Cray Wanderers 1-2 Thurrock - I must shoulder some of the blame, says Tony Russell

Tuesday 15th March 2016
Cray Wanderers 1 – 2 Thurrock
Location Hayes Lane, Bromley, Kent BR2 9EF
Kickoff 15/03/2016 19:45

Ryman League Division One North
Tuesday 15th March 2016
Stephen McCartney reports from Hayes Lane

CRAY WANDERERS manager Tony Russell says he shoulders the blame for his side’s ninth league defeat of the season.

Thurrock remain in second-place in the Ryman League Division One North table having ended The Wands’ four match unbeaten run and are now nine points adrift of AFC Sudbury, while Cray Wanderers remain in fourth-place on 74 points with seven games remaining to cement a play-off place.

After a goal-less first half at Hayes Lane, Thurrock were gifted two goals as a rash challenge from Cray’s right-back Adetayo Osifuwa gave the Essex side a penalty, which was slotted home by wide-man Harry Agumbar, for his third goal of the season.

Goalkeeper Nick Blue then allowed a corner to sail over his head and Charlie Cole applied the finish from virtually on the goal-line to score his fifth goal for the club this season.

Cray Wanderers pulled a late goal back through James Duckworth’s tenth goal of the season but Thurrock held on to move nine points clear of the Kent side.

“I thought we played our part in a really good game of football if I’m honest,” said Russell, who suffered his first defeat to Mark Stimson at the fourth attempt.

“I thought it was two well-organised sides going against each other. I thought we edged the first half and I thought they probably just edged the second half.”

Russell was forced to reshuffle his pack when news came to him at six o’clock that central defender Ben Payne, a lift engineer, couldn’t get away from work.

Grant Basey moved across from left-back to partner Jay Leader at the heart of defence, while central midfielder Sean Roberts slotted in at left-back and ultimately Cray Wanderers paid the price.

Russell revealed that he was told about Payne’s potential unavailability on Sunday, when Soham Town Rangers were thrashed 6-1 at Hayes Lane.

“It’s killed us. It’s work. He got called into work late. He couldn’t get out,” said Russell, who revealed the player tried in vain to get cover for his shift.

“He’s a lift engineer. That’s the story of our season! Payno’s struggled to make a lot of midweek games. I’ve never put the same team out twice and that’s cost us dearly, I think that’s the difference.”

“Their nine (Ross Wall) caused us trouble all night. We never got to grips with him. You can’t have a go at Basey, I’m asking him to play at centre-half, he’s a left-back!”

Cray Wanderers started the game on the front foot and they should have taken the lead inside 10 minutes.

Right-back Osifuwa whipped in a quality cross from within the final third, which screamed past James Duckworth in the middle and landed at Jacob Erskine, whose left-footed shot was saved by Thurrock keeper Rhys Madden.

“I thought we started nice and bright.  In the first 20 minutes we could’ve been two or three nil up if I’m honest,” said Russell.

“We got into some good areas.  It was a good first half. We came out with the game plan we had to work the formation because they play a diamond. We try to manipulate the full-backs to get forward to create some overloads and I thought we done that.

“I thought we penned them in. We just needed that goal.  The longer it went on Thurrock started to creep it a little bit more.”

Thurrock were getting their bodies in the way as both Duckworth and Erskine were denied getting their shots off thanks to blocks from Remi Sutton and Junior Baker.

Cray Wanderers remained patient though and Duckworth swung in a corner from the left and Leader rose to plant his header over the crossbar from 10-yards.

They came within inches of taking a deserved lead after 20 minutes when Duckworth cut inside and drilled a right-footed shot towards goal from 30-yards, which forced Madden to dive to his right to push the ball to safety.

Thurrock weathered the early storm and created their first opening shortly afterwards.

Agumbar – who was playing on the right hand side of the diamond – played the ball inside to Cole but his left-footed shot from 25-yards was saved comfortably by Blue.

Blue pulled off a vital save to deny Thurrock the lead as the game edged towards the half-hour mark.

Striker Ross Wall threaded a through ball in between Leader and Basey to put Cole through on goal but this time Blue came off his line to block with his legs before Wall controlled the ball and placed his shot just past the foot of the left-hand post.

Russell said: “We didn’t quite deal with him (Wall) very well and Basey got sucked in.

“People who have played centre half or centre midfield will understand what I mean when I say it’s about partnerships. You develop a partnership and an understanding about when one goes up and when one drops.

“We’re telling them an hour before kick-off that they’re going to go in (unfamiliar positions), it’s not ideal. We got away with it a couple of games this year but when you’re playing against a decent side and Thurrock are a decent side at this level of football, you can’t do it and ultimately that’s what’s cost us!

“I can sit here and pick out the bones that their two goals are poor from our point of view but that’s not the root of the problem. The root of the problem goes back all season and we haven’t had a settled side. We’re making too many changes every week and you’re not expecting consistency.”

Thurrock finished the first half well and Agumbar floated in a corner from the left towards the near post but central defender Lewis Clark sent his free header glancing across the face of goal and just past the far post from 12-yards.

