Monday 09th February 2004

Promotion is still our aim, says Cray Wanderers boss Jenkins

Cray Wanderers manager Ian Jenkins believes his side have a good chance of winning the FA Vase after the Go Travel Kent League side booked their place in the final eight on Saturday, writes Stephen McCartney.

Founded way back in 1860, Cray Wanderers are the second oldest football club in the world, behind Sheffield, but it took the Kent League leaders and defending league champions a lifetime to overcome stubborn and plucky resistance from Screwfix Direct Western League strugglers Keynsham Town in Saturday's fifth round clash.

The large contingent of travelling fans had their heads in their hands after twelve minutes when former Bromley and Leyton Pennant player Andy Silk rattled the crossbar with a header from a corner kick and the woodwork again came to the home side's rescue when Danny Evans cut in from the left and drilled a low cross to Ricky Bennett who couldn't force the ball in via the far post.

Always confident of victory, however, the Wands were taken into extra time by their hosts before Cray sent on former Fisher Athletic, Bromley and Crawley Town striker Matt Woolf.  

Within a minute Cray made the long-awaited breakthrough.  Sam Wood, a terrier down the left for the Kent side all afternoon, lost possession but won it back again and sent in a dream of a cross in the 97th minute and Woolf buried a flying header into the net.

Two minutes after the change-of-ends Jamie Kempster sprang the home defence on the right and slipped a perfect cross to the feet of Jamie Wood who coolly shot past Richard Fey.

Cray manager Ian Jenkins praised seventeen-year-old midfielders  Sam Wood and Ross Lover and admitted David Gray and Ian Rawlings "made a big difference at central defence."

Jenkins added: "Our victory at Keynsham Town was fully deserved to be honest as they didn't have many chances in the game.  Our goalkeeper Micky Simmons had no shots to save throughout the game and we got there in the end!"

Jenkins didn't pick out a man-of-the-match, but praised all his players and said, :" It was an all round good team performance."

Cray now face their biggest  battle of the season so far with the visit of second placed Ridgeons League big-boys AFC Sudbury, who travel to Hayes Lane for a place in the semi-finals at stake.

The Suffolk side have won their last three league titles, and reached the semi-finals of the FA Vase in 2001-02 before going one better last season reaching the final before losing 2-1 to Brigg Town.

Jenkins, a builder from Sidcup, acknowledged that his side will face a stern challenge from the side that are favorites to land the trophy at West Ham's Upton Park on the 15th May.

Jenkins said: "It's going to be difficult as AFC Sudbury are a good side and they reached the FA Vase final last year.  However, they are playing on Tuesday night and next Saturday so either myself or my coach Joe Francis will go and watch them."

Three of Jenkins'  current squad, however, have already tasted FA Vase success whilst at Deal Town who landed the FA Vase at Wembley Stadium in 2000.  Deal were managed by current Dartford manager, Tommy Sampson and they had Jamie Kempster, Ricky Bennett and Phil Turner in their side when the Kent coast club overcame Chippenham Town 1-0.

However, Cray's main objective this season  is promotion and after they beat  West Allotment Celtic 1-0 in the fourth round they quickly returned to Kent League action in midweek but lost 4-2 at in-form Whitstable Town.  

Jenkins sited fatigue after their journey to Tyneside started on Friday with a plane journey from London Stansted to Newcastle before coming back home on the Sunday before playing Whitstable Town on the Tuesday evening.

Jenkins said: "We went to Whitstable Town on the Tuesday after the West Allotment game and lost 4-2.  It was a luckluster performance as players were tired due to the trip and we hope that doesn't happen tomorrow night."

Cray make the short trip to Slade Green with three vital points at stake.  Although the Small Glen outfit kept their third successive clean sheet after drawing 0-0 at Beckenham Town on Saturday, Jenkins wants his side to collect three points and maintain their promotion push.

Cray are currently four points ahead of second placed Whitstable Town, with one game in hand after Tuesday's game.

Jenkins said: "We need three points, that's a must, and we cannot afford to slip up in the league.

"Obviously if we do win the league we will be going up.  It will be good for the club playing against better sides week in week out and we will be attracting better crowds at Hayes Lane."

Although second placed Whitstable Town have so far declined to submit an application for promotion, fourth and fifth placed sides Thamesmead Town and Maidstone United have.

Thamesmead Town are only five points behind Cray and the Stones are three points behind the Bayliss Avenue outfit.  In such a tight league, where eight points separates the top five clubs every victory is vital for Jenkins' men.

Cray Wanderers goundshare Ryman League Division One South outfit, Bromley's Clive Christian Stadium at Hayes Lane on a year-by-year rolling deal.

When asked whether his side can win the FA Vase at West Ham's Upton Park home on 15th May, Jenkins, said: "We are in the last eight so you start believing  you can win it!"

The last time that Cray reached the quarter-final, in 1979-80, they lost to eventual winners Stamford.  Cray created an all-time FA Vase record that season when they were drawn at home in all seven rounds that they played in.

In contrast, Cray's 2003-204 path to the quarter-finals has touched several different and distant regions of the country.

In the first round Cray went to the south-east cost winning 2-1 at previous winners and Kent League rivals Deal Town  Then after beating Chessington & Hook United 6-0 at Hayes Lane, that Jenkins rates as his sides best performance in their run so far, Great Yarmouth Town travelled down from East Anglia for an exciting game that saw the Wands edge home 3-2 after extra time.

Next in the fourth and fifth rounds came long journeys for Cray to win 1-0 against West Allotment Celtic in Tyneside, which was the first time a Kent League side flew to an away game,  and 2-0 at Keynsham Town in cider country.

Chairman Gary Hillman will be rubbing his hands from the FA Vase campaign, collecting £6,300 already and another £4,000 waiting for the winners of  the quarter-final clash.

Both clubs are trying to put back the tie from the Saturday to Sunday which will be beneficial to both ambitious clubs.

Bromley are playing away from Hayes Lane on the Saturday at Hampton & Richmond Borough and a full Kent League programme will dent the attendance.  If the game was switched to the Sunday then this eagerly anticipated clash should attract over 1,500 fans to Hayes Lane.

Colne  v Eastwood Town or Stone Dominoes
Winchester City  v Andover
Cray Wanderers v AFC Sudbury
Bideford v Studley or Gosport Borough
(Ties scheduled for Saturday 21st February)

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