Cray Wanderers 2-0 Horsham - It’s like a boxing match. The fight doesn’t stop unless the ref jumps in and waves his hands about so you keep throwing punches until somebody tells you to stop, says Cray Wanderers boss Tony Russell

Saturday 09th March 2019
Cray Wanderers 2 – 0 Horsham
Location Hayes Lane, Bromley, Kent BR2 9EF
Kickoff 09/03/2019 15:00

Bostik South East Division
Saturday 9 March 2019
Stephen McCartney reports from Hayes Lane

CHAMPIONS-ELECT Cray Wanderers manager Tony Russell insists his side will keep going in the title race after comfortably beating Horsham.


The Wands extended their lead at the top of the Bostik South East Division table to 16 points with eight games remaining after easing to victory in this top-of-the-table clash.

Dominic di Paola’s men are the only side to beat Cray Wanderers in the league when they secured a 4-2 win in Lancing on Saturday 15 December 2018.

Cray Wanderers extended their unbeaten run to 12 games, while the Hornets arrived at Hayes Lane on a seven match unbeaten run but they were brushed aside by a side that will be playing Bostik Premier Division football in their last season in Bromley.

Junior Dadson swept in his eleventh-goal of the season to give Cray Wanderers a first half lead, before former Margate striker Joe Taylor tucked home a second half penalty to score his sixth goal for the club.

Horsham were reduced to ten-men when holding midfielder Dan Pearse was shown a straight red-card for a bad foul on Jerome Federico in the 66th minute.

“I thought we were very professional today without being spectacular but Horsham are a good side and we never really gave them a chance to show it,” said Russell, who is on the verge of claiming his second Isthmian League title after guiding VCD Athletic to the North Division title five years ago.

“I thought we nullified them really well.  We scored two, maybe we could’ve had a couple more but the fact is that they didn’t create nothing else apart from a couple of pop shots, there was nothing of note.

“Delighted, this time of the season as well to be that calm, that’s the thing. It’s easy to reach for it and you want it and try to win the game in 10 minutes but we were very, very clam and calculated and that was the most pleasing thing about today.”

Cray Wanderers created the first opening after only 143 seconds of play, courtesy of 20-year-old right-back Ben Mundele.

Mundele picked the ball up inside his own penalty area and wasn’t pressed by Horsham’s midfield and easily skipped past Horsham left-back Harvey Sparks and from 20-yards cut onto his right-boot and stroked a shot towards the far corner, which forced keeper Josh Pelling to dive to his right to push away.

“Ben is class.  His levels have gone up through the roof this year, he’s unbelievable,” said Russell, who revealed the defender is on his way in the summer.

“Without giving away too much, he will be a professional footballer next season for sure so I’m not surprised. I think he’ll go onto really big things.

“I’m not sure if he’s signed a pre-contract but I know he’s been offered a pro-contract (with a club) who we’ve been speaking to in January. He was going to go in January but we couldn’t get it over the line in time. He was set-up for the summer so he’ll go and I can’t thank him enough.

“He came to us as a seventeen-year-old winger and we’ve converted him as a right-back and you can pat yourself on the back as a coach but you’re only as good as the people that let you coach and he’s all ears and very keen and you could see today his way above the level we’re at.”

The first half was played at a slow tempo and Cray Wanderers patiently built-up from the back before the ball was played into Karl Dent.  Space opened up in front of the midfielder but his low right-footed drive from 30-yards rolled harmlessly wide.

Horsham took 19 minutes to create their first chance and they were to be denied by a fine save from goalkeeper Nick Blue.

George Hayward cushioned a header down to Kieran Lavery, who swept the ball in behind Jay Leader to put winger Lee Harding in down the right.  He cut the ball back for unmarked striker Rob O’Toole, who got in behind Mitchell Nelson and was about to score from 10-yards, only for Blue to make a brave save with his feet as he narrowed the angle and got down low to his left.

Russell said:  “He just got on the wrong side of Archie and he squared it and Blue was nice and brave and sort of came out and blocked the shot.  Everything Bluey did was very solid.  They had a couple of long shots in the second half but he held everything and important moments in games.”

Cray Wanderers opened the scoring on the break with 24 minutes and 50 seconds on the clock.

Bradley Pritchard fed the ball into Federico on the right and he easily skipped past Sparks in midfield and darted into the penalty area. He put the ball on a plate for Dadson at the far post.  The winger swept his right-footed shot on the turn across the keeper to find the bottom far corner from eight-yards.

Russell said: “After a slow start I thought we started to dominate the game.  There were a couple of lovely passes in there and we were moving them about and we manipulated them a little bit and we isolated Feds with the left-back and he whizzed past him and cut the ball back lovely.

