Tuesday 13th January 2004

Saturday 17 January 2004
FA Vase Fourth Round
West Allotment Celtic  vs  Cray Wanderers

Cray ready for their biggest game in 23 years

Go Travel Kent League Premier Division leaders, Cray Wanderers are set to play their biggest game for twenty-three years on Saturday when they travel to North Tyneside to meet West Allotment Celtic in the fourth round of the FA Vase, writes Jerry Dowlen.

Cray last reached that stage of the FA Vase in 1980-81. Player-manager Ian Jenkins and the Wands' team know that it will be tough to overcome their Northern Alliance opponents on their own turf on Saturday and go through to the last sixteen of the competition.

But the Wands go into the game on the back of a formidable record that sees them top of the Kent League table at the turn of the year, and also through to the Kent League Cup quarter-final, the  Kent Senior Trophy semi-final and the London Senior Cup 4th round.

When Cray lost a good few of their record-breaking 2002-03 "double double" winning squad to higher status clubs, some wondered if the 2002-03 season would be a one-hit wonder for the Wands. That truly remarkable season saw both the first team and the reserve team win their respective League championships and League Cups.

But if anything, Jenkins has assembled an even stronger squad this season 2003-04, as evidenced by their eight-point lead at the top of the table and their astonishing tally of 97goals scored in all competitions to date. The defence has meanwhile established a reputation for being hard to break down.

 In the run-up to Saturday's  big game in the Vase, the Wands have repeated in the first week of 2004 the same winning form that they displayed throughout 2003. The two close-fought wins against Erith Town (1 - 0) and Ramsgate (2 - 1) in the Kent League weren't always pretty to watch but they have led to some speculation as to what the starting line-up will be for the Vase game.

Jenkins has been rotating his team selection for the last few games, and although he and coach Joe Francis will keep their thoughts a closely-guarded secret, there is certainly plenty of competition to get a shirt for the game.

The "Ian Jenkins Amber & Black Army" contains a strong blend of experience and youth. Phil Turner, the skipper, played in the Deal Town FA Vase winning team of 1999-2000, as did striker Ricky Bennett and midfielder Jamie Kempster who is Cray's leading goalscorer this season with 23 goals. Cray's 'keeper Micky Simmons was an FA Vase quarter-finalist with Ramsgate in 1999-2000.

But Jenkins has not been afraid to give youth a chance too. Ross Lover and Sam Wood, aged 17, have both been preferred on occasions to the more senior players and have justified Ian's faith in them by making vital contributions. Wood's arrival as substitute helped to turn the game when the Wands overcame Great Yarmouth Town 3 - 2 in the Vase 3rd round, and Lover struck the dramatic winner in extra-time when his free-kick flew into the net.

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