Cray boss Jenkins, admits he was expecting a tougher Ryman debut
CRAY WANDERERS' manager Ian Jenkins has admitted he was anticipating a tougher opening day contest as his side made their winning Ryman League debut at Burgess Hill Town on Saturday, writes Stephen McCartney.
After their elevation into the Ryman League Division One, having clinched the Go Travel Kent League title for the last two seasons, Jenkins' side outplayed the injury-hit Sussex side, but had to come from behind to win the three points after failing to convert their first half superiority into goals.
Forced into an early reshuffle when their sweeper Nick Bridle was stretchered off in the 17th minute, Burgess Hill Town couldn't stem the flow of Cray attacks, however, the finishing was off-target.
The biggest let-off came on the stroke of half time when Leigh Bremner, a summer signing from Kent League outfit Herne Bay, saw his lob come back off the woodwork when clean through on goal.
A 52nd minute breakaway ended with Darren Smith rifling a shot into the net - the ball took a deflection - and suddenly Jenkins' side were chasing the game.
While Cray's defenders had failed to cope with the difficult high bounce of the ball when giving away the opening goal, the Burgess Hill back line sat deep and looked set to deal with everything that Cray could throw at them, in the air or on the ground, although they were forced to concede several free-kicks.
Referee Mr Knight - who had an excellent game - commented afterwards that the high bounce caused problems for the players, and it was his application of the advantage rule that led indirectly to the Wands' equalising goal on 77 minutes.
Play was brought back for a Cray free-kick from which Ross Lover brought a full-length diving save from John Sullivan.
The chance seemed to have gone for Cray, but from the resulting throw-in, Lover whipped in a cross from the left and former Maidstone United midfielder, Jamie Kempster popped a header out of the goalkeeper's reach.
The Sussex side might have regained their lead, but goalkeeper Dean Mann beat away a fierce shot and Sam Wood jumped in to prevent the loose ball being put into the net.
Back came Cray, however, and when David Gray, who has played Ryman League football for both Bromley and Harlow Town, curved in another good cross from the left, the lively Bremner forced it home with only seven minutes remaining.
Cray's fans had to hold their breath as the home side launched a late assault. One frantic scramble saw three shots cleared off the line before, what seemed a lifetime, the Wands finally bundled the ball out of their goalmouth.
With three points in the bag from their opening Ryman League game, Jenkins', however, was expecting a lot more from the newly promoted home side.
He said: "We dominated the first half. However, we started the second half a bit weary and then they scored which was a bit disappointing, and it took us ten minutes to react after that.
"I made a few changes that helped during the game, and once we equalised there was only going to be one winner in the game.
"We cleared the ball off the line in the last two minutes but that was the only chances they had, other than their goal.
"We would have been a bit gutted if we didn't get three points out of the game - I was expecting a tougher game!"
Cray host Leatherhead at Hayes Lane on Tuesday night, and Jenkins will be without Sam Wood, who is on a week's holiday, so former Tunbridge Wells full-back, John Mayall slots into the side.
Jenkins, however, is hoping they can attract a crowd of over 150 against the Tanners.
He added: "We averaged 144 last year, so if we can get 150 against Leatherhead, then I will be more than pleased with that."
And, speaking about his team's prospects making it two wins from two games, he said: "We are at home for a start, which is an advantage straight away.
"I think if we play like the first half on Saturday - then we will get a result."
Experienced defender, Ian Rawlings will be out of action for another three weeks, due to an ankle injury.
* Additional match reporting from Jerry Dowlen