“One thing Junior can do is finish, he can definitely finish. He’s frustrating, no doubt, he is very, very frustrating but he can finish left-foot, right-foot and it was a real good finish on the turn.  It came across and slammed it straight in the net.”

Harding floated in a deep corner from the left which was met by an unmarked O’Toole at the far post and his looping header from 15-yards was plucked out of the air by an untroubled Blue.

Taylor dropped deep to receive the ball inside midfield before playing the ball out to left-back Archie Johnson, who fed Dadson, who played a reverse pass into Pritchard’s feet, but Pelling rushed off his line to narrow the angle and smother the ball behind for a corner.

Horsham were forced into shooting from long range in the 43rd minute, which left Blue untroubled.

The home side switched off from Sparks throw-in and Pearse was left in acres of space and stroked a right-footed drive from 35-yards, which dipped in front of Blue, who made a comfortable save after the ball bounced right in front of him.

“I think the key is as well is we were making them work really hard just to stay in the game,” explained Russell.

“There is a method in our madness. We are softening teams up. Sometimes you hammer the door and it ain’t going and sometimes you have to undo some screws before you kick it down.  That’s what we were doing. We were moving it about and switching it and some lovely moves and once we started doing that gaps started to appear because they’re a good side with some really good players but I thought we looked a little bit above them in terms of class as well.”

Reflecting on his thoughts at the break, Russell revealed: “We spoke about keeping the game on a nice even tempo and not getting too excited and just be nice and calm and relaxed and keep moving the ball and play at our tempo.

“We said we haven’t got to win the game in the first 10 minutes of the second half, just to ware them down, frustrate them. A lot of teams get red cards and give away penalties because they just get worn down.”

Cray Wanderers created the first opening of the second half when Dent floated in a free-kick from the right wing, the ball was headed clear by Jack Brivio and Dadson hooked his volley looping over the crossbar from a central position from 15-yards.

Horsham got in behind the Cray Wanderers defence in the 53rd minute and all that was missing was the finish.

Substitute right-back Steven Metcalf threw the ball into Harding, who reached the by-line to cut the ball back for Lavery, who had his back to goal, flicked his shot straight at Blue from the corner of the six-yard box.

Russell added: “We switched off from a throw.  It ended up going straight into Bluey. If you switch off against good players, you always leave yourselves open but luckily enough it was a tame effort in the end.”

Cray Wanderers wrapped up the comfortably victory by doubling their lead, the goal being timed at 11 minutes and 51 seconds on the clock.

Johnson found space in the final third to take a touch before whipping in a great cross and Dent skipped past Horsham centre-half Joe Shelley, who stuck out a left and tripped the Cray Wanderers midfield playmaker.

Referee Isaac Searle pointed to the spot and Taylor sent Pelling the wrong way with a swept right-footed penalty, which nestled into the bottom left-hand corner.

“Denty, the last month, he’s really stepped-up. It’s been a quiet season for him. He got a nasty hand injury that kept him out for six weeks but he was class last week against Phoenix Sports (scoring in our 1-0 win) and I thought he had a brilliant game today. 

“He just tempted the big centre-half into making a tackle and those big legs came out and he just pushed it past him and it was aa pretty straight forward decision.

“JT has been brilliant for us since we signed him. He’s been brilliant, he really has,” added Russell on Taylor.

“He does selfless running for us. We need to do more work with him and get him more facing the goal. We want to give him more chances. We didn’t get him enough chances recently but he’s class, a class bloke and he’s fitted in well with the boys.

“He’s a great signing. He’s done well for us and hopefully he can stay with us long-term and continue to grow with us.”

Horsham faced a mountain to climb when they lost Pearse for a bad foul on Federico on the right some 35-yards from goal.

“He’s come over, has he meant to do him?  I don’t know but he’s off the floor. It’s not a great tackle. I wasn’t overly surprised to see a red-card,” added Russell.

Cray Wanderers made second-placed Horsham look ordinary but di Paola’s men showed more fight and desire to make a game with it following the red-card.

O’Toole, who by now had dropped into midfield, played the ball inside to Lavery, who drove forward before playing in Sparks, who hit a left-footed angled rasping drive from 15-yards, which was comfortably caught by Blue above his head at the halfway point.

Russell said: “Actually it becomes a point when you’re away from home and you’re 1-0 down and down to 10 men and you’ve got nothing to lose. They threw caution to the wind and we got a little bit sloppy because we think we can relax now because we’re 2-0 up so it was a combination of the two.

“It brought them into the game a little bit but he’s hit it from a right angle. I would’ve been surprised of Bluey would’ve been beaten by that.

“Credit to Horsham, good sides aren’t going to just lie down and let you beat them. They’re a good side and they gave everything that they’ve got and Dom can be proud of them.  I think they’re a very good side and have had a very good season and they’ll be a handful in the play-offs whoever they play.”

