Please credit article to Stephen McCartney - www.kentishfootball.co.uk
RYMAN LEAGUE DIVISION ONE
No more slip ups allowed
WITH FOUR Kent sides suffering relegation in Margate, Tonbridge Angels, Dover Athletic and Erith & Belvedere this season, there are at least two clubs vying for promotion via the Ryman League Division One play-offs, writes Stephen McCartney.
Both Bromley and their tenants Cray Wanderers have been separated in Tuesday's semi-finals after finishing fourth and sixth respectively but what's the betting it will be a winner takes all clash at Hayes Lane in Saturday's Final?
Bromley are the side in form, having collected 24 points from their last ten league games, and they host Metropolitan Police - a side they recently held to a 1-1 draw at Hayes Lane last month - and the boys in blue, and Cray Wanderers - who travel to Horsham - have both collected 21 points out of thirty.
Meanwhile, Horsham, fresh from their convincing 5-0 trouncing over Ashford Town - who survived the drop by only one point - have only collected 17 points during this period.
But, with games being decided on the night, form goes out the window and it will be the team that can hold their nerve and handle the pressure that joins Folkestone Invicta and possibly Margate (who were relegated from the Nationwide South) as the Kent sides playing Ryman Premier League football next season.
I am so confident the side that comes through the play-off's will be either Bromley or Cray Wanderers.
George Wakeling, Bromley's joint-manager, was pleased that his side ended the league campaign with a 1-0 win at Banstead Athletic.
"Well it wasn't a game for football," he said. "I don't think the pitch allowed that. It was a case of obviously working very hard and being strong."
Striker Mark Tompkins netted his sixth goal in as many games, following his transfer deadline move from Whyteleafe - his last game for the Surrey side was incidentally in Bromley's 3-0 win at Church Road.
"I know everything about Tommo," Wakeling added. "He's played for me for a long time during my previous time at Bromley. He's come in for the final games, finding the net on a regular basis and I am pleased for him and the team."
And it's the team togetherness that is making the experienced manager a very happy man at the moment.
"We are going to approach the (play-off) games like we have the other games," admitted Wakeling. "We've been getting the results, even when we haven't been playing well, but we will not change what's been good for us.
"We are just going to play them (Metropolitan Police) like we did the other game. We had the chances, it ended 1-1 but we were strong but if we have the same chances on Tuesday night, I will be very pleased.
"I am confident with the side I've got. I've got to feel confident with the way we've been playing in the last nine games."
Goalkeeper Andy Walker, whose expected to collect at least one player of the year award at Saturday's presentation night after keeping 21 clean sheets this season, is expected to be fit despite injuring his neck at Merland Rise on Saturday but Wakeling insisted: "We are hopeful he will get fit. If it was that bad he would have phoned me by now." Midfielder, Gavin McGowan, however, is rated doubtful after being substituted on Saturday due to a ankle/shin injury.
When asked which of his players can win the game for him, Wakeling said: "It's not a key man team. It's all about playing for one another and giving a team performance. If we do that I will be highly delighted.
"We don't look at their players, we just know as a team we need to defend correctly and the rest will take care of itself.
"These are one-off games, we know what the score is. We know if we slip up we are out. Obviously there's a bit more pressure but there's enough experience in the side to deal with it."
And WHEN Wakeling's men get past Metropolitan Police, Wakeling will need to beat Horsham or tenants Cray Wanderers on Saturday - with promotion into the Ryman Premier League the prize awaiting the winners.
"I think they are both good sides and I think it will be a hard game.
"To be honest Cray will be a good game as we'll both be at home. Horsham and Cray are both similar sides and both present hard games for us, but we wouldn't expect anything else," admitted Wakeling.
Despite losing only seven league games in their first campaign in the Ryman League, Cray Wanderers have lost three of them in their last four fixtures but this isn't an issue for their assistant, Joe Francis.
Cray have lost games against Bromley, AFC Wimbledon and Walton & Hersham in the last four weeks of the campaign but Francis insists his side will be ready for their battle with Horsham on Tuesday night because they will have something to play for.
"I am confident but we need a bit of luck," said the Ashford based coach. "I think we are due a bit and I think the players are looking for something to play for. It's been a bit unreal for three weeks."
Francis admits his side have been without the edge in their last four games. "We performed really well in the Hastings game in the first 45 minutes because we needed to - because we had something to play for," he explained.
"However, the last three of our last four games we didn't create the edge that was necessary. I know I speak about that, if you want to describe the edge, it's the significance of the game and the occasion.
"Every player knows what if feels like to let the occasion pass you by.
"I just think what you look for, as a player and as a coach, is 100% effort.
"Well, what motivates you giving that is obviously something to play for. I suppose every game is worth playing for, that's what I am trying to instill and I do know the players that have been with us for the last three years have always done it when it really counts - and it really counts on Tuesday.
"But we are due a bit of luck as well and I am ever the optimist and we hope for a purposeful performance.
"We are going there to win, we've got to, and I think we are good when we do that. And we'll see."
Cray have impressed during their debut campaign in the Ryman League and it's a credit to Francis and manager Ian Jenkins for their successful campaign, finishing sixth in the table.
"It's wonderful," admitted Francis. "To be involved and an extra game at the end of 65 games, 40 weeks, 120 meetings with the players on a Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday and working with the players, seeing them respond, week in, week out.
"It's a massive effort for our club to be in this position and it should be recognised. We are glad to be in there.
"Everybody tipped us for relegation - who are Cray? But here we are, we are looking forward to it as much as the other three clubs and that's what it's all about."
Francis is looking forward to a possible showdown with Bromley at Hayes Lane in Saturday's Final.
"George (Wakeling) has done a brilliant job, he can't do anything else. What I mean is wherever he's gone, he's had success and not only that so has Billy (Smith) and Frank (Coles) And so has (chairman) Jerry (Dolke).
"George and Billy are real characters and players play for them just like they do for Jenko (Ian Jenkins) and myself."
Speaking about a possible third clash with Bromley, Francis added: "It will be magic. I just want it to be a lovely occasion and the best team will win. We'll shake hands and have a chat about what went wrong and we'll all drive home and have three weeks off when it starts again.
"However, it works out we are looking forward and not back as a club. If it don't work out we'll come back next year - we can't get much closer.
"Lot's of managers have said we have been the second best side over the year but we've lost the ability to kill games and that's a learning curve.
"We should have had 16 more points, which would have made it interesting for second place.
"Only reflecting on what every manager we've played against (Chris Kinnear, Neil Cugley and Colin Lippiatt), but I think it's only three away performances - Fleet, AFC Wimbledon and Bromley (that has let us down).
I hope, like everyone in the borough does, that Bromley and Cray get to the final, and we can celebrate two teams, playing good football and scoring goals.
"That's my dream, maybe we'll get it right."
Ryman League Division One FINAL Top seven
|2||Walton & Hersham||42||28||4||10||69||34||88P|
FORM GUIDE - LAST TEN LEAGUE RESULTS
(Latest scores at top)
|HORSHAM||V||Res||BROMLEY||V||Res||MET. POLICE||V||Res||CRAY WANDERERS||V||Res|
|H||W4-1||Walton & Hersham||H||L1-2|
|Walton & Hersham||H||L1-4||Met.
|Burgess Hill Town||a||W2-1||Whyteleafe
Play-off games are to be decided on the night - with extra time and penalties if required.
Saturday's Play-off Final will be at the ground of the highest placed team in the table.
www.kentishfootball.co.uk will be covering the Saturday's Final if Bromley and/or Cray Wanderers progress.