The pain of defeat was visibly etched on the face of every player as they sloped off the Northwich pitch after the ninth defeat in a row on the road against the bottom side 2-0.
If you tend to think that loan players can’t play for the shirt then this was an example of how wrong you could be. With professionalism, for the majority, comes the hunger of competitiveness; and with that hunger comes the bitter taste when you are beaten.
The team was trying its best. These were eleven men who played like a team, were a huge improvement on the performance against Rushden but still lost against the team most likely to be relegated.
This is a results business and nobody is more acutely aware of this than Wayne Burnett.
For all the sympathy, the poor finishes, the poor first touches, the lack of creativity in midfield, the crass fouls given away at vital times, the aimless crosses - all condemned the team to another defeat.
Wayne Burnett believes that some of these players aren’t good enough. That’s his call and maybe he has to face up to his employer. Who he means, one is not entirely sure. Stefan Bailey’s name is the first that comes to mind. Ever since the towel was thrown in for him against Crawley he has looked out of his depth at this level but at the same time, like Mark Marshall, you would not be surprised if he turned up at a League side.
Sam Sloma had a bad game. His hesitancy in the 63rd minute was symptomatic of the team. He has been one of the teams better players this season but at least he tried to get down to the dead ball line.
Simon Thomas looked a class apart: Strong and dynamic. He has scored a goal every two games at Boreham Wood and you can see why Crystal Palace gave him a chance however since coming to Grays he hasn’t looked remotely like scoring.
Who else is there? This situation is not doing David Button’s confidence any good at all but Kenny Davis seems to be thriving. Gavin Dayes has impressed but then made two terrible mistakes. In the 69th minute, he lunged into veteran Trevor Benjamin just outside the box. At this point, Northwich were just starting to find their feet. Matty Crowell, who had been lively all game took the free kick, which found a deflection and in.
Could Grays respond? Absolutely not. You can’t condemn the team for trying. Sean Rigg up front and Luke Hickie in midfield were also trying hard but they were never ever getting beyond the gameline, never passing players, never producing a ball that is going to take the opposition apart. At crucial times, the pass would go astray or the move would lead to nothing.
Looking back on this reporter’s notes, you can see plenty of positives.
In the 2nd minute, Gavin Dayes and Kenny Davis put in a couple of great covering tackles that seemed a great declaration of intent. The whole team were on their toes. In the 22nd minute, Simon Thomas ran down a Vics defender forcing a corner. The corner went astray but Thomas, Rigg and Hickie really impressed with the ability to put the opposition under pressure.
However when Grays got the ball it seemed like a hot potato with the ball soon going astray and a fundamental lack of creativity or potent force. There was also a chasm between midfield and attack.
In the 43rd minute a Sloma cross had no-one there to meet it. In the 46th minute Sean Rigg got to the dead ball line but again there was no-one there to meet it.
This reporter still doesn’t know what to make of Stuart Thurgood’s performance and there is a danger of judging him by his high standards of a couple of years ago. But he does play like a man at the end of his career, playing the percentages and sometimes on memory. For the first half an hour his corners and free kicks were woefully underwhelming. The trouble is he is only 26. Yes, he was the most upset at losing. He applauded the fans at the end with an earnest apology. Having said that, the Northwich journalists had him as man of the match.
The second goal in the 83rd ninute was symptomatic of the situation the team is in. Another free kick suckered by Benjamin. From the bench, Neil Smith could see that Darryn Stamp was not being picked up and sure enough as the ball came over, Jamie Stuart and Gavin Dayes hesitated and the wily Darryn Stamp stepped in to head the ball home.
So where does Wayne go from here? This is his first time managing at this level so he is under scrutiny. He has to discover whether he is good enough. With the players at his disposal he certainly made all the right changes but it will now be interesting to see who goes out and who comes in. Instinct says that there has been so much disruption and so much change that stability would do no harm. Perhaps tell these players that they all have the ability to get the team out of this. On the other hand, perhaps Wayne has got it right. If we continue to play with these players then Grays will be relegated.
The tough decisions will have to be made by the Chairman Mick Woodward. He has kept to his promise of restructuring the club and continues to show great patience with the long term goal of a new stadium.
The new stadium has to be developed in line with the regeneration agenda and as part of a sustainable community. He will not want Conference South football next season. At times you think the team could do with a season down, bring on younger players and bounce back. It isn’t as simple as that, just ask York, Oxford and Torquay who all have come to realise that getting out of this league is, for all sorts of reasons a difficult task.
The frustrating thing is that there are very few impressive sides in this league. Crawley looked fast and focussed but everyone else looked beatable. You would have thought that the team just a stone’s throw form London and all the players available in the capital could produce a team capable of heading the Conference.
The press box at Northwich is right behind the dugout and you could feel for the team as Wayne and the squad played every ball and agonised over every mistake. The injured Barry Cogan sat right in front of YourThurrock and was totally involved in the action.
So Woking and the cup competitions await. What can be done? Pay big bucks and get in a midfielder who is going to walk through Conference defences? Another striker with a proven track record? Who knows.
At this stage, it is not about sustainable communities or regeneration masterplans, it is about fifth from bottom.
Report by Michael Casey
Thanks to Your Thurrock for the match report