Cray built up patiently in the middle third with their trademark keep-ball ploy before Roberts fed Duckworth, who cut inside and unleashed a dipping drive off his right-foot, which only just cleared the crossbar from 25-yards.

Russell said: “I was right behind it, I thought it was in! It sort of just kept rising but I just think the first 15-20 minutes we was camped in their box.

“There were balls coming into the box. It was all us, wasn’t it? It looked like how many are we going to get? If we got one we’d probably get three or four and the game could’ve been out of sight but we said at half-time if you don’t put chances away eventually a team’s going to have a spell in the game.”

Thurrock hit the home side on the counter-attack when David Cowley broke down the middle, played the ball out to Agumbar, who was given time and space to float over a deep cross to Wall, who looped his free-header into Blue’s hands from 12-yards on the angle.

“I thought we defended that quite well,” said Russell.

“It was a floated ball and I don’t think he was going to score from there. It’s got to be some header so I was quite comfortable with that.  We held our line up high, he’s trying to loop a header at an angle and it ain’t going to beat Bluey from that.

“I probably won’t put that one down as a chance if I’m honest. He just peeled away, I thought he tried to head it back across and got too much on it and looped back to Bluey.”

Thurrock created the last chance of the half but Agumbar’s shot lacked conviction and rolled into Blue’s hands after he burst straight through the heart of the home side’s defence.

When asked about his thoughts at the break, Russell said: “I just said I’m disappointed! I just thought we picked their formation apart nicely. I thought we started the game nicely at a good tempo. I just spoke about the quality in the final third. I wanted a bit more quality.

“We had a couple of (near misses) but I think you’ve got to take them. If we want to do something this year we’ve got to take our chances. In the big games you’ve got to take chances like that.  You can’t have three or four good chances.”

The closest the Cray Wanderers came to scoring was through Basey’s inswinging free-kick from the right which was well-taken by Madden underneath his crossbar inside the opening four minutes.

Thurrock were gifted the lead through as Osifuwa’s rush challenge chopped down Sutton on the left hand side of the penalty area and referee Jack Packman had no option but to point to the spot.

Agumbar stepped up and slotted home his right-footed penalty to the goalkeeper’s right to give Thurrock the lead with 12:04 on the clock.

“As it gone on I said to Razor (assistant manager Ray Powell) it’s going to take an absolute worldy or a mistake between one of us two,” said Russell.

“It was settling down into a bit of a dull, no real chances in the second half and it was going to take something like that.

“To be fair to Ade that is what is holding him back from being at a real good level because he’s got everything. He’s quick as lightening, he’s good in the air, he can play but his decision making sometimes lets him down. That’s probably the third or fourth penalty he’s given away like that where he’s rash, runs in, bang!

“There’s no threat, he’s out wide. Rash decision making. He’s still a young man learning his trade but if he could sort that out the sky’s the limit for him.”

Roberts played the ball up to central midfielder Aryan Tajbakhsh who drilled his right-footed drive past the near post from 25-yards, before Thurrock went for the kill.

Agumbar played the ball in from the right to an unmarked Wall, who curled his left-footed shot towards the top left-hand corner from 25-yards, which clipped the top of the post and dropped down for Ross Gleed to blast his shot over the bar.

Russell admitted he missed Payne’s presence at that moment in the game.

He said: “That’s what I mean! If you look at it it’s gone into Ross (Wall), he’s brought it down, he’s turned, he’s looked up. He’s floated one. Where’s my centre halves?!

“That’s what we’re talking about! There’s no way on this earth as much as he’s killed me he’s doing that to Ben Payne! He would’ve been up and tight and that’s my point.  I never felt we dealt with it very well.”

Cole then played the ball into Michael Toner, whose right-footed shot went past the near post, before a good run from Wall set up Gleed, whose left-footed drive only just cleared the crossbar.

Russell admitted: “We lost our heads! We were all over the place!

“If you speak to Simmo he’ll be disappointed they didn’t put us away there and then. They had three or four great chances where they lacked a bit of quality.”

Thurrock deserved their 2-0 lead in the 59th minute – but Blue was at fault for a goal that shouldn’t have been scored in this manner.

Agumbar swung in Thurrock’s fifth and final corner from the left, which sailed over the keeper and Cole guided the ball over the line from on the line at the far post.

Russell said: “Bluey will be disappointed with that. I don’t know what he was doing!

“The corner came in and he was like superman, he came out and missed it and it hit him (Cole) didn’t it. 

“It’s funny because later we had exactly the same, the keeper’s came and missed it and Dawson has headed it wide.

“It’s our luck at the moment. Bluey will be disappointed but Bluey’s fantastic today, I thought he was good anyway all round. Unfortunately being a goalkeeper you make one chance we stand here and highlight it.”

Russell made a tactical switch by putting substitute Jamie Mascoll at left-back and Roberts back in the centre of the park and this brought Cray Wanderers back to life.

