Grays boss slams 'sluggish' players after Ebbsfleet derby disappointment
Grays crashed to their heaviest defeat of the season with this disappointing New Year's Day defeat at Thames neighbours Ebbsfleet United.
The Blues should have made their New Years resolution "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
The game was ideally suited for the 3-4-3 that defeated league leaders Aldershot just three days previously but disastrously Justin Edinburgh went back to 4-3-3.
That formation will beat struggling teams but pays no respect to play-off candidates like Ebbsfleet which the Blues found to their cost.
Ebbsfleet had made the mistake on Boxing Day of failing to cash in on the extra man in midfield, believing that on Grays' poor pitch that the best option was to hoof it up front.
But from the kick off, on an excellent surface, their young tenacious midfield overwhelmed Grays, cut off the supply and got to every second ball.
As early as the first minute Fleet defender James Smith's header just brushed over Ross Flitney's bar.
It was a portent of things to come. Young striker John Akinde moved deep, gathering ball and dragging men with him while Stacy Long, Chris McPhee, Michael Bostwick and Neil Barrett knew they could attack with impunity as they always outnumbered the Grays midfield.
Grays' midfield were trying but they couldn't get out of their half while Danny Kedwell, Aaron O'Connor and Ben Watson had no supply to work with and were easily marshalled.
The chances started to come for Ebbsfleet but none of them were particularly threatening until the 28th minute when Barrett's speculative shot from outside the area seem to leave Ross Flitney unsighted as it flew past him into the goal.
Things got worse just before half time. With Andy Sambrook off the pitch injured, Ebbsfleet seized the advantage. From a free kick, the outstanding Long picked up a ball just outside the box and with time and space picked his spot to put the Fleet 2-0 up.
After half time, the team reverted to 3-4-3 with Michael Standing replacing the injured Andy Sambrook. The team came out with verve and intent, especially Alan Power. For the first time the team looked balanced and the passes started to flow.
The good work bore fruit in the 63rd minute when Power hooked on to a Standing pass and with dextrous skill using both feet, danced past the Fleet defence before shooting into the net.
Grays were back in it but this was a game they were always chasing and though they continued to press, the tiring Ian Selley and fellow midfielders were leaving gaps.
Ebbsfleet exploited them and the 70th minute they hit the bar.
Five minutes later the midfield combined to sweep the ball upfield. Long found Bostwick who rifled it home from close range.
Ebbsfleet were ecstatic while Grays looked defeated. Matters weren't helped off the pitch by banter from the Ebbsfleet fans being met by a tirade of abuse from Grays chairman Mick Woodward that would, according to the rules at the New Rec, have seen him ejected from the ground.
Long capped a great afternoon by scoring the fourth in the 87th minute, once again by a midfielder on the left hand side.
As the whistle went, the bumper crowd of 1,396 celebrated an excellent win as they closed in, just three points behind the play-off places.
After the game, Edinburgh squarely pointed the finger of blame on the players.
He said: "If you don't put anything in, you don't get anything out.
"The players looked sluggish. They are a great bunch but I don't know if they started to believe in their own publicity but you have to put the work in."
Asked if he felt he had made any tactical misjudgments he said: "No. You could have played any formation today. But it is a blip and we will get back to the training ground."
Thanks to the Thurrock Gazette for the match report