28.10.2006 @ 15:00 The Recreation Ground
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FA Cup / 4th Qualifying Round-Match
FRANK Gray's spell as Grays manager came to an abrupt end after Saturday's shock FA Cup defeat to Ryman Premier Division leaders Bromley at the New Rec.
The Scotsman was sacked over the phone by chairman Mick Woodward immediately after the game despite just 18 games in charge of the FA Trophy holders.
Gray's dismissal, though banded about by disenchanted fans, came as much a surprise as his side's defeat to Bromley.
Blues looked like they had recovered from a slump that saw them slide from first to ninth in the Conference table but this lacklustre defeat proved to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back.
This always looked a tricky tie: Bromley are racing away with the Ryman Premier Division and are quite clearly too good for the division they are in.
That said, Grays should have had too much armoury for the Lillywhites but their big guns never showed. Quite literally in the case of top scorer Aaron McLean who could only watch on from the bench after picking up a back injury in training on Thursday.
Quite why he was on the bench if not fit enough to play, I don't know but it was symptomatic of a number of strange decisions made by Gray during his time in charge.
Gray said: "Aaron didn't train on Friday because of a back problem and it stiffened up today. We thought he might have been ok from the bench but as he sat there he said his back was too sore and we knew that yesterday. But sometimes you have to take chances We had another striker on the bench in Jamie Slabber but it wasn't to be."
Despite one or two questionable decisions made by Gray during his time in charge (his deployment of Lee Boylan as a midfielder and his faith in Jay Smith spring to mind) the decision does seem a tad harsh on the man who, let's not forget, has guided Grays to just three points from the play-offs.
Gray is a very likable man who was always facing a difficult job following in the footsteps of Mark Stimson, the most successful manager in the club's history. Senior players revealed his attention to detail was second to none and his preparation for games was meticulous.
But there was the nagging feeling that certain players never took to him and in particular the more cautious tactics he favoured. That being the case it appeared only a matter of time before he was given his marching orders.
Gray's final game in charge was indicative of the problems he has faced during his short spell in charge.
Individual errors cost his side dear and when they were behind they just didn't seem to have the belief to come back.
A manager can't legislate for individual mistakes but where Gray can't be defended is that if you study the defeats he has overseen, the majority of mistakes have been committed by players he has brought to the club.
The hapless Smith readily springs to mind, but Jim Sangare too has been culpable - both centre backs he brought to the club.
And it was a mistake by a third centre back brought in by Gray that arguably cost him his job. Chris Plummer's slip seven minutes before the interval gifted Lloyd Blackman the opportunity to net his second of the game and what turned out to be Bromley's winner.
The former Woking man had earlier put the visitors ahead after a lapse by another of Gray's dubious recruits Adam Green, but Lee Boylan cancelled it out with his first goal for Grays.
Those two strikes and an effort from Sam Wood that was hacked off the line by Gray were the Lillywhite's only shots of note in a half dominated by Blues.
Glenn Poole and Dennis Oli both went close before Blackman opened the scoring in the 11th minute. Green let full back Mark Coneille walk into the Grays box and when his shot was deflected into the air by Jamie Stuart, Blackman was on hand to volley past Ashley Bayes.
The hosts could have equalised two minutes later when Michael Kightly's delightful free kick struck and upright as Blues continued to pin back their opponents and their pressure told in the 31st minute.
Dennis Oli flicked on Kightly's cross and Boylan slid in at the back post to net his first goal since joining Blues in the summer.
The hosts' lead lasted just seven minutes though as the costly slip from Plummer let in Blackman who made no mistake in firing past the stranded Bayes.
Grays were out early for the second half showing an indication to fight for a place in the First Round but that fight never materialised.
Indeed it was Bromley who came closest to extending their lead in the opening exchanges of the half. First Nic McDonnell blazed over the bar from Peter Adeniyi's knock down and then Blackman tried for his hat-trick with a crafty chip that Bayes just about reeled in.
Gray threw on Jamie Slabber and Stuart Thurgood in a desperate attempt to salvage a replay at least but you always got the feeling it was going to be one of those days.
Slabber was guilty of a woeful miss after being played through by Kightly, yet again Grays' best player, when he dragged his shot wide and then shot straight at visiting keeper Andy Walker from barely 10 yards out.
Poole's crisp volley from Thurgood's sweeping cross fizzed across goal and the ex-Thurrock man went close again in injury time with a pot-shot that rippled the side-netting.
But, it wasn't to be for Grays or their manager who paid the highest price for his side's errors.
By Ryan Goad
Thanks to the Thurrock Gazette for the report.