Cray Valley (Paper Mills) 0-0 Hastings United - It wasn't to the standard that it needs to be, admits Cray Valley boss Kevin Watson

Saturday 17th August 2019
Cray Valley (Paper Mills) 0 – 0 Hastings United
Location Badgers Sports Ground, Middle Park Avenue, Eltham, London SE9 5HT
Kickoff 17/08/2019 15:00

Isthmian League South East Division
Saturday 17 August 2019
Stephen McCartney reports from Middle Park Avenue

CRAY VALLEY (Paper Mills) manager Kevin Watson says his side’s performance wasn’t to the standard that it needed to be after being held by Hastings United on their Isthmian League South East Division debut.

The two sides played out a goal-less draw in Eltham as last season’s Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division champions and FA Vase Finalists were held by third-placed finishers Hastings United.

“Certainly a step-up.  I felt they were a strong side. We knew they were going to be a strong side,” said Watson.

“There were some lessons learnt from today certainly and we can digest it and look back at things and speak to certain individuals but I felt we showed good character today, which is an important trait if you’re going to do well.”

Hastings United started the game on the front foot, despite the Millers kicking down the slope and the opening exchanges were played at a frenetic pace.

“I felt for 25 minutes they were far superior and we didn’t get to grips to the game and I think we was sloppy in possession,” admitted Watson.

“We weren’t quick enough to second balls, we weren’t carrying out instructions to tactical stuff with regards to shape.

“I think we did improve in the second half.  I thought we grew into the game, certainly in the last 15-20 minutes of the first half. We were better in the second half, still not where we need to be but certainly better.”

Chris Agutter’s side created their first opening inside the opening nine minutes when Ben Pope played the ball out to right-back Jake Elliott, who cut inside before drilling a right-footed shot high over the crossbar from 25-yards.

As expected, Hastings United played out from the back and played at a high intensity that Cray Valley struggled to keep up with during the early exchanges.

Hastings United linked up down the right with Elliott and Jack Dixon linking up well before Dixon played the ball into Pope, who cut inside Ashley Sains before unleashing a left-footed drive from 22-yards, which stung the fingers of Millers’ keeper Andy Walker, who gathered the ball at the second attempt.

Cray Valley weathered the storm and created their first opening in the fifteenth minute.

Left-winger Ryan Flack threaded a through ball straight down the heart of the pitch along the deck to put Emmanuel Oloyede through down the right but his weak right-footed angled drive from 17-yards was comfortably held by Louis Rogers, low to his right.

“It was a tight angle.  You’ve got to do well to score from there. He done well to get there, he showed a little bit of pace and power,” said Watson.

Cray Valley’s holding midfielder Josh James played the ball into Anthony Edgar, who turned his man before teeing up Gayle, who was under pressure by the time he drilled his first time shot past the left-hand post from the edge of the Hastings box.

Hastings United immediately went up the other end and 48 seconds later, Dixon and winger Daniel Ajakaiye linked up and Pope’s cut in from within the left-hand side of the Millers’ penalty area to sweep his shot across Walker and past the far post.

Cray Valley started to fight their way back into the game after the half-an-hour mark and Edgar released Gayle charging down the right and he reached the by-line as his pace took him past right-back Elliott.  He cut the ball back for Danny Smith, who was sandwiched by Dixon and James Pool but cracked his left-footed drive sailing over the crossbar from 16-yards.

Cray Valley built patiently in the 36th minute and the ball came to Edgar, who drilled his right-footed shot towards goal from 30-yards, the powerfully struck shot slipping through the keeper’s gingers and looping over the crossbar for the home side’s second of seven corners.

“Look, it was straight at him but the pace and dip on it, it was difficult to deal with. He had another one in the second half so he’s got a good strike on him,” added Watson.

Flack drove in the resulting corner from the right and Sains came up from the back to steer his far post header sailing over the crossbar from 15-yards.

Millers’ right-back Kalvin Morath-Gibbs linked up well with Edgar, who slipped Gayle in behind Black but all the winger could do was drive his shot in the side netting.

When asked his thoughts at the interval, Watson replied: “It would’ve been easy to be annoyed but I didn’t feel that was the right response from me at the time.

“I asked them, I wanted to see a response. If I didn’t I might be annoyed. That was it really. We went through a few tactical bits and pieces that I feel they carried out a bit better.  It was certainly an improvement in the second half.”

Cray Valley kicked-off and created their first chance after only four seconds when Edgar tried to score from the centre-spot, only for the ball to bounce once before Rogers caught the ball comfortably in his midriff.

There was a controversial moment in the game in the eighth minute when Lovatt’s ball over the top was chased by Ajakaiye down the right channel and Walker rushed to the corner of his penalty area, gathered the ball before stepping outside.

Assistant referee Josh Osofa flagged, referee Luis Nunes failed to speak to the goalkeeper or issue him a yellow card and both sides have to practice their set-pieces within the final third during training this week.

Rogers was called into making a diving save in the tenth minute, diving to his right to tip Flack’s right-footed angled drive around the post after cutting in from the left wing after latching onto Babalola’s ball down the left-channel.

