Cray Wanderers 2-2 Ramsgate - When you've got good players, you never think you're out, says Ramsgate boss Ben Smith

Sunday 17th September 2023
Cray Wanderers 2 – 2 Ramsgate
Location Hayes Lane, Bromley, Kent BR2 9EF
Kickoff 17/09/2023 15:00

The Emirates FA Cup Second Qualifying Round
Sunday 17 September 2023
Stephen McCartney reports from Hayes Lane

RAMSGATE manager Ben Smith says he wants his players to produce some FA Cup magic during Wednesday night’s home Second Qualifying Round Replay after leaving it very late to force a draw against Cray Wanderers at Hayes Lane.

After a goal-less first half, Cray Wanderers’ two wingers got themselves on the scoresheet to each score their third goals of the season.

Yahya Bamba headed in following a scrappy set-piece, before Nyren Clunis drove in a clinical angled drive from 30-yards to give Cray Wanderers a flattering two-goal lead.

However, referee Jack Willmore awarded Ramsgate a controversial penalty, which striker Joe Taylor cooly converted in the 86th minute, before the 32-year-old former Cray Wanderers and Lewes hit-man headed in his tenth goal of the season from a corner in the final minute.

Cray Wanderers went into this game sitting in the bottom four in the Isthmian League Premier Division table, with three points from their opening six games.

They lost their first five league outings before thrashing league leaders Chatham Town 5-1 at Maidstone Road, who also lost at home to Ramsgate by the same scoreline in The FA Cup First Qualifying Round.

The Wands defeated Southern Combination Premier Division outfit Newhaven 5-1 in The FA Cup First Qualifying Round, which set up this Kent derby against Ramsgate, sixth-place in the Isthmian League South East Division table with six points from three league outings.

“A mixed bag to be fair.  At 2-0, I didn’t feel like we deserved to be 2-0 down.  I thought we were the better side first half.  I thought they were better second half, said Ramsgate boss Ben Smith.

“We had a good last 10 minutes, as soon as we got a sniff.  I wouldn’t say it was like the Alamo. We had a bit more energy about us, a bit more zip about us, which was good to see and character from the lads.

“I think we’ve shown in the last round (against Chatham Town), it’s not about being a team in the league above. The players’ we’ve got in that dressing room could easily be playing in the league above.

“I thought coming into the game, it was a 50-50 game and I’ll go into midweek thinking it’s a 50-50 game.

“They’ve (Cray Wanderers) got some good players there, there’s no doubt, so have we.  I thought our players fought to the end, which was a bit of an obvious statement, but they fought to the end and they kept believing.”

Cray Wanderers boss Neil Smith added: “85 minutes, we were cruising, in a good position. They’re a strong side. They’ve got some good players in that team, play at a very good level.  You’re Medy’s, you’re Lee Martin’s and Joe Taylor’s, so we knew it wasn’t going to be easy.

“But I thought 85 minutes we’ve done enough. Unfortunately, I had to take a couple of boys off because they were injured but I didn’t see them (Ramsgate) getting a goal.

“Frankie Raymond’s injured, David Ijaha’s injured, George Porter was sore.  They’re playing through injuries today through the whole game so hopefully they’re there for Wednesday but if not, I’ve got other players that can come in.”

The Cray Wanderers boss added: “First half, I thought we were a bit sloppy.  We looked like we were reacting to things rather than being proactive.

“Second half, I thought we deserved to go 2-0 up but we should be able to see those games out.”

Ramsgate have the squad and the budget to push for promotion into the seventh-tier next season and this game gave Ben Smith a good indication of what Ramsgate will need if they achieve their aspirations at the end of this season.

“We’ve got a long way to go and we’ve got a lot of improvement to make if we’re going to be in that league.  It will be harder to get to that league then it will be to stay in it, with the squad that we’ve got and size of our club at this level.

“We’ve just got to take it week-by-week and we’re picking out things to improve week-on-week.  We’ve pulled out two or three things that we’ve got to work on.  When you throw a team together there’s things that you expect, the basics, things that you expect players to want to do.  We have to paint pictures to people and that takes time.”

