Fleet 0-1 Grays Ath



Report by Ed Miller

Report by Ed Miller EUFC.co.uk

The Fleet’s
festive woe continued at Stonebridge Road on Boxing Day as Grays
Athletic repeated the feat of Forest Green Rovers two weeks ago and
grabbed the three points with the only goal of the game. It was only
the Essex’s side second win on the road this season and came courtesy
of substitute Jamie Slabber’s first touch of the ball after 78 minutes
as the Fleet failed to convert a number of reasonable chances in the
first half.

Jamie Hand returned to the first team in place of
Craig Stone in an otherwise unchanged Fleet line-up that was missing
long-term absentee Paul McCarthy as well as Darius Charles and Neil
Barrett. On a cold afternoon, it was the Fleet who started as if they
were of a mind to warm things up and inside the first five minutes
George Purcell produced a sublime through ball for Luke Moore to hit a
rising shot from outside the box that Grays goalkeeper Steve Arnold was
forced to gather. And from the Fleet’s second corner of the game on 10
minutes, Michael Gash got up well to send a header just over the
crossbar, while Moore somehow couldn’t connect properly with a low
Purcell corner on 18 minutes that whipped across the six-yard box and
eventually fell for Stuart Thurgood (pictured left) to thump to safety.

There was little fluidity in either side’s play, not helped by both
sets of strikers constantly straying offside in a first half that was a
poor advertisement for Blue Square Premier football. That said, the
Fleet were the better side and Stacy Long forced Arnold into another
save on 22 minutes when he surged down the middle and did well to find
room for a decent shot that curled towards the bottom corner. He had
another effort from his more traditional left-sided berth four minutes
later when set free inside the box but his shot from a tight angle
lacked power and was easy for Arnold.

Danny Slatter succumbed
to what appeared to be a leg injury on 27 minutes and Peter Hawkins
slotted it in at right back but the change didn’t unduly upset the
Fleet who saw further efforts when the busy Purcell had two long-range
efforts, the first on 33 minutes from 25 yards requiring Arnold’s
attention as it carried some pace. Grays were largely restricted to
forays down the right courtesy of Dagenham’s on-loan striker Wesley
Thomas and for all Scott Forrester’s harrassing of the Fleet’s central
defenders, he didn’t constitute much of a threat as Lance Cronin
enjoyed a trouble-free 45 minutes.

But as the temperature
dropped in the second half, so too did the level of quality in the game
– Moore was taken off just before the hour mark after struggling to
stamp his authority on the game and Grays looked to have stepped up a
gear as half chances fell to Thomas and Luke Hickie. Fleet appeared to
have run out of ideas after an industrious first half with Purcell
failing to build on a decent first 45 minutes and Grays’ defence quite
literally tightening their grip on Gash. The Fleet striker did manage
to get a shot in on 73 minutes that had Arnold stretching and the Grays
goalkeeper also had work to do three minutes later when another
long-range effort from Purcell headed goalwards.

But then came
the talking point of the match when Forrester and Murray tangled on the
line as the ball went out for a throw and the Grays striker appeared to
raise his hands to Murray’s face. The referee decided a yellow card was
sufficient though the Grays bench played it safe and withdrew their man
to bring on ex-Tottenham and Oxford striker Jamie Slabber. The Grays
substitute had barely been on the pitch for two minutes when Thomas
outpaced the Fleet defence to race to the byline and deliver a decent
cross that Slabber headed home as he powered in from the edge of the
box. It was particularly rough on the Fleet fans along the Stonebridge
Road terrace who had taunted Slabber as he arrived on to the pitch –
and the Grays goalscorer let them know about it in no uncertain terms.

The Fleet still had an opportunity to draw things level and on 84
minutes Purcell’s inswinging corner caused chaos in the Grays box but
no Fleet leg could get on the end of it as it bounced invitingly in
front of the goal and Ishmael Welsh was grateful to hack it clear.
Substitute Kezie Ibe should also have done better when a Hand free-kick
landed in space in the penalty area but Ibe could only direct it just
over the crossbar. At the other end, Cronin also had to be alert to
smother another Thomas shot before Dean Pooley suffered a head injury
in time added on to leave the Fleet down to 10 men for the final minute.

It was a sour note on which to end another frustrating afternoon for
the Fleet faithful who have now twice seen single-goal victories cost
them six points in games from which they could and should have stolen
at least a point. Revenge at Grays on New Year’s Day will be the least
Liam Daish’s team will require as they head into a period of three
games in five days.

TEAM: Cronin, Slatter (Hawkins 27),
Pooley, Smith, Opinel (Ibe 82), Purcell, Hand, Murray, Long, Gash,
Moore (Shakes 58). Subs Not Used: Mott, Barrett.
Att: 1,143


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Ed Miller

Ed Miller

Ed Miller has been Ebbsfleet United's communications manager and programme editor since 2014 and responsible for the club website since 2007. Contact him on ed.miller@eufc.co.uk
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