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16.02.2008 @ 15:00 The Recreation Ground Crowd: 1089
Grays Athletic 0 - 2 Exeter City
Referee: M Stewart Conference National-Match

None Wayne Carlisle (22)
Adam Stansfield (29)
Starting Line-ups
Ross Flitney
Jamie Stuart
Jon Ashton
Santos Gaia
Simon Downer
Jack Obersteller
Jamie Day
Ernie Cooksey
Michael Standing
Aaron O'Connor
Scott Taylor
Andy Marriott
Steve Tully
Robert Edwards
Daniel Seaborne
George Friend
Mathew Gill
Dean Moxey
Wayne Carlisle
Andy Taylor
Adam Stansfield
Richard Logan
Danny Knowles
Andy Sambrook
Neil McCafferty
Danny Kedwell
Ben Watson
Paul Jones
Steve Basham
Lee Elam
Bertrand Cozic
Jon Richardson
Danny Kedwell -> Scott Taylor (56)
Ben Watson -> Jack Obersteller (66)
Neil McCafferty -> Michael Standing (80)
Yellow cards
Jon Ashton (87)
Red cards
None None
Match report |

Defensive gaffes cost Grays dear as Grecians earn three points

The sight of a near-deserted New Recreation Ground with five minutes remaining summed up Grays' season as two embarrassing defensive blunders handed a victory to play-off contenders Exeter City.

Grays had started well. A revamped 4-4-2 formation saw plenty of positives in the first 20 minutes.

In the third minute Santos Gaia played a deft through ball to the energetic Aaron O'Connor whose shot just went wide.

He started to combine well with Scott Taylor and in the 17th minute played an intricate chest down into the path of Taylor. Though it came to nothing the move promised better to come.

Ernie Cooksey was working hard as the water-carrier in defence and also made some lung-bursting moves to join the attack.

But it was the defence that looked out of sorts. From the start it looked like the distracted Jon Ashton from the FA Trophy replay had turned up. He seemed to play like a man wondering if he had left the gas on at home.

In the 21st minute, Exeter midfielder George Friend delivered a speculative cross from the left which Jamie Stuart headed into the path of an unmarked Wayne Carlisle. He made no mistake as he rifled the shot into the top right hand corner of the goal.

The goal was Stuart's fault and perhaps Santos Gaia as well but special mention has to be made once again of Jack Obersteller.

Like last week at York, he seems to think that tracking back is an option or indeed beneath him. Before the goal, Gary Phillips gently asked him to track back. He continued to jog back in first gear when a more committed player would have been able to cover Carlisle should the ball, as it did, fall into his path.

Exeter's midfield and attack hassled and challenged everything that moved. Things got even worse for Grays. In the 27th minute, Ashton's pass back to Ross Flitney went straight past the keeper. The Grecian's nippy striker, Adam Stansfield seized the chance and put the ball home into the empty net for their second.

Woking came back from being two-nil down against Exeter on Wednesday but there was no chance of Grays doing this.

The players were flat while the Grecians were on their toes the whole time.

O'Connor hadn't given up. In the 32nd minute he again met a Gaia pass. His shot dipped over the keeper Andy Marriot but he managed to get his fingertips to it to concede a corner.

The half ended with another defensive blunder by Stuart but this time Carlisle could not convert the chance.

Half time was flat. The 200 Exeter fans were in good voice but the other 800 Grays fans expressed their growing discontent in the clubhouse and burger bar.

The Grays players traipsed on for the second half but to their credit they looked determined not to lose the second half. They re-organsed into a 3-5-2 bringing the previously peripheral Michael Standing into the middle.

In the 48th minute Standing hit the bar with a thunderous shot outside the box. The portents looked good. In the 55th minute, Danny Kedwell came on for Taylor and immediately brought his brand of commitment into the game. He had a fair shout for a penalty and started to disrupt things.

But the Grecians had learned from Wednesday. They continued to be on their toes, first to the ball and absolutely driven. They have their eye on a play-off berth and look like a team on the march.

Grays have the hand of fate over them even though they really tried. Jamie Day spread the game, Cooksey tried to get round the back and Ben Watson came to on bring his drive but they never truly threatened. But it was hard to think of a concrete chance as they were effectively shackled and snuffed out by Exeter.

At the other end Exeter midfielder George Friend had four half chances but never fully connected with any of them.

As the match petered out, the crowd drifted away. It seemed symbolic that as the final whistle went, the players had nobody to acknowledge. The lights were on but nobody was home After the game, Exeter boss Paul Tisdale was happy with the three points.

He said: "It was gritty, winning ugly but it was three points. After losing a 2-0 lead on Wednesday I was very pleased that the boys dug in.

"We look as far as Farsley next week but performances like this will keep us in the running come May."

The question will be, where do Grays go from here? They have now slipped to 14th in the league and although 15 points ahead of Farlsey Celtic, it is difficult to see three points coming soon with Stevenage and Torquay waiting.

After that, they have a relatively smooth finish to the season in which they can start to rebuild. They could do well to have a long hard look at a set-up such as Exeter, on and off the pitch, to see examples of good practice.

The question has to be asked, has Justin Edinburgh taken the team as far as it can go? He appears like a man in debt who thinks that one more loan will sort out his problems when in fact the time may have come to cut his cloth or cut his losses.

Would Grays Athletic be better served by a new management team with a fresh pair of eyes, who can use the final third of the season to restructure? Is it a matter of perestroika or simply a pair of strikers? Only time will tell.

By Michael Casey
Thanks to the Thurrock Gazette for the match report