Ramsgate were the better side in the first half and should have taken the lead after only 110 seconds on the counter-attack.

Right-back Jack Paxman released Taylor down the right channel and he cut the ball back towards an unmarked left-winger Alfie Paxman, who took a touch before lashing his left-footed drive over the crossbar from 15-yards.

“It was a great position and a great start from us and suddenly we’re on the front foot and it’s exactly the start you want, except the finish,” added the Ramsgate boss.

Cray Wanderers’ first opening arrived in the sixth minute when holding midfielder Frankie Raymond floated in a free-kick from a yard outside the corner of the penalty area but Bamba steered his header over the crossbar.

Advanced central midfielder Cameron Thompson released Clunis down the right and his deep cross was knocked down at the far post by Bamba and visiting goalkeeper Tom Hadler managed to grab hold of the ball before a falling George Porter could stab the ball over the line from inside the six-yard box.

Neil Smith said: “I thought at the end it was a bit of a scramble and I think George tried to get ahead of him before the keeper managed to catch it but not to be.  I thought George was immense today, without scoring.”

Ben Smith added: “It was a bit of a scramble, your heart’s in your mouth at that point but good goalkeeping. He made himself big and he was brave to throw himself at it – what I expect from him.”

Ramsgate were bossing possession and were playing out from the back and attacking midfielder Michael West was guilty of a glaring miss in the 26th minute.

Taylor swept the ball out to right-winger Benedict Bioletti, who ran down the wing and put in a low cross towards the centre of an open goal but West swept his first time shot past the far post from three-yards.

West movement was superb but Cray Wanderers lost centre-half Cameron Black to a blow to the nose so holding midfielder David Ijah temporarily slotted in beside Tom Penfold and switched off allowing Ramsgate the big chance.

“It was great build-up play to get JT (Taylor) through,” said Ben Smith.

“A good move, a good run from Westy.  I think he picked out a couple of good runs early on.  Everything (was there) apart from the finish, let us down at the last minute.”

Neil Smith admitted his Cray Wanderers side got away with one there.

“They had a few shots to be fair.  Westy had an open goal as well where he fluffed it.

“As I said, they’re a good side.  They’ll keep their own in our division. It was (a let off) and that was the warning. I think the winger put in a fantastic cross at pace. It went right across.

“My thing is my centre-half’s got a busted nose and he’s had to come off and that’s why he’s managed to have that space in there because my centre-half was standing on the side of the pitch and they nearly capitalised but we got away with that.”

Ramsgate central midfielder Tijan Jadama lost the ball to a pressing Thompson inside his defensive third but Bamba failed to keep his shot down from the left-hand side of the penalty area.

Cray Wanderers produced a well-worked three-man move involving Thompson and Porter before Clunis drilled his first time right-footed angled drive screaming across the keeper and past the top of the far post from 15-yards.

“Dave (Ijaha) had one, his one that I think is still travelling up somewhere over the stand.  I want them to shoot. I don’t care if they miss the target. I want them to shoot. I want them to feel confident.

“We’ve scored 10 goals in two games up until then so the confidence is high so I want them to keep shooting.  I don’t care if they miss. What I don’t want is they don’t take the opportunities when they do come,” added the Cray Wanderers boss.

Ramsgate were wasteful in front of goal in the 44th minute when Bioletti travelled down the right wing before cutting the ball back into the middle towards Taylor, who was crowded out inside the penalty area, but the ball rolled out to Lee Martin, who took a touch inside the box and lacked composure and lashed his right-footed shot over the crossbar.

The Ramsgate boss added: “That’s the sort of position you put your money on Lee Martin but it wasn’t to be. He didn’t quite get it down but it’s encouraging signs and I felt we were in control of the game at that point.”

Clunis then turned provider to release right-back Lee Lewis cutting into the Ramsgate box but he was never going to trouble Hadler at his near post, the ball rolling into the arms of the 27-year-old keeper.

Both Smith’s were asked their thoughts at the break.

