MARTIN Rowe admitted to wondering “what could have been” after another impressive end-of-season performance from Gresley on Monday.
In their penultimate game of the Evo-Stik NPL First Division South season, the Moatmen beat second-placed rivals Coalville Town 2-0 at Owen Street to make it four wins from their last six games, and three consecutive victories on the road.
Victory in their final game at home to Brigg Town on Saturday would earn them a ninth-place finish, two higher than last season, but poor form at the start of the season and a run of 10 consecutive away defeats at the start of the year prevented any hopes of a play-off push.
“Potentially this team has got it, we just need a few more players and we’re not far off a very good team,” said Moat boss Rowe.
“We’ve seen that in cup games this season and when we’ve played the better teams in the league we’ve usually done pretty well.
“We’ve slipped up against lesser teams but we’ll sort that out for next season and I think things look quite promising.
“It’s taken a bit of time to get the squad we have, but what could have been?
“If we’d have picked up points from the games we lost when we should have won we’d have been well up there.
“We haven’t been consistent enough all season and that’s what’s cost us.”
Any uninformed observer watching Monday’s game would be forgiven for thinking the side playing in red and white was the team battling for automatic promotion, so great was their domination of the game.
Two goals in the first half from Kieran O’Connell and Serge Makofo could easily have been doubled as Gresley looked dangerous with every run forward.
They then defended superbly, snuffing out Coalville’s attack so much so that the home side did not register one shot on target or win one corner for the whole of the game.
“I think the lads have always had that performance in them,” said Rowe.
“They were all disappointed after Saturday’s game, losing to Scarborough, but they wanted to put things right.
“I think we got the team right, bringing Sam Grice in gave us a bit of stability in midfield and the back four have been magnificent today.
“We had a shaky start but other than that we’ve held them out to shots from 20 to 40 yards and they just couldn’t break us down.
“Our keeper Mats Morch has had a very quiet game but his kicking has been absolutely excellent, particularly in the second half, driving the ball into the corners for Kieran O’Connell and Serge Makofo.
“It was a great performance and we looked after the ball better today.”
Rowe made three changes from Saturday’s defeat, with Rob Spencer replacing the unavailable Alex Steadman and Liam Guest and Sam Grice in for Mitch Hanson and Mickey Lyons.
The Ravens had the first half-chance, with Gary Hay whipping a shot wide of the far post, but the first 20 minutes were a cagy affair, with neither side threatening.
However, Gresley began to look the stronger of two sides and it was no surprise when they took the lead.
John Guy sent over a high cross to the far side of Coalville’s area, and Graves headed the ball back across the box for O’Connell to head home past Sean Bowles.
Minutes later, Gresley were unlucky not to double their advantage when a corner by Paolo Piliero from the right caused panic in the area, and Guy managed to turn and hit a shot which was blocked a yard out.
Coalville could not come to terms with a resolute Gresley side and resorted to the high and long ball, which the visiting back four dealt with easily.
Gresley doubled their lead four minutes before the break.
Makofo, who had been causing the home defence problems, dashed into the area, where Danny Jenno tripped the striker at the third attempt, giving referee Mark Perry no option but to point to the spot.
Makofo took the kick himself, coolly sending Bowles the wrong way for his third goal in four games.
The travelling support were expecting Coalville to come out for the second half all guns blazing, but such an onslaught did not materialise as Gresley continued to dominate.
Spencer went close for the visitors but saw his shot fly wide of the near post and then a rare attempt from Coalville’s Callum Woodward went well wide of Morch’s far post.
O’Connell, who was also giving the Coalville back line a headache, almost forced Liam Kay into stabbing the ball into his own net, while another shot, this time from Coalville’s Jenno, went well wide from distance.
From a corner on the right by Piliero, Barrett connected but his header went over the bar.
Late on, Graves fired a curling shot and was unlucky to see his effort come back off the base of the near post with Bowles beaten and then, following some good interplay on the left between Makofo and O’Connell, the latter’s shot curled the wrong side of the far post.
COALVILLE: Bowles, Jenno, Stuart (capt) (Hutchinson 80), Cotton, (Davies 59), McAteer, Kay, Carner, Hay (Nadat 59), Woodward, B Saunders, Lester. Subs not used: S Saunders, Moore.
GRESLEY: Morch, Roome, Guy, Barrett (capt), Guest, Graves, O’Connell, Grice, Makofo, Spencer (Nyatito 89), Piliero. Subs not used: Wells, Harrison, Hanson, Lyons.
BOOKED: Ravens – Stuart, Cotton, Woodward, Lester; Moatmen – Guy, Grice.
REFEREE: Marc Perry (Sutton Coldfield).