Grays slump to disorganised defeat
An anxious and demoralised Grays Athletic slumped to Blue Square Premier defeat against an industrious Kidderminster Harriers on Saturday.
Harriers had been buoyed by their 6-0 victory against Stafford in mid-week and started tenaciously with the robust Iyseden Christie proving a handful. As early as the sixth minute he turned crisply in the area producing a fine save from Ross Flitney.
From early on, Grays' midfield seemed to be struggling with their roles. The plan had been for Andy Sambrook to play the anchor, Michael Standing and Ben Watson to create and Jamie Taylor and Marlon Patterson to provide width.
However, Jamie Taylor seemed to have no concept of the responsibilities of a right sided midfielder. As last week with Aaron O'Connor, the coaching staff set about trying to coach a performance from him.
In the 12th minute Patterson produced some neat work on the left, forcing a corner, The corner was swung over by Standing but keeper Chris Mackenzie punched clear.
It was a rare opportunity as Harriers started to open up Grays' midfield that had completely lost its shape. Watson was working hard but neat passing was exposing the fact that three of the midfielders were playing out of position.
In the 19th minute, Harriers captain and talisman Mark Creighton came close with a strong header from a Alex Jeannin corner as Russell Penn and Darryl Nights seemed to have acres of space and time.
A goal looked on the cards and it arrived in the 23rd minute. Knights received the ball just outside the box. Unchallenged, he set his sights and released a thunderbolt shot past the flailing Flitney.
The visitors' coaching staff rang the changes and Jamie Taylor moved up front.
Grays play continued to lack cohesion. It took the experienced Andy Sambrook to turn to the bench, hold his palms up as if to ask: "What are we doing?"
The players continued to scramble in the dark. Danny Kedwell worked extremely hard up front, keeping to his brief to keep three defenders busy.
In the 31st minute, Russel Penn burst through once more but the excellent Flitney did just enough to palm the ball away for a corner.
Confusion reigned. All four coaches continued to shout order after order after order but Grays were drowning in a sea of instruction and advice.
In the 40th minute, Aaron O'Connor who had been dropped after an ineffective display on the right side against Torquay was suddenly reinstated. Ben Watson was taken off and made it very clear how he felt.
Jon Ashton came off at half time as Sambrook returned to defence and Jamie Day went into midfield.
Day brought solidity to the midfield. In the 48th minute he forced a free kick. Standing's kick cut through the defence but Grays couldn't find the final touch.
Grays tried to find some momentum. Jamie Stuart played a wonderful ball from defence which zoomed down the left flank. Jamie Taylor chased it down, got in the area but his shot hit the side netting.
Patterson started to look jittery and treated the ball like a grenade, making mistake after mistake. He looked at the bench like four teachers peering over your shoulder in an exam.
Grays' timing started to go awol. Mistimed tackles by Kedwell and Day brought yellow cards and if the passing wasn't bad enough, the shooting was abysmal. Special mention has to got to O'Connor's effort on the hour mark which should have earned three points but only in Rugby.
Harriers should have wrapped it up in the 74th minute when Christie found Dean Bennett in space just inside the box. but with only Flitney to beat, he blasted the ball over.
Grays had nothing to offer and looked tense, anxious and unhappy.
Simon Downer, as usual, tried to take the lead. In the 79th minute he produced a sublime cross field ball for Jack Obersteller but his shot flashed over the bar.
At the other end Christie had another gilt-edged chance to put the game beyond doubt but Downer put in a superb last ditch tackle.
When referee Mr Cummins blew the final whistle, the players - in contrast to last week's triumph - looked totally depressed.
The management staff attempted to have a post-mortem on the pitch after the game but Simon Downer, an astute and proud professional was obviously having none of it and as he walked away and made his feelings quite clear to Neil Smith.
After the game, boss Mike Woodward reflected on his first defeat.
He said: "A bad day at the office. I take my hat off to Kidderminster ,who played well. I'm not making excuses but a sickness bug has decimated the team. That's why Jon Ashton had to go off.
"But the midfield looked naive.
"I've learnt today. You learn all the time and I am man enough to admit this. I'll ring the changes on Tuesday."
Grays will be disappointed that for the third time this season they produced an abysmal performance on the back of a high-flying scalp.
With 14 games to go, everyone has to decide whether this is an opportunity or a problem.
The players clearly looked very, very unhappy. The younger ones looked cowed and the stronger more experienced ones clearly want a clearer line of communication.
There is no doubt that the four coaches mean well. They wouldn't be there if they didn't but cooks and broths is only a cliche because it is true.
Tim O'Shea has never been a manager and although his advice was gold-dust last week, this week he cut a distant and mute figure. The other three stand or fall together but his body language conveys the feeling of either a man passing though or an intense aloofness that could have set the players on edge and alienated them. At the same time, before the match, he spoke to each player individually with great warmth. Time will tell for Tim.
Then again, perhaps the coaches have an extremely difficult job. The cupboard, even after 37 players used this season look bare and they are trying their best with what is available.
Credit to Woodward. He is not barking orders like a demonic despot but rather trying to rule by committee. His heart is in the right place..
There is nothing worse than being at work and loathing every minute. This is the way it appeared for some today.
Perhaps the arcane tactics and intense exhortations need to stop and the simple message of express yourself, enjoy your football and love the ball could pay dividends while everyone searches for a longer term solution.
Otherwise there could be a serious falling out on the pitch and it would be a tragedy were many of these players, especially the outstanding defenders, to take their trade elsewhere.
By Michael Casey
Thanks to the Thurrock Gazette for the match report