Thursday 01st September 2005
The Kent Website
Supporting Kentish Football

Saturday 4th
December 2004
Ryman League 
Division One
Stephen McCartney reports from Hayes Lane
Cray Wanderers  2 James Millar 2
Sam Wood 70
AFC Wimbledon 0  

Cray aiming for promotion  after they beat league leaders

CRAY WANDERERS sent AFC Wimbledon crashing back down to earth by ending their record breaking 78 match unbeaten run in league football at Hayes Lane.

A crowd of 1082 - their highest in six years playing at Bromley's ground - saw the home side battle hard for their three points.

Goals from former Dover Athletic man James Millar, after only 112 seconds and a fine solo run from Sam Wood after 70 minutes sent the small but proud Cray contingent in the crowd into ecstasy.

Although keeping his feet on the ground, Cray Wanderers' assistant manager, Joe Francis insisted his side will finish in the top two promotion slots.

"We will finish in the top two," he said.

"That's always been our aim.  Everyone tells us we will do well to finish fourth from bottom and that's a load of rubbish!

"What we've got here - we know what we've got - we've got a team and a unit."

And this unique team spirit - on and off the pitch - has been the catalyst for the club's rapid rise from the Go Travel Kent League - which they won two years on the spin - and into fifth place in the Ryman League first division - at the first attempt.

There is a togetherness with the players and the club's committee, who always share a celebratory drink together in the clubhouse - even though their money is ploughed into landlords Bromley's coffers.

And they had every reason to celebrate.

AFC Wimbledon ran out onto the pitch clapping their huge contingent of travelling supporters with the arrogance of a side that were top of the Premiership and not the Ryman League first division.

Their smiles, however, were wiped off their faces when they found themselves a goal down after only 112 seconds of this massive game.

Full credit must go to pint sized striker Jamie Wood.  After cutting inside a defender he unleashed a low drive from 20-yards which goalkeeper Danny Naisbitt dived to his right and parried the shot.

The former Barnet stopper then scooped the ball of the line but Millar was there at the right place at the right time to rifle a shot high into the net to stun the travelling fans.

Although he has ten goals to his name this season, David Gray, who normally plays as a central defender, was used as an emergency striker due to the absence of 14-goal top scorer Leigh Bremner, for the first hour. 

Former Thamesmead Town striker Michael Power then replaced Millar and he worked hard for the last half an hour alongside striker Jamie Wood.

Another chance came Cray's way when Ross Lover fed Sam Wood but his low drive from fully 30-yards went wide.

Then came the attacking barrage everyone was expecting from the league leaders.  Wand's skipper Ian Rawlings was beaten at the near post by  Joe Sheerin - the only first team regular to survive since the trials in 2002 - but like the other attempts reigning on Steve Northwood's goal, they were off target.

Lively Ryan Gray sent over a cross to the far post but Martin Randall's flicked header floated narrowly wide of the far upright.

Cray survived numerous corners throughout the battle and rode their luck at times but this togetherness on and off their pitch helped their cause, willing to block shots on goal at all costs throughout the entire 90 minutes.

Gareth Graham's cross from the left picked out Anthony Howard but his header went over Northwood's goal.

An example of Cray riding their luck came on the half hour mark from a 25-yard free kick.

Graham whipped in a free kick towards the far post which found former Crystal Palace star Jay Conroy, who ghosted into the penalty area, but his flicked header clipped the far post.

Four minutes later, Cray had a good chance to double their lead.  Jamie Wood, close to the half-way line swept the ball for teenager Ross Lover on the other flank and the winger raced towards the Dons penalty area.

However, he squandered the good chance, driving a low shot from 20-yards which Naisbitt comfortably saved low down to his right.

Lover then went down after a strong challenge from Graham and failed to re-appear for the second half and Jamie Kempster - who scored when coming off the bench in the midweek 3-2 FA Trophy exit at St Albans City - will be pleased to return to the fray after injury.

Six minutes after the interval Matt Woolf skimmed the top of the crossbar with a shot on the far side of the pitch from 25-yards.

The former Fisher Athletic, Bromley and Crawley Town star admitted he and the rest of the players relished playing in front of their biggest crowd of the season.

"Well, it's nice to play in front of a big crowd," he said.