Horsham’s Harding was left unmarked some 35-yards from goal but he drilled a right-footed speculative drive, which flashed harmlessly wide of the right-hand post.

Cray Wanderers started to up their temp during the final 10 minutes as the game sped up.

Nelson hit a long ball out of defence and the ball was controlled by Taylor in the middle of the pitch. He played the ball out to substitute striker Freddie Parker wide on the right, who played the ball inside to Dadson, who cut inside and placed his right-footed angled drive straight at Pelling from 20-yards.

“They were tired at the end Horsham. They ran their race at that point and it was whether we could get the cherry on the top and unfortunately we couldn’t,” added Russell.

Mundele ran the ball out of defence down the right and he played the ball out to Taylor on the right.  Parker linked up well with Taylor, who found an unmarked Johnson on the other side of the pitch and he cut inside before dragging his right-footed shot past the near post from 25-yards.

Dadson ran at the Horsham defence before cutting inside on to his left-boot but he sliced his shot wide of the far post from 22-yards.

A handball from Pritchard on the corner of his own penalty area gave well-beaten Horsham a glimmer of hope at the death but 16-goal substitute striker Chris Smith drilled the resulting free-kick straight down Blue’s throat.

“Listen, credit to them, they never stopped coming forward and trying to get something out the game, a sign of a good side,” said Russell.

“When you’re playing a side in second-place and you look at the whole game, you’re talking minimal real threats.  Limiting the top sides to very little then I’d be happy. We’ve got another tough game (at Hastings United) next week, so if we can limit them to the amount of chances I’ll be very happy with that as well.”

Parker fed Dadson, whose left-footed drive from a couple of yards inside the Horsham penalty area, forced Pelling to dive to his left to push behind for the home side’s fourth and final corner of the game.

It would be a disaster if Cray Wanderers fail to win the title from this commanding position.

The Wands lead the way with 74 points from 34 games and the four-play-off places are occupied by Horsham (55 points from 29 games); Ashford United (54 points from 28 games); Hastings United (53 points from 29 games) and Haywards Heath Town (52 points from 28 games).

Russell takes his side to Hastings next Saturday and host Haywards Heath Town on Saturday 23 March, before travelling to bottom-three side Whitstable Town seven days later, and basement side Greenwich Borough come to Hayes Lane eight days later.

The league title should be wrapped up by that point.

Russell said:  “We got off to a really good start and from about 10 games all I’ve ever heard is ‘you’ve won it now, you’re going to win it!’

“The facts of the matter are, we haven’t won it and we need to win more games and they are the facts. 

“I said it to the boys before the game, it’s like a boxing match. The fight doesn’t stop unless the ref jumps in and waves his hands about so you keep throwing punches until somebody tells you, until I say stop and you’ve done enough.

“We haven’t done that yet. Are we in a great position? Yes! Of course, we are. Every club in our league would swap our position at a heart beat. There’s a lot of chairmen who are putting a lot of money in to this season, a whole lot of money than we have and are short.

“We also know with Hastings and Haywards Heath coming up and Ashford still to play, there’s a lot of tough games but this group of boys are class.  They are the best group of boys that I’ve ever worked with.  They’re just so calm. There’s no dramas, there’s no shouting our screaming. If you walk into our dressing room you wouldn’t know if they’ve won, lost or drawn.”

Cray Wanderers have proved that teams can get the ball down and play and be successful in non-league football.  They deserve to be crowned Bostik South East Division champions this season.

Cray Wanderers: Nick Blue, Ben Mundele, Archie Johnson, Sean Roberts, Mitchell Nelson, Jay Leader, Junior Dadson, Bradley Pritchard, Joe Taylor, Karl Dent (Freddie Parker 77), Jerome Federico (Tom Carlse 71).
Subs: Daniel Uchechi, Donnell Anderson, Joe Vines

Goals: Junior Dadson 25, Joe Taylor 57 (penalty)

Booked: Bradley Pritchard 90

Horsham: Josh Pelling, Lewis Hyde (Steven Metcalf 33), Harvey Sparks, Dan Pearse, Joe Shelley, Dylan Merchant-Simmons, George Hayward, Jack Brivio (Tyrell Richardson-Brown 64), Rob O’Toole, Kieran Lavery (Chris Smith 73), Lee Harding.
Subs: Dean Lovegrove, Dan Hogan

Booked: George Hayward 83, Lee Harding 84, Harvey Sparks 89

Sent Off:  Dan Pearse 66

Attendance: 209
Referee: Mr Isaac Searle (Dover)
Assistants: Mr Matthew Charles (Chatham) & Mr Robert Columb (Rochester)