Neil said:  “Just to liven up, to be sharper all round.  As I say, I thought the first half, it was more reacting and not being proactive.  I thought the second half they came out and started on the front foot.”

Ben added: “We were on top and you could see the players needed that goal.  I thought in the first half was where we played well. I thought we needed that goal so they could come in and go ‘we’re doing well here.’

“I told them to calm down, settle down.  Last 10 minutes we started trying to force things a little bit and we were a little bit erratic.  I just reminded them some of the basic things that we’re expecting them to try to do, which we weren’t quite executing well enough.”

Ramsgate created their first chance of the second half after only 16 seconds.

Martin re-started the game and rolled the ball back to Jack Paxman, who launched a long ball forward, which was chested down by Taylor before Jadama played the ball out to Bioletti, whose low cross took a deflection and was comfortably gathered by Shaun Rowley.

Cray Wanderers centre-half Cameron Black had Taylor in his pocket until his slip put Taylor through on goal with 83 seconds on the clock.

Jack Paxman’s through ball wasn’t cut out by Black (who slipped over) and Taylor charged into the box and cut onto his left-foot to stroke his shot across Rowley into the far corner, only for Rowley to come off his line and make a big save, low to his left.

Ben Smith said: “Good play from us and the keeper’s made a good save.  JT got good contact on it and if we’re getting chances, we’re going to score. We have to keep giving him more chances though!”

Neil Smith added: “Shaun pulled off a great save. It wasn’t because they opened us up, it was because of a mistake and all of the goals have been mistakes today and that was one of them.

“It’s bounced over his head, he’s fallen over and Joe’s gone through and you expect him to score and I think Shaun did amazing.”

Cray Wanderers swiftly went up the other end and Clunis cut the ball back from within the right channel to right-back Lee Lewis, who hit an angled drive screaming past the far post from outside the penalty area.

The Wands boss said: “He’s got a great strike on him and I think he just wrapped his foot around it and then we thought George might’ve got in at the far post with the header but it just flashed across him.”

Porter cut a frustrated figure up front on his own for Cray Wanderers and he met Lewis’ cross from the right with a glancing header from the edge of the six-yard box, which flashed across Hadler and went past the far post.

The game needed a goal and Cray Wanderers grabbed the lead with 13 minutes and 24 seconds on the clock, ironically following one of the worst corners that you will see this season.

Clunis delivered a woeful ball in from the left but credit Porter for keeping it alive on the by-line on the edge of the Ramsgate six-yard box.  There were numerous bodies inside the box but Ijaha flicked the ball on and Bamba steered his towering header across Hadler to find the far corner from four-yards.

Neil Smith said:  “It was a bad corner but what I said is we just threw our arms up but in the end George kept it alive. It then gets headed back by Will Wood and then all off a sudden Yahya is on the end of it.

“You’ve got to be ready for those things.  They might happen, all these mistakes or whatever you want to call them but then you see us play, all off a sudden, that just settled the boys down a little bit.”

Ben Smith added: “That’s when you think ‘it’s one of those moments, isn’t it?’

“It’s pinballed off a few people and you try to dissect that and say we should’ve done this, or this or this.  I’d love one of them to go in for us. That will be nice. It's hard to really pick someone out and go ‘it’s your fault’, in terms of accountability, so you’ve got to get on with it and try and salvage something.”

Clunis’ third corner was of better quality and Black met it with a downward header, which bounced up off the artificial turf and Hadler pushed the ball over his crossbar.

Neil Smith said: “Once the ball misses the first man, you give yourself a better chance but the keeper was alive to it and tipped it over.”

Ben Smith added: “Tom’s just played it safe and made sure he got contact on it and put it over.”

Cray Wanderers grabbed their second goal, timed at 23 minutes and 26 seconds on the clock, with a clinical strike from Clunis.

Debutant former Hornchurch winger Ellis Brown played a short pass inside from the right wing into Clunis, who took a touch before drilling a right-footed angled drive across Hadler to find the bottom far corner from 30-yards.

“Ellis needs to get fit, we know that but we’ll have to play him while he’s getting fit,” admitted Neil Smith.

