Cray Wanderers 2-5 Walton Casuals - if we’re in the play-offs and we lose I’m not sure if my job’s under threat, says Cray Wanderers boss Tony Russell
Cray Wanderers 2 – 5 Walton Casuals
|Location||Hayes Lane, Bromley, Kent BR2 9EF|
CRAY WANDERERS 2-5 WALTON CASUALS
Bostik South Division Play-Off Semi-Final
Tuesday 1 May 2018
Stephen McCartney reports from Hayes Lane
CRAY WANDERERS manager Tony Russell says he will sit down with the clubs owners to discuss his future after failing to win promotion.
The Wands completed their 46-match Bostik South campaign in third-place in the table finishing on 89 points and were the divisions’ top scorers (112 goals), but they missed out on an automatic promotion as Carshalton Athletic (102 points) and Lewes (99) sealed promotion into the Bostik Premier.
The Wands held home advantage over sixth-placed finishers Walton Casuals, as Anthony Gale’s men finished just three points behind the hosts in the pecking order.
Walton Casuals got off to a dream start by taking the lead after only 168 seconds through a downward header from unmarked centre half Joe Hicks from a corner.
Cray Wanderers were reduced to ten-men when holding midfielder Zak Henry picked up two yellow cards for fouls on Alex Kelly and then Harry Mills after 32 minutes.
But Russell’s men scored twice in the space of 275 seconds to keep their promotion dream alive as wingers Aaron Rhule and Brandon Scott scored their 12th and ninth goals of the season respectively.
The Wands started the second half by parking the bus and an impressive Walton Casuals’ side equalised through substitute Daryl Coleman’s scrumptious 35-yard drive that crashed into the top bins.
It then went horribly wrong from there for Cray Wanderers as the Surrey side rattled in further goals from substitute Stuart Baldwin, striker Josh Kelly and highly-rated midfielder (substitute) Jack Sammoutis.
Gale’s talented side will travel to Corinthian-Casuals – who came away from Greenwich Borough with a 3-0 win – in Saturday’s Play-Off Final.
“It’s really hard to take at the moment if I’m honest,” admitted Russell during the post-match press conference.
“I think the referee made a shocker for the (sending off). It’s not even a foul! He’s gone for a 50-50 but their bench has run around and screamed and they’ve been sucked in by that and it’s changed the game.
“Obviously we’re disappointed but I’m so proud of the boys. The way they thought back, they were brilliant!
“We said before the game whatever happens if we win, draw or lose, just make sure we give everything that we’ve got and I can’t fault the players. We had a go at it at the end and they picked it off. Baring their goalkeeper, we could’ve won that game.”
Russell made four changes to the side that completed their League campaign with a 4-0 home win over Guernsey at the weekend, while Gale kept faith with the side that finished off Hythe Town’s promotion challenge by winning 4-1 at bottom-four finishers Ashford United.
Russell was unhappy with referee Michael Lowe on more than one occasion as Walton Casuals drew first blood at Hayes Lane.
Right-back Mills floated in their first of seven corners, in from the right and Hicks found a pocket of space at the near post to plant his downward header into the right-hand corner from eight-yards.
Russell said: “The thing is, we spoke to the referee before the game. We spoke to the players, we know what they do. They do a crossover, 10 (Isaac Sarpong) blocks and the five (Hicks) has a free header.
“We spoke to the referee and told him to look out for that – he didn’t!
“Jay Leader got blocked and the guy’s got a free header but it’s clever, it’s a clever corner routine and it worked for them.”
Cray Wanderers were on the back foot during the early exchanges but they almost found an equaliser in the tenth minute.
Michael Frieter got his free-kick just a yard outside of the penalty area up and over the wall and visiting keeper Denzel Gerrar flicked the ball away at his near post and Charlie MacDonald’s shot on the turn crashed down off the underside of the crossbar from six-yards.
“You start to winder then don’t you, I must admit,” admitted Russell.
“I thought we started quite calmly. I didn’t think we were great but it’s just a bit of a blur at the moment.
“There were a few chances out there we missed. I thought their goalie, to save the ball from the free-kick, I was right behind that, I thought it was in! It was a great save and then Charlie’s followed it up and hit the underside of the bar but the initial save itself you have to give the goalkeeper so much credit, it’s an unbelievable save!”
Mills swung in his second corner from the right and Jay Leader lost his man again but this time Max Hustwick nipped in at the near post to steer his header wide.
Walton Casuals keeper Gerrar fed Mills, who went on a sixty-yard run with the ball, skipped past Marcus Evans to reach the edge of the D before drilling his left-footed shot just over the crossbar in the 18th minute.
