ANYONE who watched Burnley and Hull being humiliated against Spurs and Liverpool respectively would have seen two teams who will be relegated at the end of the season. The chasm is too big, the budgets imcomparable and the talent chasm unbridgeable.
Down at the bottom of the Blue Square Premier, things are somewhat different and for that reason, Grays Athletic fans should keep the faith that their team will be able to dig themselves out of the hole they are in.
What are the problems at the moment and how can they be addressed?
For starters: Lee Butcher needs to stay on his line. During games he stands a quarter the way up the pitch. There isn’t any reason for this unless he wants a better view. This is a fatal habit as proved on saturday. One recalls watching Peter Shilton going through what was basically a circuit training session when the ball was up the pitch and thinking, if that is good enough for 120 caps Shilts then what are you doing standing getting cold? The loan agreement with Spurs may have stipulated him playing and he has pulled off many good saves but it is a shame that a player of such outstanding ability such as Preston Edwards is being left on the bench.
It appears that the partnership of Anwar Uddin and Gavin Hoyte are too similar. Hoyte has been massacred on the forums but did little wrong on saturday. He comes apart against those class apart attackers but did quite a good job with Uddin on saturday of coping with an effervescent Sean Rigg. You just feel that a player with more mobility, sweeping across would be better suited. At some stage in the match, thew two man mountains seem statuesque and all it takes is someone to by-pass them to score.
The question is: are they being provided with enough cover in midfield. There is no doubt that it has balance but is it effective? Needless to say this brings us to the question of Paolo Vernazza. In the same way that everything about Peter Crouch says that he should be a s*** footballer; Paolo looks like he should be a class apart midfielder who will dominate each and every match with defence splitting balls and variety of deft touches. Instead, you rack your brains to remember the highlights in his game. Woking fans will say, tell me about it. For Grays fans they may well say that the last thing they need is another Charley Hearn, playing a cameo in his own career. Alongside him, Daryl Robson has been equally subdued, keeping the shape but not producing a single cross field ball, defence splitting bass or move of note that will change the game.
The flanks are a different story: Glen Poole understands what is needed and is looking for outlets. He flourished with Charge and Rnkovic creating runs against Stevenage but with Slabber on saturday he found a creative cul-de-sac.
On the other flank, Kenny Davis is flourishing with his extended run and needs time to develop a telepathic understanding with Cammy Mawer. At times on saturday, you weren’t sure if Cammy was carrying an injury. Grays can ill afford to be without him unless move him into the centre and bring back Sam Long who so impressed last year but has strangley been forgotten this season. The same applies to George Beavan who also shone last season but has been ditched after the first poor game. Craig Braham-Barrett doesn’t seem to have to worry about that. He appears to be performing in his own formation. He had a better game against FGR but his distribution is awful and his rampaging runs flatter to deceive as at the moment he needs to pull the trigger he simply fluffs his lines.
A decent combo up front is key: Petar Rnkovic and Daniel Charge looked on fire for a large part of the Stevenage game. With Slabber it was like having the handbrake on and as much as Slabber’s work ethic has been appreciated, he is holding the team back.
The problem is: there is hardly an embarrassment of riches on the bench. Not enough to keep you in the Blue Square Premier.
There is no doubt that Julian Dicks and the team are about to get back into the transfer market but it may be important that problems that cannot be solved overnight are clearly coming into play.
The team have no collective identity: No blue shirts being worn in the town, no team training in the borough, dwindling audiences both at home and away. In the grand scheme of things, Andy Swallow has all these issues in hand but does the club have enough in footballing terms alone to merge a team spirit? Let us hope so.
Julian Dicks is only in his third game, Kenny Brown has only had one. With Rachel Anderson Management involved you would expect that the problem gaps can be filled by league quality players coming in to make their presence felt.
In the meantime, let us hope that the fans get behind Grays. Unlike Burnley and Hull they are not being massacred but simply losing out to the odd mistake. These are dark days indeed but as that football fan John Milton said: “Long is the way and hard that leads up to light”
Paradise hasn’t been lost, just mis-laid.