Wednesday 23rd March 2005

Please credit this article to Stephen McCartney - www.kentishfootball.co.uk

On course for promotion

JOE FRANCIS insists Cray Wanderers are on course for promotion with only seven games of their debut Ryman League campaign remaining, writes Stephen McCartney.

The popular assistant manager, who first joined the club as a player in 2001 said: "I think we are all prepared for an exciting run in.  But it's the oldest cliché in the book - we are taking one game at a time."

Cray will be preparing with two training sessions this week ahead of Saturday's clash with Corinthian-Casuals at Hayes Lane (12:30) before they make the short trip to Champion Hill to tackle Dulwich Hamlet on Easter Monday (3pm).

They then face Newport IOW at Hayes Lane on 2nd April but it's their last four games that will provide the Wands a stiff test to see if the club can land a place in the Ryman Premier League next season and continue their roller coaster ride, which has seen them collect two Kent League titles, the Kent League Cup, Kent Senior Trophy and a place in the last eight of the FA Vase in their last three seasons.

Cray are also favourites to win the eagerly awaited "Battle of Bromley", which takes place at Hayes Lane on Saturday 9th April.

The last time the two sides met, which was Cray's "home" fixture in October saw Cray come away with the local bragging rights, and more importantly the three points in a 5-2 victory, which sent the Bromley faithful heading for the exits long before the final whistle in shame.

But joint Bromley manager, George Wakeling, who replaced Scot Stuart McIntyre in December, is playing down the importance of their clash with Cray.

He said: "What does Cray mean to me? I would rather play Wimbledon and get ten grand in the bank."

But he did admit he wasn't surprised that their tenants are being successful, with people like Francis, Matt Woolf, Ian Rawlings and David Gray - players that all played for Bromley under Wakeling.

"I am not surprised (with Cray being fourth in the table).  Because their management team used to play for me and three or four of their players used to play for me.  I know what they are about.  At the end of the day they've come out of that Kent League and they've grown.  Winning becomes a habit and they've got a good balance and I am not surprised where they are."

With Cray sitting in fourth place and eyeing a top two finish, and promotion with champions-elect AFC Wimbledon, Cray finish the season with tough games - after Bromley - against Hastings United (home), AFC Wimbledon (away, 23rd April) with Walton & Hersham visiting Hayes Lane on the final day of the season (30th April).

Francis has obviously learnt a lot from Wakeling and he warned: "You don't get ahead of yourself.  You are talking about playing Newport IOW and Dulwich.  Dulwich is going to be an extremely difficult game as is Corinthian-Casuals on Saturday.  They've had en exciting first half of the season then dropped off a little bit.  They want to prove themselves.  That's the trouble at this level - there's no easy games."

But when asked if Cray can still go up, Francis replied confidently: "Absolutely."  Top two? "Yes! Of course we can.  We are going out to win every game.  If we win every game it gives ourselves a chance.

"It's absolutely imperative that we approach every game like a cup final."

Wakeling, however, has a full strength squad to choose from for their two games over the Easter period, against sides in the top ten.

He is hoping it will be a Good Friday for his side when they travel to Whyteleafe (3pm) before Metropolitan Police, with three former Bromley players in their ranks in Mark Watson, Scott Bennetts and Glen Boosey, visiting Hayes Lane next Tuesday night (7:45pm).

Wakeling wasn't happy with his side, although they beat Dorking at Hayes Lane last Saturday.  Gavin McGowan, a recent capture from Tonbridge Angels - his second spell with the Ravens - scored the all-important goal.

"Well, basically, we wanted to win by a better score but it didn't happen, " he said.

"In terms of possession we could have got the same result as the previous week, a 4-0 win over Molesey, but we ended up with a 1-0 win.

"It's very frustrating when it's five minutes to go and you are only 1-0 up."

Fans favourite, Wade Falana, has made a welcomed return to the Ravens squad to beef up the attack.

Wakeling revealed his reasons why he has signed the big, target man, who forged a great partnership - in two spells - with fellow striker Adolph Amoako under McIntyre's reign.

"I honestly felt Wade is a strong and physical player and sometimes we need that," admitted the former Ashford and Hastings boss.

"We haven't had that in some games and it's balancing it off really.  We need to be able to change things, if it isn't working out.

"At this moment in time it was possible to do that and he will add another dimension to our game."

As with Bromley sides in the past they always seem to "pull it off" against the division's bigger clubs, Wakeling is confident they can collect all six points over the Easter period.

"I will be really honest with you, I think four points home and away against two very good sides are acceptable - but I am looking for six."

He added: "I think we are as good as any other team in the division.  On our day, most managers feel the same, I feel we are one of the stronger sides.  We are now playing at a level that can win us more games than we lose."

After so much chopping and changing since Wakeling replaced McIntyre in December, Wakeling admitted he is going to keep faith with his current squad - but hasn't ruled out blooding any of the club's talented crop of youngsters in the club's reserve and youth ranks.

Only five players; Andy Walker, Sam Okafor, Colin Luckett, Gary Drewett and Tutu Henriques played in their embarrassing defeat against Cray in November, that are still in the squad, but Wakeling added: "Providing we don't get any injuries, I will settle with seeing the season out with the squad we've got.

"If Andy recommends someone strongly I will take that into account.  Andy Silk (reserve team manager) has played for me in the past, we know what we are both about and I will respect his opinion."

Ryman League Division One (Top ten))

1 AFC Wimbledon 35 24 9 2 77 26 81
2 Walton & Hersham 35 21 4 10 54 31 67
3 Horsham 34 20 4 10 75 51 64
4 Cray Wanderers 35 15 16 4 80 44 61
5 Tooting & Mitcham 35 16 12 7 81 51 60
6 Metropolitan Police 35 18 6 11 62 46 60
7 Burgess Hill Town 35 18 5 12 64 46 59
8 Leatherhead 35 15 13 7 60 49 58
9 Bromley 35 16 8 11 54 41 56
10 Whyteleafe 35 16 6 13 52 50 54


Whyteleafe v Bromley                        
Ryman League Division One          
Good Friday, 25th March 2005         
Kick Off 3:00pm                                   
at Church Road, Whyteleafe            

Cray Wanderers v Corinthian-Casuals        
Ryman League Division One                          
Saturday 26th March 2005                             
Kick Off 12:30                                                      
at Hayes Lane, Bromley  

Dulwich Hamlet v Cray Wanderers
Ryman League Division One
Easter Monday, 28th March 2005
Kick Off 3:00pm
at Champion Hill, East Dulwich

Bromley v Metropolitan Police
Ryman League Division One
Tuesday 29th March 2005
Kick Off 7:45pm
at The Clive Christian Stadium, Hayes Lane, Bromley