Cray Wanderers weren’t being allowed to play their usual trademark passing game as Gale got his tactics spot on.
Russell revealed that Marcus Evans, who came in for the suspended Mitchell Nelson, didn’t work on the same wave length with Henry.
He said: “I was just trying to keep calm. Young Marcus was playing in the game because Mitchell got suspended so he’s quite young. Zak wasn’t quite understanding what we were asking him to do. I thought their relationship wasn’t great.
“We looked a little bit nervous, our passing wasn’t the best and I was hoping once we settled down and get into our stride I always knew we’d score past them. They’re vulnerable going the other way, we just had to keep them quiet, they’re very good going forward.”
Walton Casuals were miles better than Cray Wanderers when it was eleven-a-side but Henry cost his club promotion after being sent-off for a challenge on Mills with 32 minutes gone.
“I think it’s a shocking decision, he was influenced. It was right by their fans and everyone started to shout and their manager’s coming onto the pitch pointing at the referee,” claimed Russell.
“It’s a poor decision. I wanted clarification. I went in the dressing room and the boys said he got the ball. I thought I saw it that way. Everyone’s making a big thing out of it. I think he must’ve done him!
“I don’t know what I can say to him (Henry). I didn’t even think it was a foul, let alone a booking. I think their bench has conned the referee a little bit there if I’m honest, fair play, we all shout things, I suppose.”
When asked how Henry was feeling inside the home dressing room, Russell replied: “He’s distraught! He’s an honest, honest player who loves playing for us. He feels like he’s let everyone down.”
Walton Casuals’ holding midfielder Alex Kelly stung Nick Blue’s right-footed drive from 30-yards, the keeper moving to his right to gather at the second attempt.
But Cray Wanderers grabbed a vital equaliser following a set-piece with 37 minutes and 49 seconds on the clock.
Frieter swung in a quality free-kick from within the right channel which flashed across the corridor of uncertainty and Rhule bundled the ball into the back of the net from a couple of yards out.
“We do a lot of work on our set-plays and we’ve scored a lot, a hell of a lot,” said Russell.
“Obviously I’m delighted. I thought the way we responded anyway was brilliant, going down to 10 men, it could’ve been so easy one of those nights where it’s dead from that moment on and just peter out into nothing.”
Cray Wanderers took the lead with 41 minutes and 24 seconds on the clock with a great move.
Blue pinged a lovely pass out of his penalty area to pick out advanced left-back Barney Williams, who played Rhule down the line and he whipped in a deep cross along the deck which was missed by MacDonald but right-winger Scott ghosted in unmarked at the far post to tap the ball into the bottom near corner from two yards.
Russell said: “It’s a good goal. We opened them up. You just think that was easy enough wasn’t it? It was a great goal, a great goal.
“A great ball out from Blue, a good touch by Barney and it was exciting. I was proud of them.”
Russell revealed he will sit down with the former Southend winger and decide his future now that Scott has signed a record deal with Virgin.
“He’s done very well, he’s brought a song out on Sunday and I’m proud for him, all the boys are proud of him. The song has 1.5m views on You Tube. It’s a very good song. I’m not really into that genre of music but even I like it, so it must be decent!
“We’ve got an option of a second year on him but obviously if he’s not going to make himself available for football then I don’t know. I need to sit down with all of the players and find out where we’re at and we’ll go from there.”
Walton Casuals’ movement was superb at times and Josh Kelly played in Tyrell Richardson-Brown, who made a lovely run through the heart of the pitch into the penalty area and his low drive was held by Blue, low to his right.
Russell revealed he discussed tactics during the half-time interval with his side 2-1 up.
He said: “We just talked about the shape really, how we were going to do it. The midfield narrow four and shifting over and just try to restrict them to very little.
“If you look at it baring the last 10-15 minutes when we had to go for it and we went two up front, they weren’t creating anything. Bluey didn’t have a shot to save, they were just going sideways.”
Gale set the tone for the second half inside the dressing room by making a double substitution at the break. Coleman and former Greenwich Borough midfielder Sammoutis came on, while Baldwin scored exactly 167 seconds after coming off the subs bench.
Before that though, Frieter’s free-kick from the right was met by Leader’s flicked shot from the edge of the box rolled into Gerrar’s hands to collect inside the opening three minutes.
Russell admitted he made an error in making a double change so early as his two scorers were sacrificed for Kyron Farrell and Junior Dadson.
“In hindsight it didn’t work out, it didn’t work if I’m honest,” said the manager.
“The last two goals came from them not doing what we asked them to do, which is very disappointing.
