A 2-1 DEFEAT by local rivals Ebbsfleet United at Stonebridge Road saw Grays Athletic drop to second from bottom in the Blue Square Premier.
In a nutshell, it was a struggling settled side who were marginally or one-goal better than an unsettled side.
Some may have expected dissent in the ranks following the announcement that all the players are available to be transferred but the players looked relaxed and happy as they warmed up.
Notable absentees were: Glenn Poole, Jamie Slabber, Petar Rnkovic while former captain Cammy Mawer attended but did not play.
Grays started well. Richard Graham hassled early on while it was good to see Wayne Burnett favourite Luke Hickie back while captain (du jour) Harlee Dean looked a natural leader as well as a highly combative tackler.
Diffidence earmarked the early stages as the ball stuck in the air and players struggled to string passes together.
Unfortunately a typical Gavin Hoyte gaffe opened up the scoring in the 9th minute as he spilled the ball just outside the box for the dangerous Magno Vieria to twist and turn and confidentally place the ball past Preston Edwards.
There was no doubt that the players were trying hard but with seven changes from the Worcester game it was very difficult for the players to develop any fluency.
A scrap of a chance came in the 22nd minute but Fleet had much more time on the ball and like Worcester grew in confidence as the game progressed.
A typical move came on the half hour as Grays were hussled off the ball, ex Blue Ishmael Welsh crossed and Veiris far post header just went past the post.
But Grays got back into the game in the 31st minute when Ryan James latched onto a Dean through ball and calmly placed it past Fleet keeper Lance Cronin.
Grays were now back in the game. They had a few more chances before half time with Danny Bunce’s free kick floating harmlessly over everyone’s head while another James shot went harmlessly over.
The second half began brightly for Grays. Preston Edwards launched the ball upfield, it hit a Fleet leg and landed in the keepers arms. The referee adjudged it a backpass. Ryan James’free kick piled into the wall.
It heralded a fine period of possession for Grays as they really started to impose themselves on the game.
Kenny Davis and Richard Graham started to impose themselves more and more with Davis in particularly rampaging, tracking back and asking everything you could of a Blue Square standard player.
In the 55th minute, Davis produced a sparkling run and cross but it just evaded the Blues attackers.
At the other end, Grays were slowly snuffing out Fleet attacks and little defensive touches from O’Baize and Logombe, which sometimes get overlooked were stemming the tide of Fleet attacks.
But you can never discount Ishmael Welsh and he started to skip past the Blues players. Liam Daish implored Ricky Shakes and Darius Charles to feed the nimble winger
In the 70th minute, Ryan James flashed a shot across the goal as Julian Dicks implored his team to gamble. Alex Osbourn and Fola Onibuje came on as the Blues boss believed the three points were there for the taking. Fola Onibuje could have scored with his first touch as he latched onto a Dean cross but the tall Nigerian just couldn’t get enough power in his header.
But all the good work from Grays was undone in the 78th minute when Ricky Shakes burst from midfield, into space and kept his cool from inside the box to place the ball under Preston Edwards to regain the lead.
In the 81st minute, Onibuje put in darting cross that found Richard Graham on the far post but Dean Pooley did enough to bundle the ball away.
Ebbsfleet held firm for the last ten minutes to secure a vital three points but keep both teams in the relegation zone.
Due to reporting restrictions, YourThurrock are not permitted to interview neither Grays management nor the players.
Grays Ath (4-4-2)
Edwards P, O’Baze D, Hoyte G, Logombe A, Bunce D, Davis K, Graham R, Hickie L Dean H,Reid J (Osborn A 68), James R (Onibuje F 73)
Subs not used: Crowther B, , Cissoko A, , Vernazza P
Ebbsfleet United (4-4-2)
Cronin L, Salmon W, Pooley D, Holmes P, Vieira M, Stavrinou A, Welsh I, Bailey S, Shakes R, Crooks L, Charles D
Subs not used: Heeroo G, Forshaw J, Ginty S, Wills K, Easton C
Shots on target 8 5
Shots off target 4 2
Corners 5 1
Offside 0 1
Fouls conceded 7 9
Yellow cards: 1 2
Red Card: Nil
Star man: Ricky Shakes (Ebbsfleet)
Ref Rating: 3/5