"A few of us have done it before - the bigger the game, the better for everyone.

"There are some big players in the side that have played in some big games and this is one of them.

"It just shows we've got some big players."

Crosses were reigning in from both flanks and Wes Goggin leapt above his marker only to send his header wide.

Jamie Wood's left footed drive from 20-yards was comfortably saved by the visiting goalkeeper before Cray wrapped up the victory with a fine solo goal with twenty minutes left.

Receiving the ball from James Taylor about 40-yards from goal, Sam Wood evaded Michael Woolner's sliding tackle and then raced down the left flank.

Without any support from his team-mates he continued his run,  cutting into the penalty area leaving Woolner in his wake, and the Dons defence opened up for the Cray full-back.

He slotted home past an exposed Naisbitt to send the Cray faithful wild and this gave the home side extra confidence for the remainder of the game.

Hardworking substitute Power tried his luck from 30-yards, with the goalkeeper of his line, but his shot was going to trouble the corner flag rather crashing into the net.

With many of the AFC Wimbledon fans streaming out of the ground, Woolf's left footed 25-yard shot went wide and they deserved their standing ovation from both sets of fans for their battling victory in an emotional day at Hayes Lane.

With so many of the Cray fans celebrating, Francis, however, insisted it was their worse performance of the season.

"I thought that was our worse performance of the season," he said.

"To be honest, football just baffles me.

"You don't mind how you get three points, but that is by far the worse we've played.

"But we defended well at times and it didn't just drop for them in front of goal.  They must have had 10-15 good, good chances but we defended quite well in the last six yards."

The beers were flowing inside the home dressing room after their famous victory, but Francis was keeping his feet on the ground.

"It's just another three points.

"I think if you enter into all of the hype then you lose sight of next week.

"You have we got next week?" he asked.  "See nobody knows!

"So we have to keep our feet on the ground.

"It's just three points."

Woolf, however, is confident his team-mates can come back down to earth for the visit of Chatham Town on Wednesday night for a place in the last eight of the John Ullmann Kent Senior Cup.

"Back down to earth against Chatham, but that's the sign of a good team," he said.

"We play them on Wednesday and adapt ourselves and come down off this high and go and beat them."

Speaking about the Dons victory, the midfielder added: "We struggled in the first half, got the early goal and to be fair Wimbledon came at us.

"They looked good, played around us and we had to adapt in the second half.

"We changed our shape and nullified the game - got the second goal - and just defended really - the second half was ours."

34-year-old Cray skipper, Rawlings lead by example having played in many big games earlier in his career for Leyton Orient, Leyton Wingate, Bromley and Harlow Town.

The man-of-the-match added: "It was very nice playing in a big game - especially at this time of my career as well.

"I think the league is the most important thing and today was a massive game for us.

"Hopefully that will knock their season a little bit and we can close the seven point gap on them.

"I think it was a team effort but we didn't play our best football today.  We just got stuck in and we won ugly today really.

"Give them credit, they are a good side, moved us around a bit, and didn't allow us to settle into our normal game.

"But I don't think the crowd effected us - it probably helped us."

Sitting in fifth in the table, Rawlings knows if they won some of their 9 draws in their league programme, they would be even higher in the table.

"All we have to do is cut out our draws.  If we get our home form sorted, we should be all right."

Incidentally, Burgess Hill Town are the visitors to Hayes Lane next Saturday in another Ryman League adventure.

Cray Wanderers: Steve Northwood, Drew Watkins (Dean Morris 31), Ian Rawlings (Capt), David Gray, Danny Bower, James Taylor, Ross Lover (Jamie Kempster 46), Matt Woolf, Jamie Wood, Sam Wood, James Millar (Michael Power 61).  Subs: John Myatt, Mark Hammond

AFC Wimbledon: Danny Naisbitt (Capt), Michael Woolner, Ryan Gray, Jay Conroy (Richard Butler 75), Julian Sills (Steve Butler 87), Anthony Howard, Gareth Graham, Wes Goggin, Joe Sheerin, Martin Randall, Gavin Bolger (Gary Prigent 70).  Subs: Jon Barrie Bates, Paul Smith

Attendance: 1082
Referee: S Tinkell
Assistants: P Burton & I Menzies