THE alarming brittleness that has affected Harriers' start to the new campaign once again raised its ugly head as they were torn apart by Grays Athletic at the New Recreation Ground on Saturday.

Striker Danny Kedwell grabbed a brilliant hat-trick to sink hapless Harriers and punished the visiting side's disastrous defending.

While Grays enjoyed one of those halfs where every shot on target flew into the back of the net, there's no getting away from the fact that Harriers mis-fired in every department and defended poorly as a team.

If Harriers are to recover from this shocking performance and mount a promotion campaign in the Blue Square Premier Division then manager Mark Yates must find away of adding some steel to his shell-shocked side.

Against Grays there was a worrying lack of cohesion and defiance from the side, as the players' heads dropped even lower every time the Essex side stretched their lead.

The absence of injured captain Stuart Whithead's organisational abilities was also notable.

In Harriers' first two games of the season against Stafford and Aldershot there had been worrying lapses in concentration in defence but on this occasion it seemed to spread to the whole team.

Manager Mark Yates had recalled winger Michael Blackwood after he had recovered from a back injury and handed left back Johnny Harkness, who was sent off in last season's corresponding fixture, a first start to the season because his suspension came to an end.

From the start Harriers were forced onto the back foot and winger Mark Lawson could only head weakly at goal from Dennis Oli's cross and allowed Mark Creighton clear.

Despite the tenacious partnership of Russ Penn and Gavin Hurren prowling midfield, the visitors could not get a hold of the ball as Grays poured forward.

The home side's pressure paid off when Kedwell was given far too much space to latch onto Jamie Stuart's through ball and slot the ball past diving goalkeeper Scott Bevan in the eighth minute.

Michael Blackwood almost grabbed an instant reply three minutes later when his 30-yard chip tested keeper Ross Flitney.

Grays' number one could only weakly tip the ball away but as it looked destined to nestle in the back of the net Flitney clawed it away.

Harriers suffered a slice of bad luck in the 20th minute when referee Amy Rayner judged harshly that defender Jon Munday had fouled Ben Watson as they jostled for a cross.

Kedwell beat Bevan to his right but the referee, who officiated the Exeter game where Harriers' manager received his four game touchline ban last season, ordered the spot-kick to be re-taken because players had enchroached into the area.

But the disruption did not affect the Grays striker, who slotted the ball to Bevan's left.

Harriers tried to battle back and Munday saw his header fly over the bar, but the complexion of the game changed moments later when Kedwell was give too much space in the box to set up Watson, who found the back of the net in the 23rd minute.

Justin Richards, who enjoyed a goalless short loan spell at Grays last season, then beat Flitney to a high ball but steered it wide of an open goal on the half hour mark.

Things continued to go against Harriers minutes later when Rayner ignored a decent shout for a penalty when James Constable was brought down by Jon Ashton.

Kedwell rubbed salt in into Harriers' shell-shocked wounds in the 35th minute when he ran past Paul Bignot, who was subdued throughout, and flashed a low shot just inside the left post.

Striker Christie replaced Bignot at half time and Jeff Kenna was brought at the start of the second half in a bid to kick start Harriers.

It seemed to work as a spell of pressure resulted in Karl Murray handling the ball in the box and Christie slotted home the penalty.

But the goal did not spark a Harriers fight back, who were being hit on the break as they searched for a second goal.

Substitute Mark Marshall flashed a shot wide from Lawson's excellent cross in the 50th minute Bevan was kept busy and he did well to save Kedwell's shot after a flowing move by Marshall and Aaron O'Connor sliced open Harriers.

Christie's strength was worrying Grays' defence but Harriers struggled to make any chances.

Russ Penn saw a good cross cleared away by Ashton and the captain's frustration boiled over in the 62nd minute when he was booked for a heavy challenge on Ernie Cooksey.

O'Connor then piled more misery on the visitors in the 67th minute. Lawson found Marshall down the left and he slipped the ball to the young player, who scored from close range.

The home side continued to make chances, with Bevan doing well to block O'Connor's stinging shot in the 80th minute.

Gavin Hurren did well to power into the box and force Flitney into a decent save in a rare moment of incisiveness by Harriers in the 88th minute.

Harkness experienced a sense of deja vu late on when he was harshly booked by the inconsistent referee for fouling Marhsall.

An incensed Yates made his team train after the game and then locked his players in the changing room to have it out with them.

While it's too early in the season to hit the panic button, Harriers must find a way of sorting out their defensive woes or they will be looking down rather up.

Harriers: Bevan 5, Harkness 4, Hurren 5, Creighton 5, Constable 5, Richards 5 (Ferrell 77, 5), Penn (C) 5, Blackwood 5, Smikle 4 (Kenna 45, 5), Munday4 , Bignot 4 (Christie 45, 5).

Grays: Flitney, Sambrook, Stuart (C), Oli (Marshall 45), Kedwell, Murray, Ashton, Hearn, Watson (O'Connor, 29), Cooksey (Day 65), Lawson.

Referee: Amy Rayner (Leicestershire). Attendance: 1107.