“That was better play. Whilst we were far from dominating the game, I felt we created a few opportunities, not real, real clear cut ones but some shots on goal,” said Watson.

Cray Valley called Rogers into making another save in the final 20 minutes when left-wing-back Smith threw the ball short to Edgar, who cut inside before powering a right-footed drive towards the top near corner from 35-yards, forcing Rogers to stick both of his arms high above his head to palm the ball over his crossbar.

Watson added: “Ironically, I didn’t think our attacking play was that good but we still create chances. It wasn’t slick enough. There were some chances and shots, when you say shots on goal or chances, it depends on how people hit them doesn’t it.”

Cray Valley target-man Oloyede missed a glorious chance to win the game in the 29th minute.

Flack fed substitute Emilliano Hysi, who cut the ball onto his right-boot before drilling a left-footed drive towards the top left-hand corner from 30-yards and crashed his shot towards the top of the near post. 

The ball fell kindly for the former Corinthian striker who placed his right-footed shot past the foot of the right-hand post – missing an open goal from 12-yards.

“A great, incredible strike. He checked on his right, onto his left and he’s a good player,” Watson said of Hysi, who finished last season playing Suburban League football for Bromley.

“The boy will get game time. He just needs to be patient. He’s a new player that’s come in. He loves the game. He trains every so hard, always enthusiastic.

“He was in with a shout for a start today but it was a good strike. I felt he done well when he came on. I told him to get onto the ball.”

Oloyede, meanwhile, didn’t often jump up and lost out on his aerial battle against a solid Hastings back four, well-marshalled by Craig Stone and Elphick.

Watson said: “He’s only played a couple of games for us. It’s tough in a new team. It’s tough at this time of the season, it’s still about people still getting their full fitness and things but look he’s an honest lad and worked hard. He’s coming back for set-pieces and things so I thought he done ok.  I still think there’s more to come from him.”

Inevitably, you got the impression that Hastings United would have one chance and bury it.

But Millers’ 37-year-old keeper Walker pulled off a world-class save to prevent Hastings United grabbing an undeserved winner inside the final six minutes.

Dixon rolled a diagonal pass out to winger Lanre Azeez down the right wing and he whipped in a great cross back to Dixon, who buried his header towards goal from six-yards. 

Walker was moving to his right and stuck out a strong left-hand to steer the ball over his crossbar and behind the Hastings’ only corner of the game.

Substitute Sam Beale swung the corner in from the left and centre-half Gary Elphick found a pocket of space at the far post to plant his header straight at Walker, who caught the ball at his near post.

“It was better than a great stop wasn’t it. It was, it’s an incredible save,” hailed Watson.

“Some people say the lad should score but he hasn’t done anything wrong! He’s got up, it’s a great save, what can you say?

“Goalkeeper’s don’t get enough publicity sometimes do they?  You could say he was just doing his job.  I think he done more than that.  Look I’ve said it time and time again about him. He’s the captain. He’s the captain for a reason, not just to make great saves like that but he does lots of unnoticed things for the club and during the game and that was special.”

 Reflecting on their Isthmian League debut, Watson said: “We need to go away and reflect on it.  We feel it was a bit of a learning curve because I thought we would do better than we were today.  I’ve got to digest why we weren’t.  Today, it wasn’t to the standard that it needs to be.

“Hastings are a good team. I’ve heard very good things about them. I haven’t seen them until today. I can see why they’ve been successful but we’ve been successful.

“We’ve kept a lot of the squad from last season, added some new additions, still got a couple missing.

“Jack Sammoutis is suspended for another four games still (six games in total). Mark Warren and Dominic Egun were unavailable today so we were a little bit light on numbers.  Having said that, we were still able to field a very strong side.”

Cray Valley travel to Sittingbourne on Tuesday night (19:45).  The Brickies started their campaign with a 1-1 draw at Whitstable Town today.

The Millers are in thirteenth-place after the opening day, Hastings United are fourteenth, while Sittingbourne sit in eleventh-place.

Cray Valley (Paper Mills): Andy Walker, Kalvin Morath-Gibbs, Danny Smith, Josh James (Liam Hickey 81), Ashley Sains, Cem Tumkaya, Denzel Gayle, Anthony Edgar, Francis Babalola (Emilliano Hysi 67), Emmanuel Oloyede, Ryan Flack (Kweku Ansah 81).
Subs: Tommy Osborne, Max Ovenden

Booked: Josh James 26

Hastings United: Louis Rogers, Jake Elliott (Sam Beale 67), Ollie Black, James Pool (Ansu Janneh 73), Craig Stone, Gary Elphick, Lanre Azeez, Adam Lovatt, Daniel Ajakaiye, Ben Pope (Kenny Pogue 83), Jack Dixon.
Subs: Daniel Hull, Davide Rodari

Booked: Adam Lovatt 79

Attendance: 150
Referee: Mr Luis Nunes (Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey)
Assistants: Mr Josh Osofa (Walton-on-Thames, Surrey) & Mr Karl Parker (Roehampton, London SW15)