“But I thought he came on and showed glimpses of what he can do. He came in on Thursday and I think that was his first game since pre-season, so we know he needs to get sharper but I think it’s a good introduction to the squad.

“I think Nyren’s going to hit it first time and as he’s had the touch I’m like ‘why is he having a touch?’ and all off a sudden he’s putting it into the corner and that’s why he had the second touch.

“Nyren did that last week.  He had a couple of chances last week and he’s taken them.  He’s playing really well at the moment, Nyren.”

The Ramsgate boss added: “A good goal from them, a good move from them.  They obviously caught us on the break and on the sidelines we’re scratching our heads.

“I thought 2-0 was a bit flattering for them, but let’s not forget they’ve got good players as well, so as much as we’re standing there thinking we shouldn’t be 2-0 down, they’ve taken chances and fair play to them.”

When asked whether he thought Ramsgate were crashing off the Road to Wembley, at the fourth turn off, Ben Smith replied: Absolutely not, no! When you’ve got good players you never think you’re out.  We could’ve been 3-0 down there and we’d still try to work out a way of winning the game.

“At that point we’re thinking ‘we’ve got to make some changes,’ whether that will be personnel off the bench or whether that will be personnel in terms of shape, so that was for me and Seb Tidey (my head coach) to discuss and make some changes and slight adaptations.”

Neil Smith reported that he lost central midfielders David Ijaha (76th minute)  Frankie Raymond (81) to injury, so on came Sam Wood and Anthony Cook in their place, while Ben Smith reported that his two wingers, Bioletti and Jordan Green were nursing hamstring injuries during the game.

Both manager’s were asked when they thought the momentum shift took place.

Neil Smith said: “The momentum shift, their goal, 86th minute.  I thought second half we looked comfortable.  I thought we played some nice stuff.  It was probably the momentum shift when I had to change my central midfield pairing.”

Ben Smith replied: “We did something that we asked them to do from minute one and I’m not going to tell you what that is!

“We ask them to play a certain pattern and we avoided it all game much to our frustration on the sideline and we just played a basic simple pattern.  Ultimately it’s going to give us a much better chance of being around their goal.”

Ramsgate pulled a goal back with 40 minutes and 49 seconds on the clock.

Jack Paxman played the ball into Taylor’s feet inside the Cray Wanderers penalty area and referee Jack Willmore adjudged Penfold to have committed a foul on the Ramsgate striker on the corner of the six-yard box.

Taylor accepted the gift, rolling his right-footed penalty left on centre, putting Rowley down to the ground as the keeper got down low to his left.

Ben Smith said: “It took us a long time to figure out that we’ve got Joe Taylor in the team and we’ve got to give him the ball higher up the pitch.

“We’ve got to be finding him so he’s got to be central to what we’re doing and we were a bit one dimensional in other ways.”

Neil Smith claimed: “Eighty-six minute, Joe Taylor does what Joe Taylor does.  He pinned my defender and as soon as he pinned him in the box, he’s turned him and he’s got a chance but by all accounts – we’ve just seen the video – and my defender doesn’t touch him. He actually stubs his foot into the ground, but if you go to ground, you give the referee a decision to make.”

The corner count was five-apiece and Ramsgate head coach Seb Tidey (who sat in the press conference with Ben Smith) took full credit for the well-worked set-piece.

Alfie Paxman swung in his left-footed delivery from the right and Taylor’s movement was too good for his marker, creating space at the near post to bury his header into the roof of the net, over the man standing on the near post to equalise with 44:03 on the clock.  The final whistle was blown at 51:38.

The Cray Wanderers boss said: “They get the corner and we lose him. He just runs across him, so I’ve had to have a go at the guy that was marking because that’s his job and all you have to do is stay with your player.

“That’s it. It’s game over. It’s game over. It’s a sucker punch. As soon as they get that first goal you see it gives them a lift, they’ve got nothing to lose.

“We then go a little bit raggy. We had to make two substitutes. I’m playing Sam Wood in there and Cookie, who are probably not central midfielders but players’ are injured and I’ve got to take them off.  They’re not centre midfield players but that’s what I had on the bench.”

