Essex failed to perform - Grayson

Reece Topley made a mark on his Championship debut PA Photos

Paul Grayson, the Essex coach, has admitted the 2011 season fell well below the club's expectations and he has already started planning for next summer with the signing of Derbyshire allrounder Greg Smith.

The county finished seventh in Division Two of the County Championship and failed to qualify for the knockout stages of both the Clydesdale Bank 40 and Friends Life t20. The team suffered having failed to fill the hole left by Danish Kaneria, the Pakistan legspinner, and early-season attempts to sign Peter Siddle were unsuccessful. Grayson is now looking ahead and picked out the performances of a number of youngsters - such as legspinner Tom Craddock and left-arm quick Reece Topley - as a sign of a brighter future.

"At the start of 2011, myself and the cricket Committee set the objectives of gaining promotion to Division One and securing a one-day trophy," Grayson said. "Defeats in the opening two Championship games have cost us dearly and from then on we were always playing catch-up.

"There is no denying the fact that a number of players have been inconsistent this season," he added. "However, we have a very talented and determined squad with a number of exciting players coming through the ranks. This season has seen the arrival of the likes of Reece Topley, Tymal Mills, Adam Wheater and Tom Craddock. We hope we can further progress the young blood we have at the Club and develop the winning combination that was missing in 2011.

"Over the winter months the squad will take a much needed break and will prepare for what we hope will be a successful 2012 season across all formats of the game. We have to aim for promotion, it's where we need and want to be and despite comments elsewhere, the County Championship remains our number one priority."

Smith, meanwhile, will bring some experience to the middle order plus the ability to bowl both seam-up and offspin. "Greg is a cricketer that I admire. He is a very talented all-rounder and has a great character for the dressing room which I feel will benefit us," Grayson said. "He is a very good cricketer who will fit in well with the team and I look forward to working with him at Essex."