Russell said: “Sean’s been brilliant for us this year in centre midfield. Unfortunately he had to go left-back today which really cost us because we missed his legs in there and I just wanted to get his legs in midfield.”

Roberts fed substitute Leigh Bremner, who stroked his right-footed shot past the near post from 25-yards as the game entered the final 10 minutes.

This was when Cray Wanderers started to press to try to get themselves back into the game, with Baker immense against one of his former clubs at the heart of Thurrock’s defence.

Basey swung in a corner from the right but substitute striker Ben Hunt headed just wide of the near post.

Thurrock had their goalscoring moments too, however, and a pacy run through the middle by Cowley set up substitute Lewwis Spence, who drove his left-footed shot just past the foot of the near post.

Duckworth delivered the home side’s sixth and final corner in from the left and the ball dropped at Hunt, who clipped the ball over the bar from 12-yards.

Sutton was given time to play the ball out wide to Agumbar, who powered his shot across goal and past the far post.

But Cray Wanderers scored their 85th league goal of the season, with the clock showing 41:44.

Lea Dawson sent Duckworth charging down the left, he cut inside and drilled his left-footed angled drive from 15-yards across the keeper for the ball to nestle inside the bottom far corner.

Russell was delighted with his side’s finish.

“I just said to them out there, I said to them ‘keep your heads up!’.

“There’s ways of losing a game of football. If you’re a fan or director or an owner if you’re going to lose like that and you give everything for the club and you’re throwing your bodies on the line the fans are on the edge of their seats. We just didn’t let it die out. I said to them ‘well done’ for that. That will stand us in good stead.”

Cray Wanderers threw the kitchen sink at Thurrock for the little time remaining.

Basey swung in a left-footed free-kick from the right which was not cut out by keeper Madden and Dawson headed just wide of the left-hand post.

Basey then swung in a free-kick into the penalty area and Bremner turned and hooked a right-footed volley over his shoulder and the ball was destined to crash into the top left-hand corner, only for the ball to agonisingly clip the top of the left-hand post.

“I was right behind it! I thought it was in! I don’t know how it didn’t go in! Might’ve just curled away right at the end,” agonised Russell.

“It was in! He volleyed it over his shoulder and it’s spinning away and it was in, in, in, in, in and then last minute just hit the post and came out.  I thought it was in! I was up, ‘get in there!’

Louise Saunders’ correct offside flag denied Cray Wanderers a last-gasp equaliser when Hunt turned the ball in from inside the six-yard box after Bremner had knocked down Roberts’ floated ball into the edge of the box.

Cray Wanderers travel to second-from-bottom Barkingside on Saturday, before hosting Witham Town on Easter Saturday and travelling to Thurrock on Easter Monday.

“I’ve heard Barkingside’s pitch is absolute horrendous so we’ll have to work on something on Thursday to come up with a plan B,” said Russell.

Russell revealed he is searching for a possible replacement for Erskine, who was suffering with hamstring and back problems tonight.

“There’s something not right with his hamstring. He can’t run in behind so we’ll have to look at that.  Maybe when his loan (from Dulwich Hamlet) comes up I’ll be trying to bring one in.

“I don’t know if Payne’s not there Saturday. I have to make sure he’s available for the rest of the season because going forward I don’t think we’re going to go down that road ever again.

“But I must shoulder some of the blame because I had Payno at VCD last year and he done similar things and he assured me during the summer that it wasn’t going to happen.

“When I signed Jacob I knew he had some hamstring trouble so you roll the dice it didn’t pay off in these big games.

“We sent Jacob to a private physio yesterday and he wasn’t moving right, everything to feet, nothing in behind but I knew that when I got him in.  I thought I knew what the problem was. I thought it was more to do with his  back. I know a specialist who can straighten people out. 

“The poor fells is playing half his capacity. He’s a very good footballer but he can’t show that because he’s restricted so we have to come up with something.

“Jacob’s loan’s up next week so we have to make a decision whether we do that until the end of the season or we bring a new one in.  I’d like to keep Jacob but we need him fit. If he’s not fit he’s not good to us.”

Cray Wanderers: Nick Blue, Adetayo Osifuwa, Grant Basey, Jay Leader, Sean Roberts, Lea Dawson, Aryan Tajbakhsh (Jamie Mascoll 70), Karl Dent (Leigh Bremner 73), Jacob Erskine (Ben Hunt 64), James Duckworth, Michael Frieter.
Subs: Jai McKinley, Sam Faulkner

Goal: James Duckworth 87

Thurrock: Rhys Madden, Reece Morgan, Lewis Clark, Junior Baker, Remi Sutton, Michael Toner, Harry Agumbar, Ross Gleed (Lewwis Spence 79), Ross Wall, Charlie Cole (Ronnie Winn 75), David Cowley.
Subs: Connor Wheatley, Moshood Olafunmisi, Daniel Francis,

Goals: Harry Agumbar 58 (penalty), Charlie Cole 69

Attendance: 116
Referee: Mr Jack Packman (Margate)
Assistants: Mr Jack Hobbs (Canterbury) & Ms Louise Saunders (Rochester)

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