glenn Poole on the left of midfield.
Blues began bursting with intent and could have taken the lead after their first attack of the match when Chris Duffy’s back pass got caught in the mud but Michael Kightly couldn’t dab the ball over Danny Potter.
The visitors weren’t to be denied though and from the ensuing corner they edged in front. John Martin’s shot kick was eventually worked to Stuart Thurgood, whose cross found Kightly at the back post and the ex-Southend man had the simple task of tapping home.
Kightly, who has been one of Grays’ few positives in recent weeks, was causing the Gulls’ backline no end of problems and he had the ball in the net again minutes later but was denied by a debateable off-side flag.
Blues were in total command but let Canvey back into the game in the 14th minute with what Stimson later called an embarrassing piece of defending.
Ben Chenery’s quick free kick caught Angus sleeping, which allowed Hallett to surge through and fire past Nicky Eyre.
The goal allowed Canvey to gain a foothold in the game and the remainder of the half was nip and tuck.
Kightly went close for Blues when he dived to meet Tony Battersby’s cross but couldn’t keep his header down and Gills’ exotically-names midfielder Mario Noto forced Eyre into a good save with his legs.
The second half continued in much the same fashion with Kightly again close with a shot that was cleared off the line by Chenery.
Then came a mad five minute spell which saw Grays miss a gilt-edged chance, Stuart see red and Canvey net the winner.
Dennis Oli was the man guilty of missing Grays’ chance as yet again he lost his composure in front of goal.
Played clean through by a perfectly weighted ball by Martin, the 21-year-old burst into the Canvey area but ballooned his shot horribly wide with just Potter to beat.
The hosts then broke swiftly at the other end with Hallett leading the charge. The 19-year-old shook off the attentions of Stuart and Andy Sambrook and sent a fizzing shot just over tha bar.
Nutter ran across from left back to remonstrate with Stuart, who it has to be said, did let Hallett in far too easily and that sparked the bout of fisticuffs which culminated in Stuart’s red card.
Kightly was sacrificed for Bruce as Stimson tried to plug the hold in his defence but things went from bad to worse minutes later when Dwain Clarke netted the winner.
Another long ball from defence wasn’t dealt with by the Grays defenders and Hallett flicked on for Clarke who out-muscled and then out-paced Bruce and slotted home.
Grays huffed and puffed in search of an equaliser but resorted to long-ball tactics in their efforts to equalise.
This was playing into the hands of Canvey’s giant defenders and the home side hung on to secure the double scalp of their near-neighbours.
Report by Ryan Goad
Thanks to the Thurrock Gazette for the match report