Grays started brightly with a series of corners in the first ten minutes. One flashed through the defence but Barry Cogan’s reflex header pinged just over.
Grays, with their resources stretched, tried to make the most of centre half Jon Ashton up front. He lost every single header and still seemed to play gingerly but as the game progressed he produced a series of deft touches.
Grays were holding their own but as twenty minutes elapsed they mistook confidence for ability as they began to deliver a host of unforced errors.
This spurred an equally makeshift Carlisle on as former Liverpool player Danny Graham started to take control. In the 26th minute the deadlock was broken when he sent in a well timed cross to target man Jeff Smith who stepped in front of Jamie Stuart to fire home from close range.
Carlisle took control; with Grays punting up long balls to the impotent Andre McCollins they were able to dictate.
Although Grays had a thunderous start to the second half as the superb Sloma went close twice, many of the attacks were based on pinging the ball into the box to see what would happen. It didn’t work for Grays, but it worked for Carlisle and in the 51st minute a goalmouth melee left the durable Graham Kavanagh with an easy tap-in from close range.
Kavanagh and Graham bossed the midfield and rather showed up Stuart Thurgood who spent the game playing within himself without urgency, passion or fight. Grays needed a 'Plan B' but were so short on the bench that there really wasn’t an option.
They should have scored again but Marc Bridge-Wilkinson’s penalty, following a Fabian Wilnis handball, hit the bar and Kavanagh’s follow up was adjudged offside.
Ishmael Welsh tried his best on the left wing but Grays had no firepower up front. McCollins broke free in the 74th minute but his sliced shot summed up his afternoon.
With Grays sitting second from bottom in the Blue Square Premier, this game had taken the form of an un-necessary distraction. The fans had enjoyed the trip to Carlisle and there was an infectious buzz about the first replay but by Saturday the feeling was that the FA Cup had become part of the problem and not part of the solution.
Where do Grays go from here? It's all about finding two strikers who will start to score goals. Once they scored against Oxford, the McCollins-Forrester partnership seemed to have something about it but they looked to have no understanding whatsoever against Lewes.
McCollins looked hopelessly out of his depth against Carlisle and not much better against Lewes. Hopefully, Jamie Slabber can re-ignite his career at this last chance saloon.
The midfield and defence seemed settled. Rob Gier has always appeared overweight and slow. He refuses to produce probing runs down the wing because he can’t get back. Kenny Davis can do that but you can tell that Wayne Burnett doesn’t rate him highly enough.
He didn’t rate Simon Downer either and so we are approaching a month when Wayne will be judged as either a young gun manager with something about him or just another ex-player who cannot seem to get the best out of players or judge the mood.
It's hard to assess the mood. At training in Loughton, the squad seemed happy and relaxed. Other sources suggest there may be rifts.
Gavin Dayes had a sound game after his nightmare at Lewes. One wouldn’t rush Ashton back. Losing every single header seemed very worrying. The midfield look good. If Thurgood continues to remain teacher’s pet then that is going to disrupt the squad.
Wayne embarassed players in public on Tuesday night against Chelmsford; “They're taking the p*** out of you”.
Did he say to Thurgood yesterday: “You're hiding son and you're unfit”? Thinks not.
Sam Sloma has worked his socks off to get fit and is the talisman for the team. He is the one person on the park who knows how to get this team out of trouble. Barry Cogan comes alive in fits and starts but is still a wonderful talent as is Ishmael Welsh but they need strikers of equal standing if the team are going to survive.
Report by Michael Casey
Thanks to Your Thurrock for the match report