Grays succumbed to an 89th minute header by Eastbourne’s Matthew Smart as the part-timers smashed and grabbed the three points at the New Rec.
On the eve of the season, it was clear that the key to success or failure in a vital vital season was going to be the midfield and its level of consistency that was so sorely missing last year.
Grays produced their fifth different quartet in their fifth game. Sam Sloma, man of the match against Northwich couldn’t even make it to the bench.
But to be fair, the midfield started well and seemed to be the perfect blend. Quicksilver Welsh on one side, the classy Bailey, the irrepressible Thurgood and the incisive Cogan.
In the first minute, Barry Cogan put through a sublime chip for Jamie Taylor that the excellent Paul Armstrong did well to stop. In the 5th, Stefan Bailey released Ishmael Welsh. He stroked the ball across the box to Cogan but his goal sense this season is woeful and the ball went tamely passed the goal.
Eastbourne were under pressure and you could sense that chip away at this team and an avalanche of goals could come. When Barry Cogan was upended n the 9th minute, the referee pointed straight to the spot. Jamie Taylor picked the ball up but Stuart Thurgood took it off him. Thurgood then hit it exactly as Danny Kedwell has done twice this season.
Whatever the arrangements, it bothered Taylor and the team lost their cohesion. They were still comfortable against the part-timers and new boys to the division but the team collectively started to sense that they had two men up front who although full of confidence at the end of last season and in the pre-seasons, now looked slightly desperate for that first goal.
In the 38th minute, Danny Kedwell received a superb diagonal ball but his confidence to hit it first time has temporarily evaporated and he was soon dispossessed.
Throughout the second half, Grays carved out chances but never ever looked like scoring. Worryingly they looked like the team that lost 2-0 to Weymouth last October to go fifth from bottom.
Danny Kedwell was coming deeper and deeper. He was doing his best but they looked a striker short. Several crosses went into the box especially a lovely move by Jamie Taylor but there was no-one there.
Grays pressed on. In the 8nd minute, Mark Molesley was denied by a superb tackle in the box from Ben Austin. Another Grays sub, debutant Craig Reid brought the ball down superbly in the 89th. He confidently chipped the keeper but again, Robinson reached out and clasped the ball.
In the 89th minute, Matthew Smart got his head to a free kick driven into the area. Ross Flitney grasped thin air and the Sussex side took the three points.
After the game, Stuart Thurgood said: “We created a lot of chances. You don’t take them, then you will be punished. The players will be encouraged by the performance as the goals will come. I’m pleased with my ninety minutes.”
Mick Woodward said he was not in the right frame of mind to be interviewed.
This time last year, Grays were 90 minutes from going top until they lost to Histon 1-0. By October they were fifth from bottom. Now they are sixth from bottom.
This is a poor start. The blame game is an easy one and at its easiest behind a laptop however people pay good money to see people on good money perform in the sporting arena.
The key to the success of the management team last year was they let players breath and develop their game. The midfield are crying out for that. This is a confidence game and so far you can see that far too many players are having their confidence undermind. Many of them have nothing but praise for “Smudger and Tosh”. Mick Woodward is like the rest of us. He loves to win and he is demolished when he loses but when you wear glasses like those, you very rarely see clearly.
The success in the Olympics was borne of very clear management and coaching lines and a decision will need to be made to decide if this team would be better suited to having a strong leader with proven experience and a sense of independence who will stand on the edge of the technical area and lead this team.
Report by Michael Casey
Thanks to Your Thurrock for the match report