Thursday 01st September 2005

Can Thamesmead deny Cray winning treble?

Even the world’s second-oldest football club can still achieve something new. If Cray Wanderers win the Kent League Cup on Saturday it will be the first ever time that they will have won the “treble” of the Kent League championship, the Kent League Cup and the Kent Senior Trophy in the same season, writes Jerry Dowlen.

Herne Bay achieved the same feat under Tommy Sampson, now manager of Dr Martens League Eastern Division side Dartford,  in 1996-97, and so did Gillingham in 1945-46 if you count their haul of the Kent League, the Kent League Cup and the Kent Senior Cup that year.

Quietly sitting on the sidelines, and quietly smiling, under no pressure, are Thamesmead Town. They are well equipped to upset the Wands’ applecart on Saturday and steal the Kent League Cup away from the holders.

Indeed, Thamesmead will remember that they came out on top on the only other occasion that they met Cray in a cup final. That was two years ago in the Kent Senior Trophy final, when Curtis Williams struck twice in the first half and the ‘Mead secured a comfortable 2-0 win at Fisher Athletic’s ground.

On the form book, Saturday’s clash couldn’t be closer. The Kent League Cup final offers the showpiece prospect of the champions (Cray Wanderers) going head-to-head against the second-in-the-table team (Thamesmead Town). Both have ended their League campaigns with a tally of four wins, one draw and one defeat from their last six games.

If you dig a little deeper into those last six games you won’t find many clues that will help you to predict Saturday’s result. The Wands will tell you that their one defeat was when they fielded a weakened side at Maidstone United last Saturday, with the title already won. The ‘Mead will say that the memory of their one defeat, a disastrous 4–3 reverse at Ramsgate, despite being three-up at half time, has been well and truly erased by three resounding wins since then.

The respective routes to the League Cup final will possibly show the ‘Mead  in a slightly better light. They started on the trail when they defeated the then in-form Greenwich Borough in December. Curtis Williams netted the 1–0 winner. Williams was also on the scoresheet when the ‘Mead thrashed Ramsgate 3–0 in the next round. Another scorer in that game was Chris Tuley, who subsequently rejoined Cray, and was a double medal-winner for their reserve team last week when they won the finals of the Kent Intermediate Cup and the Kent League Division One & Two Cup.

In their first outing in the competition, holders Cray needed a late goal by Jamie Kempster to squeeze past Tunbridge Wells by 2–1. A scrambled effort by stand-in striker Andy Silk then took them past Erith Town
1–0 in the next round, on a day when Cray had one eye on their FA Vase quarter-final fixture seven days later, and they rested some first-team regulars.

There was plenty of drama as Cray and Thamesmead battled through their respective two-leg semi-finals.

Cray were rather flattered by a 4–1 away win at Herne Bay in the first leg. It turned out that their fourth goal – scored by Matt Woolf – was vital because the Bay pulled back two goals in the return leg and went very close to forcing extra time.

In a bitter and hard-fought contest against the Stones, the ‘Mead’s two early goals at Bayliss Avenue gave them a cushion for the second leg. But even after extending their lead to a three goal margin, a few minutes into the game at Central Park, there was a big fright for Paul Blades’s team before they grabbed an extra time winner to go through 5–4 on aggregate.

What happened when Cray and Thamesmead met each other earlier this season? Well, it was “advantage Cray” at first, because the Wands won 3–1 at home in the Kent League in October, and then in early January they socked it to the ‘Mead by an astonishing 6-0 at Bayliss Avenue in the Kent Senior Trophy 3rd round. Richard Dimmock netted four goals that day.

But Thamesmead avenged that heavy defeat when Cray returned to Bayliss Avenue for the return League match in April. Cray scored first but the home side ended up 3–2 winners thanks to a last-gasp goal by Dean Kearley.

Can we single out any key players who are likely to be match winners on Saturday? 

Cray have scored an incredible 144 goals so far this season – 86 in the Kent League (whereas Thamesmead have scored 72).

Cray’s leading goalscorer Jamie Kempster has netted 30 goals – an impressive total for a midfielder - so he is one man who can expect to be closely marked on Saturday. Thamesmead won’t have to worry about Richard Dimmock, who misses the game through suspension, but they may still have to reckon with Jamie Wood, scorer of Cray’s goals in last year’s final when they beat VCD Athletic 2 0. Cray’s strike force also includes the veteran Ricky Bennett and the classy Matt Woolf who seems to relish cup games in particular, having scored spectacular goals against Chessington & Hook, Great Yarmouth and Keynsham Town as well as netting that crucial winner at Herne Bay.

The Wands’ defence has also earned the plaudits – just 32 goals conceded in the League (whereas Thamesmead have scored 78). Veteran ‘keeper Micky Simmons has been in inspired form lately, as have central defenders Ian Rawlings and David Gray who have also distinguished themselves by netting some important goals for the Wands in recent games.

But you don’t come second in the Kent League without being a very good team and that’s exactly what Thamesmead are. The nucleus of their side has been together for a long while, ranging from the experienced Pater Deadman to the skilful Pedro Knight and the likes of Marc Merridan, Barry Stewart and Curtis Williams who seem to have been around for ages but are still only in their early 20’s. New young strikers Michael Power and Sam Thomas have given the attack an extra bite this season. They both feature in the “Golden Boot” top ten with 22 and 14 goals respectively, as does Dean Burns who has netted 15 goals despite a long spell on the injury list in mid-season.

Can lightning strike twice? Can Curtis Williams come back to haunt Cray again in a cup final? Can Dean Burns prolong his impressive record of scoring against Cray nearly every time he meets them on the field? Burns would have scored in the Kent Senior Trophy final two years ago if Micky Simmons hadn’t made a brilliant save early in the second half.

Will it be the amber & black of Cray, or the green & white of Thamesmead that will bear away the Kent League Cup this year? We will have to wait until Saturday afternoon for the answer!

Saturday 8 May 2004
Kick Off 3.00pm @ Folkestone Invicta FC, Westbourne Stadium, Cheriton Road, Folkestone