Grays fall as Cliff edges it
Grays' unbeaten start to the season came to an end on Monday when they went down in disappointing style to newly promoted Histon.
The visitors, who in downing Blues notched their first ever Blues Square Premier win, were methodical, well-drilled and based their game on getting the ball forward as quickly as possible.
But they certainly were not pretty to watch.
It was a shame then that a lacklustre Grays side resorted to similar long ball tactics in a bid to wrestle back the game after they had gone behind to Cliff Akurang's goal minutes after the re-start.
Akurang, a former Thurrock and Dagenham and Redbridge striker, showed an unselfishness in his front running that you would not normally expect from him while Histon's two centre backs, Mathew Mitchel-King and Patrick Ada, were two rocks at the heart of their defence.
Those qualities notwithstanding, Grays still had more than enough quality to beat the Cambridgeshire outfit - as boss Justin Edinburgh said afterwards, they just couldn't work out how to.
"They made it difficult for us and we lacked the initiative in possession of the ball to break them down," said Edinburgh. "There was not much in the game at all. We just didn't show enough guile and in the end ran out of ideas.
"I don't think we kept the ball well enough and ended up playing the way they do, going back to front very quickly.
"I've told the players they have to trust each other. Pass the ball to one another and trust each others' ability."
Grays started sluggishly with Histon midfield pairing John Kennedy and Adrian Cambridge winning the early midfield battle over Charlie Hearn and home debutant Donnie Barnard.
Barnard, who has been signed on a six-month deal after his release from Leyton Orient, looked a yard off the pace and struggled to make any real impression and it was no surprise when he was substituted for Jamie Day at half-time.
Histon's notorious set-pieces posed the most threat. Twice in the opening exchanges, the Blues defence gifted their visitors free headers in the box with Akurang wasting the best chance when he headed straight at Ross Flitney from six yards.
Grays looked most threatening whenever wingers Dennis Oli and James Lawson had the ball and it was the latter who created their first real chance, dancing down the right and crossing for Danny Kedwell who headed over on the stretch.
Ada then made a great last-gasp intervention to deny Ben Watson a run on goal after good work from Oli as Grays began to flicker into life.
But they had a scare on the half hour mark when Histon had the ball in the net. Again it came from a set piece. Gareth Gwillim's corner was pulled back to Kennedy whose shot pinballed around the area before falling to Akurang who headed beyond Flitney.
The goal was chalked off though when the referee noticed his assistant had, rightly, raised his flag for offside.
Blues then found their best form of the game.
Kedwell bulldozed his way through two challenges and set-up Ben Watson whose shot was bravely blocked by Gwillim.
And from the ensuing corner, Kedwell should have scored but headed wide of the post from close range.
Ten minutes before the interval Lawson showed wonderful skills to side-step two tackles before sending a curling effort towards the top corner that was acrobatically tipped away by Mark Osborn.
But they couldn't carry that form over into the second half and the decisive goal came soon after when Akurang escaped Ernie Cooksey on Grays' left and powered towards goal.
Flitney seemed a bit late to come from his line which allowed Akurang time to pick his spot and he fired in at the keeper's near post. Despite throwing on Aaron O'Connor for the ineffectual Watson, Grays continued to look bereft of ideas and it was Histon who looked the most likely to score again.
On the break, Akurang skipped past Andy Sambrook and sent in a tantalising cross that evaded three Grays players, reaching Jamie Barker at the back post.
Barker could scarcely believe the ball had come to him and completely fluffed his finish, which enabled Cooksey to clear off the line. Grays huffed and puffed but their only real clear-cut chance fell to Lawson who reacted first to a ricochet in the box but, from an acute angle, shot straight at Osborn.
Edinburgh was convinced his side were denied a penalty in the closing stages when sub Mark Marshall's cross looked to have been beaten away by the hand of Erkan Okay only for referee Stretton to wave the appeals away.
But a point would have been the very most Grays deserved from a dire display that has left Edinburgh with plenty to think about.
Thanks to the Thurrock Gazette for the match report