Ben Smith let his head coach take all of the credit for the equalising goal.

“Seb Tidey, Seb Tidey,” said the Ramsgate boss.

Tidey stepped in and added: “Fair play to the players. We gave them a new routine to try and do and they took on the information really well.  Joe’s movement was brilliant, a great header as well.  I think they deserved it, I think it’s the minimum they deserved.”

Ben Smith continued: “Really pleased.  I wanted to win the game. I’m pleased that we can take a replay back because the game was on a Sunday and we had a good crowd here today but in front of our own crowd etc, we want to give those young kids experiences.  We want to give them memories of The FA Cup, the Magic of the Cup and stuff.

“It’s up to our players now to go and give them that sense of magic and moments that can inspire young kids, so hopefully we can have some of the parents to keep the kids out a little bit later on Wednesday night and make it a tough place to go.”

Both Smith’s were asked what kind of game that they are expecting on the Kent coast and which of the two sides go into the second tie as favourites.

Ben Smith said: “A 50-50 game.  It’s one of those.  We were out of the Cup on 60 minutes, so we’re just going to have a go. We have to pick up how we started and they will want to come and show they’re a league above and show some of the class that they’ve got.

“They’ve got a top, top management team (Neil Smith and Tim O’Shea), they’ve got some good players there.  We’ve got a replay at our place.  It’s not going to be a walkover. It’s a tough old game for us so we’ve got to recover and go again.

“Benni Bioletti (hamstring) will be out for some time now. Jordan Green has pulled up right at the end there (hamstring), so it will look like we’ll have to work without those two and see how we go from there really.”

Cray Wanderers boss Neil Smith added: “We go down there, it will be another tough game.  There will be a good crowd there, hopefully, so there’s no pressure on anybody. Just go down there and hopefully enjoy ourselves.

“Favourites? They probably are, I think it’s a very even game. I think Ben’s got a fantastic squad of players. They look to play the right way, they’re a good side. He’s a good manager, he knows the level and it will be a good one. It will be a good game.

“I’m expecting a good game. I like Ben, I like their coaching style and playing style there and they’ve got some fantastic players and they’ve got a good squad. I know they need to get promotion this year, so the pressure is probably on the League rather than the Cup, but everyone wants a good Cup run – let’s hope we can make a bit of history (and reach the First Round for the very first time).”

Reflecting on their slow start to the Isthmian League Premier Division, Neil Smith, who guided Cray Wanderers to the play-off semi-finals, losing on penalties to Hornchurch after a 3-3 after extra time thriller, said: “Obviously, we want to be better in the league. I don’t think we deserved to lose the first five games but the league doesn’t lie.

“We’ve won our last couple of games 5-1, especially beating Chatham, who are top of the league. Hopefully it gives the boys a little bit of momentum and a little bit of belief because I think I’ve got a good squad this year.”

Cray Wanderers: Shaun Rowley, Lee Lewis, William Wood, David Ijaha (Sam Wood 76), Cameron Black, Tom Penfold, Yahya Bamba, Frankie Raymond (Anthony Cook 81), George Porter, Cameron Thompson (Ellis Brown 63), Nyren Clunis.
Subs: Archy Taylor, Jamie Mascoll, Jack Holland, Reggie Rye

Goals: Yahya Bamba 59, Nyren Clunis 69

Booked: David Ijah 75

Ramsgate: Tom Hadler, Jack Paxman, Jack Parter, Lee Martin, Daniel Johnson, Sinn’kaye Christie (Joe Ellul 90), Alfie Paxman, Tijan Jadama, Joe Taylor, Michael West (Medy Elito 70), Benedict Bioletti (Jordan Green 67).
Subs: Bode Anidugbe, Louis Procopi, Archie Simmons, Freddie Oliver

Goals:  Joe Taylor 86 (penalty), 90

Booked: Jack Paxman 39, Ben Smith 64 (manager)

Attendance: 258
Referee: Mr Jack Willmore
Assistants: Mr Lawrence Attoh & Mr Neil Jenkins