“Aaron was devastated, he didn’t want to come off. He felt we could get at them a little bit more but maybe I went two quick. I maybe should’ve held my nerve a little bit longer but you just try to think in the moment and Rhule missed Saturday, he’s been out injured and Brandon as well. He hasn’t played much football. It was not ideal. I should’ve stuck, held my nerve but you live and learn but there’s nothing I can do now.”
Cray Wanderers parked the bus and this inevitably invited pressure on and Richardson-Brown ghosted in to meet Bamba’s deep cross with a header which hit the near post with Blue rooted to the spot.
“It was a tight angle, I think Bluey had that covered. You’re always going to get stretched when you’re down to 10 men. There were some tired bodies out there,” said Russell.
Walton Casuals deservedly equalised through a brilliant goal with only 10 minutes and 16 seconds on the clock.
Coleman was given time and space to drill a right-footed drive into the top left-hand corner from 35-yards, leaving Blue rooted to the spot.
“The geezer’s hit one out of nothing, it’s a great hit, don’t get me wrong, a great hit. I was more than happy with the team’s shape,” said Russell.
“This is what I said to the players, make them do that! Let’s get behind the ball, if someone fires one in from 35-yards into the top corner then tip your hat and that’s what we have to do.
“It was a great hit, a great shot. I know Bluey didn’t move. I wasn’t behind it. I couldn’t really see, it looked a good hit from where I was sitting. I’m not sure Bluey had any chance with that.”
Walton keeper Gerrar casually stepped over the by-line after catching a over-hit Frieter free-kick and Lea Dawson headed wide Farrell’s deep resulting cover from the left.
Cray Wanderers had defenders on the edge of their own penalty area but this wasn’t enough to stop Baldwin drilling a powerful right-footed drive past Blue from 18-yards to give Walton Casuals a 3-2 lead on 66 minutes.
“We had our shape, it wasn’t great if I’m honest. From that goal we had two people not marking anyone and they’ve got their players over there and we’re still over one side of the pitch.
“It’s hard. I’m trying to organise it and giving them information before they go on the pitch. I don’t know what I could’ve done if I’m honest, I don’t know but they didn’t follow what I wanted them to do and it cost us unfortunately.”
Williams reached the left channel and whipped in a low cross which was met by Frieter’s shot from the edge of the box, which took a deflection and looped up and was caught by Gerrar.
Dadson finally exploded into life when he drove forward and drilled a left-footed drive towards the roof of the net from 25-yards in the 68th minute, which was at a comfortable height for Gerrar to tip over the crossbar as he jumped and leaned back.
“It just seemed to be every time we had a great chance their keeper would save one and that was the frustrating thing,” said Russell.
“I said to Vinsey (assistant Joe Vines), we had a shot off the post and the goalie would pull of a worldie. I’m not saying Bluey didn’t save anything, it’s just frustrating every time they go forward and get a chance they’d score and we had to huff and puff just to create.”
Cray Wanderers were given a massive let-off when winger Youseff Bamba got in down the right and flashed a low cross across the face of goal. Blue was on the deck and all Baldwin had to do was roll the ball into the bottom far corner. The travelling fans were celebrating a goal but watched on in horror as the ball trickled past the foot of the far post and behind for a goal-kick.
Blue then excelled and proved he is a decent keeper by keeping his side in the game with a string of fine saves.
Firstly, he turned behind Josh Kelly’s left-footed drive from a tight angle in the 74th minute and received a slice of luck when Mills’ deep corner from the left was knocked back across goal at the far post by Baldwin and Coleman’s header dropped just wide.
Russell explained why he waited 76 minutes to bring on 30-goal striker Michael Power, who did more in 14 minutes than isolated MacDonald.
The Wands changed formation to 3-4-2 and Power went up front with MacDonald.
Blue launched a big kick upfield, Power brought the ball down and struck a left-footed drive from 20-yards, which was held by Gerrar, low to his left.
“He done brilliant, done brilliant. He was unlucky not to start today, he was brilliant against Guernsey. It was hard, we were trying to make a decision who we were going to go with, him or Charlie and it was a hard decision and we went for Charlie.”
Blue then flicked away Josh Kelly’s shot on the turn from eight-yards as Walton Casuals posed a massive threat going forward.
The Cray keeper produced a poor clearance which fell at 33-goal striker Josh Kelly, but made amends by getting back in to position to tip the 35-yard drive around the post.
There was a hint of unfortunate timing for Cray Wanderers when in the 39th minute the referee’s whistle sounded for a foul just a second before Power smashed his 25-yard volley into the top right-hand corner and from Frieter’s resulting free-kick, which was heading for the bottom corner, was held by the visiting keeper.
Russell said: “At 3-2 we put the ball in the net. At 3-2 he puts it in, the ref’s blown the whistle! Why is he blowing the whistle for? Does he not know about the advantage rule? The goalie didn’t stop. He’s scored that!
