Monday 25th April 2005

Cray looking to find the edge

CRAY WANDERERS' assistant manager Joe Francis reckons his side or landlords Bromley will be the side promoted from the Ryman League Division One play-off's, writes Stephen McCartney.

It's the final weekend of the league campaign on Saturday and Francis is looking for three points against already promoted side Walton & Hersham to finish third or fourth, which will mean they will be at home in the play-off semi-finals against Bromley, Metropolitan Police or Leatherhead.

And with Walton & Hersham meeting league champions AFC Wimbledon in the Surrey Senior Cup Final the following Tuesday, Francis is hoping the Swans will rest some of their key players as they prepare for their county cup showdown.

"It's important we get three points and that's what we will be aiming for," said Francis.  

Francis admitted they will be playing a full strength side against Walton at Hayes Lane.  "We've got a lot of options and we are looking forward to meeting Bromley again, that's if they get in, they've got to win at Banstead."

Cray, who went on a six game winning run to cement their play-off place before losing 3-2 to Bromley, lost 3-0 at champions AFC Wimbledon in front of 3,358 fans on Saturday.  This was the highest crowd the club has played in front of since 1963 when 3,567 saw Cray beat Bromley 3-1 in the Kent Amateur Cup Final at Hayes Lane.

Francis expressed his views on why his side lost at Kingsmeadow.  "We went there very relaxed, confident in the knowledge we've secured a play off place and that maybe didn't give us the edge.  There wasn't the edge where you get from a game that's do or die and we also rested 3-4 players."

Winger, Mark Hammond, who scored once in seven games for Southern Leaguers Erith & Belvedere before the transfer deadline, made a return to the Cray side before he was substituted by David Gray after 73 minutes.

"I think every single player will play a role and he's pretty unique as he is a wide player that can turn a game.  Obviously he's not match fit but he can be inspirational at times," added Francis.

With their play-off place secured, Cray will be jockeying with the other sides for the final placings.  If they finish third or fourth then they will be at home in the semi-finals and the team that finishes the highest will have home advantage in the final.  All matches will be decided by a penalty shoot out if there is no winner after 120 minutes of football.

"I think it's about nerve, it's about mental toughness," Francis said about the play-off lottery.

"You can't predict anything in the play-off's but we've got the experience it's just about getting yourselves prepared correctly and hoping for a bit of luck.  You can't do anything without that.  I think we are a better side when we have something to play for.

"We went six games on a winning run and in every game we knew we would have something to play for.  When we were in the play offs the edge was missing.  You just need to keep finding the edge."

The introduction of play-off's in the non-league game has been wildly welcomed by everyone as it keeps everybody's season alive at the business end of the season.

Francis agreed:  "It's exciting and it keeps the season alive and makes it interesting for everybody towards the end of the season.  It gives teams everything to strive for and it keeps the business end of the season very exciting."

And if they win their last three games and win promotion into the Ryman Premier League next season, how will the club prepare playing at their highest ever level of football (in recent times).

"Like we've prepared this year and the year before," said Francis.  "We are looking at players and we'll prepare pre-season and look forward.

"We were told by lots of people that we would be favourites for relegation this year but Jenko (Ian Jenkins) and myself both knew we could go quite close.

"Realistically next year we would look to stay in the premier and consolidate - as it's a big step up.

"We have to get there first!

"I look forward to seeing Bromley at one point or another and I hope they get into the play off's and they deserve it."

Ryman League Division One (top eight)

Pos Team PLD W D L F A PTS
1 AFC Wimbledon 41 28 10 3 88 32 94C
2 Walton & Hersham 41 27 4 10 67 33 85P
3 Horsham 41 23 6 12 85 61 75
4 Cray Wanderers 41 19 16 6 94 52 73
5 Bromley 41 21 9 11 68 44 72
6 Metropolitan Police 41 21 8 12 68 50 71
7 Leatherhead 41 19 13 9 70 55 70
8 Tooting & Mitcham 41 17 15 9 90 60 66

Selected Final Day Fixtures:
Burgess Hill Town v AFC Wimbledon
Cray Wanderers v Walton & Hersham
Horsham v Ashford Town
Banstead Athletic v Bromley
Metropolitan Police v Fleet Town
Leatherhead v Croydon Athletic

Cray Wanderers v Walton & Hersham
Ryman League Division One
Saturday 30th April 2005
Kick Off 3:00pm
at Hayes Lane, Bromley