“Everything that could go against us went against us today unfortunately. We had a referee that made some strange decisions and came across a goalkeeper who had a very good game and then we had a team every time they got in the final third they seemed to score so it wasn’t great.”
Had referee Michael Lowe waited a couple more seconds Cray Wanderers would have fought back from the dead – but Walton Casuals killed the game with their fourth goal just 63 seconds later, the goal timed at 39:53.
A mistake from Leader let in Josh Kelly, who danced into the penalty area, skipped past keeper Blue before slotting a low shot into the net from a tight angle.
“If you’re being ultra-critical, Jay Leader should’ve cut it out but he got the wrong side of him but the boys were knackered, they’ve given everything. I can’t even criticise them, they’ve been superb by that stage the game’s gone and you just want to get off, blow the whistle, get out of here and lick our wounds.”
Clinical Walton Casuals wrapped up their scoring with 44:25 on the clock when Mills launched a long ball down the right to release Sammoutis, who cut inside and curled his left-footed shot over Blue’s right shoulder into the top far corner from 18-yards.
“Jack’s a god player with the ball, not so great without it so his ideal scenario was to come on with space and freedom and he’s very, very good in that scenario. I probably wouldn’t have picked him in my scenario with 10 men but with the ball he’s very good. He took his goal well.
“We were just out on our feet at the end. We’ve given everything. We asked the players before the game to give everything that they’ve got and they’ve given it. Last 10 minutes we were out on our feet. It’s brilliant how the boys kept counter-punching, just when you thought they were down and down in the dumps.”
Cray’s Frieter’s free-kick from out on the right curled around the far post from distance before Sammoutis cut in and drilled a shot against the top of the near post at the end.
Cray Wanderers SHOULD have won promotion this season and Russell admits their poor disciplinary record has paid the ultimate price.
“What I will say is this game probably highlights our season. We’ve had seven people sent-off this year and it just ain’t the sending’s off, it’s people missing the games after that’s cost us this year, not doubt whatsoever.
“I’ve had a lot of managers text me saying the same thing, asking me why we’re even in the play-offs?
“It doesn’t always happen, sometimes it doesn’t always happen. Like today, it was never going to, look at it. Look at every decision that went our way?
“It’s not our time, sometimes it’s not your time. I’m proud of Vinsey (Joe Vines) and Nathan White. We’re doing some really good work behind the scenes, way beyond the level that we’re at, we video all the games, we do analysis now.
“We’re going to push next year, improve our fitness and to come up with an idea but I think as long as you keep doing the right things, eventually lady luck will come your way.”
When asked about his future, Russell believes the board will keep faith in him next season.
“Honestly? I’ll be honest. I’ll need to speak to the owners myself. They spoke to me after the Ashford game (a 9-1 home win on 17 January 2018), about a contract, it sort of got put on ice and nothings really been said down with them first and find out what they want to do.
“We haven’t got that big wage bill. It’s the same wage bill it’s been for god knows, 10 years whatever. When I got here they were fighting relegation, they still had the party poppers on the floor from surviving the Ryman North so if we’re in the play-offs and we lose I’m not sure if my job’s under threat but who knows in football.”
Cray Wanderers: Nick Blue, Ben Mundele, Barney Williams, Zak Henry, Marcus Evans (Michael Power 76), Jay Leader, Aaron Rhule (Kyron Farrell 50), Lea Dawson, Charlie MacDonald, Michael Frieter, Brandon Scott (Junior Dadson 50).
Subs: Karl Dent, Craig Holloway
Goals: Aaron Rhule 38, Brandon Scott 42
Booked: Zak Henry 26
Sent Off: Zak Henry 32
Walton Casuals: Denzel Gerrar, Harry Mills, Dominic Ogun, Alex Kelly, Joe Hicks, Max Hustwick, Tyrell Richardson-Brown (Stuart Baldwin 64), Sonny Black (Daryl Coleman 46), Josh Kelly, Isaac Sarpong (Jack Sammoutis 46), Youseff Bamba.
Subs: Sean McCormack, Fraser Trigwell
Goals: Joe Hicks 3, Daryl Coleman 56, Stuart Baldwin 66, Josh Kelly 85, Jack Sammoutis 90
Booked: Max Hustwick 9, Dominic Ogun 61, Josh Kelly 86, Jack Sammoutis 90
Referee: Mr Michael Lowe (Reigate, Surrey)
Assistants: Mr James Barry (Ealing, London W5) & Mr Daniel D’Urso (Crowborough, East Sussex)
Fourth Official: Mr Dean Skipper (Rainham, Essex)